Skip Barber trained Scott Sharp has been busy. Between testing his Kelley Racing Dallara/Chevrolet, running in the International Race of Champions series and competing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Sharp hasn& ...
Skip Barber trained Scott Sharp has been busy. Between testing his Kelley Racing Dallara/Chevrolet, running in the International Race of Champions series and competing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Sharp hasn’t had a lot of time to think about the upcoming Indy Racing League season.
But now that the winds have died down a bit, Sharp is seeing a 2002 campaign that will have more sharks in the water than bottom-feeders, and believes that it will be tougher than ever before to claim the championship trophy.
Obviously, the biggest change comes in the form of Marlboro Team Penske and now apparently a full effort from Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, but there are other programs tat have been swimming in the IRL season that are ready to start biting back as the season opener in Homestead looms.
"Every year you see people step the program up but the biggest change has been in that first group," Sharp said. "Before, there might have been five or six cars that could compete for poles and wins and run up front every week. Last year that number was more like 10 or 11. This year it could be as high as 15. It will be a lot harder for anyone to find an advantage this year."
That parity will make consistency the primary factor in winning a championship. That trend began last year when Skip Barber trained Sam Hornish Jr. used his speed to run up front all year, but went winless for 10 straight races before closing out the year in Victory Lane at Texas.
"Sam’s consistency won him the championship. To me that was amazing," Sharp said. "We had a strong car and ran up front all year but we had three bad races and it knocked us out. Having a top car that can win is not enough by itself now. You have to be consistent."
That realization was spelled out on the time charts at Homestead-Miami Speedway over the weekend when current Kelley Racing teammates Sharp and Skip Barber trained Greg Ray did battle on the 1.5-mile opener that will be the site of the season opener in less than a month.
"There’s a lot of cars running well," Sharp said. "You can go burn off a lap now that you think might get you in the top two, but unless you really hit it you find yourself sixth or seventh."
And while Sharp might have had a hard time focusing on the upcoming season with all of his side projects through the last few weeks, the one thing he never stopped thinking about was atoning for a tough run at Indianapolis last season.
Sharp won the pole for the event, his first Indianapolis 500 pole, but spun coming out of the first turn and finished last in the 33-car field. It not only ended his biggest day of the year far too early, but cost him dearly in the points chase– something he wants to make up for this season.
"I’ve been thinking about Indianapolis since the day it happened," Sharp said. "It’s motivation for me to be honest. I’m excited that we have all the same people back on the team, and we should have a fast car. We took a big step forward at Kelley Racing last year and we are looking to keep it going."