Road to Indy: British Invasion Takes Aim At "500" Win INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, March 17, 2004 -- IRL IndyCarÂ® Series drivers Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon, Darren Manning and Mark Taylor began their racing careers with the goal of becoming...
Road to Indy: British Invasion Takes Aim At "500" Win
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, March 17, 2004 -- IRL IndyCar® Series drivers Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon, Darren Manning and Mark Taylor began their racing careers with the goal of becoming Great Britain's next Formula One champion.
Now that their path led them to the Indy Racing League, they all have a new common goal: End their country's nearly 40-year drought in the Indianapolis 500.
"That race is never easy to win," said Wheldon, who in 2003 was the first Englishman to start the Indianapolis 500 since former world driving champion Nigel Mansell in 1994. "Everything has to go right. It's not a race that you can be quick and win. The whole month has to be perfect. I learned that last year. Hopefully, I can take what I've learned and use that to help me pull off the win this year."
The last Indianapolis 500 winner from Great Britain was Graham Hill, who beat his Lotus teammate Jim Clark in 1966. Even though none of the IndyCar Series' current British racing quartet was alive when Hill won the race, they grew up knowing about the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
"It's always an event no matter where in the world you are," said Wheldon, who was told of Hill's exploits by members of the British Racing Drivers' Club. "A race that is that far away from you when you're young but gets that much coverage is always something you want to be part of."
Wheldon, a native of Emberton, England, and his Andretti Green Racing teammate Franchitti are the veterans of the IRL's British invasion. Franchitti, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, started his only Indy 500 in 2002, finishing 19th. He missed last year's event after sustaining a back injury in a motorcycle accident away from the track.
"I'm very excited to be competing in the Indy 500 again," he said. "Last year was obviously very difficult due to the fact I couldn't race, as well as seeing my car on the front of the grid. That was very difficult. I'm just really looking forward to getting back there. I think we'll be a lot more competitive in the Arca/Ex car than the last time I was there."
While Wheldon and Franchitti are considered veterans of Indianapolis, Taylor and Manning will be rookies in May.
Manning, from North Yorkshire, England, visited the Speedway for the first time last year, and watched his first Indianapolis 500 from the grandstand.
"It's one of the biggest races in the world," he said. "It's right up there with Le Mans and British Grand Prix for a guy over in Europe. With the history of Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart and the like, it's huge for anyone European or states based."
Taylor, of London, won the IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series^Ù championship in 2003. He also visited the Speedway for the first time in 2003, spending time watching his then-Panther Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr.
"I was able to spend the month from the sidelines," said Taylor. "We had a race there with the (Menards) Infiniti Pro Series, so being able to stand by and watch it was a thrill. It was the first live 500 I've been to, and I was able to get what it's like to race at Indy. Now that I'm a full-time driver in the series, it's May you think about first and foremost and it's the main race you want to be involved in."
And, unlike Manning, Taylor has race experience at the Speedway, finishing second in the inaugural Freedom 100.
"There will be about a 50 or 60 mph difference on the front straightaway," he said. "The cars are very different and the race is different. It's a long race and a physical race. As many drivers have found out, you can have the best car, but the way the month of May gets to you, your head can get filled up with other stuff. And you can spin it away just like that."
Each of the drivers said a win at Indianapolis would easily be the highlight of their career.
"To me personally, I don't think you can put into words what an Indy 500 win would mean," Wheldon said. "That event would put me on the map forever. When you're an Indy 500 winner, it's not just for that year. You're an Indy 500 winner forever. It would mean a lot. To England, it would be the same. That's an event everyone in world respects. England, with the past winners, certainly wants one of us to win, and hopefully I'll be the man to do that."
Franchitti echoes his teammate's sentiments.
"An Indy 500 win would be huge," he said. "I've come close to winning championships over here -- especially the one (CART) in '99 that came down to the tiebreaker. But, an Indy 500 win would be a huge thing. There's no other way to put it."
Said Manning: "It would be the pinnacle of my racing career. I'm racing in a top-level series and that's the top race. To have an Indy 500 win next to your name -- next to the names of all the winners -- it's something every driver strives for. If you can get a win at Indy, you're made for life really."
The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season continues with the Copper World Indy 200 at 4 p.m. (EST) on March 21 at Phoenix International Raceway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC and the IMS Radio Network. The Menards Infiniti Pro Series Phoenix 100 will take place at 2:45 p.m. on March 20. The race will be broadcast by ESPN2 on a tape-delayed basis on March 25.