IRL: Season opener to feature many contenders for victory

PEP BOYS INDY RACING LEAGUE DRIVERS READY TO ROLL IN ORLANDO LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 12, 1999 - Pep Boys Indy Racing League teams have spent all winter working on their cars and engines, testing and refining their packages. Now it's...

PEP BOYS INDY RACING LEAGUE DRIVERS READY TO ROLL IN ORLANDO

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 12, 1999 - Pep Boys Indy Racing League teams have spent all winter working on their cars and engines, testing and refining their packages.

Now it's time to show their stuff. It's time to play for keeps.

The 1999 Pep Boys Indy Racing League season starts Jan. 24 with the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway, a 1-mile tri-oval located just inside the gates of the Magic Kingdom. It's the first of 11 races for the world's premier open-wheel, oval-track racing series this season.

The 200-lap race starts at 1 p.m. (EST) Jan. 24 and is televised live on ABC.

League champion Kenny Brack will open the defense of his title in the A.J. Foyt Power Team Racing entry. Brack won a league-record three consecutive races last summer to seize the points lead and win the Pep Boys Million championship bonus.

Brack will face stiff competition from many directions at this event. He doesn't have to look far for one of his toughest challengers.

His teammate, Billy Boat, won a record six PPG Poles and a race last season and was in the top three in points before missing two races in July due to injuries suffered in an accident in the New England 200.

Davey Hamilton, runner-up to Brack in the points race in 1998, will try to take the final step in the championship chase with a new team that has a familiar name. Hamilton will drive for Galles Racing, which fielded cars in the Indy Racing League in 1996 and 1997. In fact, Brack drove for Galles in 1997. Galles won the 1992 Indianapolis 500 with driver Al Unser Jr.

Galles Racing reformed during the offseason, hiring the crew that guided Hamilton to the runner-up finish last year in the points.

The Great Scotts, Scott Sharp and Scott Goodyear, also should be contenders for victory in this event.

Sharp recorded the fastest lap during winter testing on the 1-mile tri-oval, 21.039 seconds at 171.111 mph, in December in the Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear. Goodyear was fastest during the January open test at the track at 21.199, 169.819 in the Pennzoil Panther Racing G Force/Aurora/Goodyear.

Another driver to watch will be 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr., an Orlando resident. Cheever won this event in 1997 and knows his way around the tricky tri-oval as well as any driver.

Many eyes also will be focused on Greg Ray and Sam Schmidt at this event, as both are ready to fulfill their great promise with two of the best teams in open-wheel racing.

Ray stunned the racing world last May by earning the No. 2 starting spot at the Indianapolis 500 with the low-budget Thomas Knapp Motorsports team. He followed that strong effort with a second-place finish three weeks later at Texas Motor Speedway.

Those performances caught the eye of team owner John Menard, who sought a replacement for NASCAR-bound driver Tony Stewart at the end of last season. Menard hired Ray to drive his Glidden-Menards Dallara/Aurora/Firestone this season and also hired Thomas Knapp, Ray's former team owner and team engineer.

Schmidt picked a good time for his best race of 1998 when he finished a career-best second in the season-ending Las Vegas 500K. When two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk announced that he only would drive in the Indianapolis 500 this season before retiring from open-wheel racing, team owner Fred Treadway snapped up Schmidt to replace Luyendyk in the Sprint PCS G Force/Aurora/Firestone at the other 10 league races and serve as Luyendyk's teammate at Indy.

Treadway also is fielding a car for talented rookie Jason Leffler, who won the USAC Silver Crown and midget national titles last season. Leffler hovered around the 21-second-flat mark during unofficial testing at Walt Disney World Speedway this winter for Treadway.

Leffler is just one of four rookies entered in this event. Greg Gorden, John Hollansworth and Scott Harrington are the others who will launch their campaigns for the Sprint PCS Rookie of the Year award at this race.

TRANSWORLD DIVERSIFIED SERVICES INDY 200 NOTEBOOK

Let's get ready to rumble: Announcer Michael Buffer, famous for his call of "let's get ready to rumble!" at boxing matches, will introduce every driver in the starting field Jan. 24 during prerace ceremonies.

*** Schedule: The TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 starts at 1 p.m. (EST) Jan. 24.

PPG Pole qualifying starts at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 23. Practice sessions take place at 10:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. Jan. 22, and 9:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Jan. 23.

The USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series race, held in conjunction with this event, starts at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 23. *** On the air: ABC will televise the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 live at 1 p.m. (EST) Jan. 24. SpeedVision will televise PPG Pole qualifying live at noon Jan. 23.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 1 p.m. Jan. 24, with a prerace show starting at 12:30 p.m. A qualifying highlights show will be broadcast on the IMS Radio Network at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 23. *** Satellite feed: A Video News Release of practice, qualifying and race highlights from the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 will be provided Jan. 23 and 24. The respective packages include footage and driver interviews. Times and coordinates:

Practice package: 4:45-5 p.m. (EST) Jan. 22, GE 5 KU, Transponder 16 Qualifying package: 5-5:15 p.m. Jan. 23, GE 5 KU, Transponder 16 Race package: 5:15-5:30 p.m. Jan. 24, SBS 6 KU, Transponder 15 *** Tickets: Tickets for the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 are available by calling (800) 822-INDY.

Source: IRL/IMS

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jason Leffler , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Davey Hamilton , Scott Sharp , Arie Luyendyk , Billy Boat , Scott Goodyear , Kenny Brack , Sam Schmidt , Scott Harrington