IRL: Road to Indy: Unser hopes to recapture 500 success

Al Unser Jr. and U.E. "Pat" Patrick have long been associated with success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This year, the two famous names have joined forces in an attempt to return to their past glory. Unser, a two-time Indianapolis 500 ...

Al Unser Jr. and U.E. "Pat" Patrick have long been associated with success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This year, the two famous names have joined forces in an attempt to return to their past glory.

Unser, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, will make his 2004 IRL IndyCar® Series debut in the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500, driving the No. 20 Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone for Patrick Racing, which has won the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" three times.

"I'm thrilled to death to be driving for Pat Patrick," said Unser, whose father, Al Unser, is one of three men to win the Indy 500 four times. "He's been a long-time car owner, and my family's history goes back with him quite a ways. I've competed against that No. 20 car for many, many years. Most of the time it's been in front of me, but it's been competitive in my entire career. So I'm very proud to be driving it now."

Unser finished sixth in the IndyCar Series standings last season and won the June race at Texas Motor Speedway. But the veteran driver hasn't raced an IndyCar Series car since the 2003 season finale. He sat out the first three events of the season as Patrick finalized his plans to run in the IndyCar Series.

"I truly love racing in the IRL," said Unser, whose team will continue in the IndyCar Series following the Indianapolis 500. "I look forward to starting the season. I wish that we would have been able to be at Homestead, Phoenix and Japan. But logistically, we were not able to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. It's disappointing we were not at the first three races, but what a place to begin the season with the Indy 500."

Unser took his first laps during a shakedown test at Nashville Superspeedway on April 20-21 and turned more that 150 laps at Indianapolis during an Open Test on April 28-29.

"Things looked really good for the first day," Unser said. "I definitely felt at home. The best thing was being out on the track after sitting out the first three races. That was fantastic and I had a lot of fun."

Unser's best lap, 42.1067 seconds (213.743), was 16th best of the 27 cars that participated in the event, but he said the test was a success -- especially for his start-up team.

"We went out and ran quite a few miles and learned quite a bit about the car over the last two days," Unser said. "We're real happy with the Chevrolet engine. It ran flawlessly both days and has plenty of power and we're very happy with the results," he noted.

Unser's first win in the 500 came in 1992 when he nipped Scott Goodyear by .043 of a second in the closest-ever Indianapolis 500 finish. Two years later, he became the 14th man to have multiple Indianapolis 500 victories, inheriting the lead when his teammate, Emerson Fittipaldi, who had dominated the event, crashed on lap 185.

"It's hard to put into words what Indy means, he said. "It was a dream come true for me just to compete there, and then to be successful there, is very special."

But just because his last win at the Brickyard came almost a decade ago, the 42-year-old from Albuquerque, N.M., said he shouldn't be counted out as a race-day favorite.

"Of course, we want to win Indy again, and we want to win Indy four or five times," Unser said. "That's the whole objective, and also the championship. Pat made a good point there at our press conference in Phoenix. A lot of people think that he's too old. A lot of people think that I'm too old, and so both of us have something to prove this year, and next year and the years to come -- that we are not too old."

-irl-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Scott Goodyear , Al Unser Sr. , Emerson Fittipaldi