IRL: Stars Look for Redemption at MCI WorldCom Indy 200

PHOENIX, Monday, March 6, 2000 - The MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway could be a race of redemption for many of the top stars in the Northern Light Indy Racing Series. Many standouts in the series, such as ...

PHOENIX, Monday, March 6, 2000 - The MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway could be a race of redemption for many of the top stars in the Northern Light Indy Racing Series. Many standouts in the series, such as defending series champion Greg Ray, Kelley Racing teammates Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore, Stephan Gregoire, Al Unser Jr. and Davey Hamilton endured tough starts to the season in the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 29. They will look to rebound and gain ground on series point leader Robbie Buhl during the 200-mile, 200-lap MCI WorldCom Indy 200 on March 19 on the 1-mile desert oval at PIR. The race, the second of the 2000 Northern Light Indy Racing Series, starts at 2 p.m. (MST). Ray led twice for 46 laps at the season opener in Orlando, showing the strength in the Conseco-Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone that helped him win three races and the series championship last year. But gearbox problems that started just past the halfway point of the race caused him to finish 17th, 20 laps down. But recent testing and past history indicate that Ray should have no trouble finding the pace at PIR. He won the pole at this event last year at 20.323 seconds, 177.139 mph with a 4-liter engine and posted the third-fastest speed of the "Test in the West" Feb. 25-26 at PIR, 20.844, 172.712, with the league's new 3.5-liter engine. Dismore was the fastest driver during the Phoenix leg of the "Test in the West" at 20.638, 174.436 in the On Star-GM BuyPower-Bryant Heating & Cooling Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Like Ray, he also will look to atone for a sub-par finish at Orlando. Dismore led once for 30 laps but encountered oil cooler problems with less than 50 laps remaining, dropping him to a 16th-place finish. Teammate Sharp finished 15th at Orlando after suffering from gearbox problems. But he was on pace in Phoenix during the "Test in the West," posting the fourth-best overall lap at 20.922, 172.068 in the Delphi Automotive Systems-MCI World Com Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Perhaps no driver has more revenge on his mind for this event than two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Unser. He had climbed into the top 10 from the 24th starting spot in just 60 laps at Orlando in the Galles ECR Racing Tickets.com Starz Encore Superpak G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. But engine failure ended his Northern Light Indy Racing Series debut on Lap 64. PIR also is one of the few open-wheel racetracks on which Unser hasn't earned a victory during his distinguished career. He finished second at Phoenix in 1985, 1989 and 1994 while competing in CART. Two-time league runner-up Hamilton finished a disappointing 26th at Orlando after a crash on Lap 22. But he has joined TeamXtreme starting at this event and hopes to drive the TeamXtreme-Lycos G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone to his first Indy Racing victory. PIR would be a fitting place for that breakthrough, as Hamilton has won the prestigious Copper World Classic supermodified feature at the track. Former Indianapolis 500 winners Buddy Lazier and Eddie Cheever Jr. each had strong starts to the season in Orlando. Lazier finished second in the Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing Riley & Scott/Oldsmobile/Firestone and Cheever third in the Team Cheever Riley & Scott/Infiniti/Firestone. But both still have something to prove at Phoenix, for two reasons. First, Lazier and Cheever each led in the last 10 laps of the season opener before being passed by eventual winner Robbie Buhl in heavy traffic. The loss still stings for both. Second, Lazier and Cheever crashed out of last year's race at Phoenix while battling for the lead with just 51 laps remaining. So there will be plenty of motivation for both this year at PIR. But not every Indy Racing standout has revenge on his mind at Phoenix. Buhl will look to continue the roll he started with his surprise victory at Orlando in the Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone, prepared by a team that was created just one month before that event. Buhl was 16th fastest during the "Test in the West" with a best lap of 21.347, 168.642, but the team concentrated on race-day setups. And Buhl has shown superb racing tactics at Phoenix, climbing from a 17th starting spot to finish third last year. Defending Phoenix champion Scott Goodyear finished fourth in the season opener at Orlando in the Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Veteran Eliseo Salazar made the most of his first race for four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt by finishing fifth at Orlando in the Rio A.J. Foyt Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. This event also is noteworthy because of Sarah Fisher's first start with Walker Racing. Fisher, 19, made her Indy Racing debut last October at the season-ending Mall.com 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, finishing 25th due to mechanical problems. But the smooth style and uncommon maturity shown by Fisher during that event captured the eye of veteran open-wheel owner Derrick Walker, who signed Fisher in late January to drive his Walker Racing Cummins Special Riley & Scott/Oldsmobile/Firestone starting at this event. Regardless of the reason for motivation, every driver in the field for the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 will face stiff competition for the victory. There were 10 cars on the lead lap at the finish of the season opener in Orlando, a league record. And there were 11 lead changes among eight drivers, including two lead changes in the final nine laps of the race.

MCI WORLDCOM INDY 200 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The MCI WorldCom Indy 200 starts at 2 p.m. (MST) March 19. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 10:45 a.m. March 18. Practice sessions start at 10:45 a.m. and 2:40 p.m. March 17, 8:15 a.m. March 18 and 9:15 a.m. March 19. An autograph session with all Indy Racing drivers is scheduled for 5 p.m. March 16 in the Midway outside the main straightaway at the track.

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On the air: The MCI WorldCom Indy 200 will be televised live on ABC at 4 p.m. (EST) March 19. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised live at 11 a.m. March 19 on ESPN2.

ESPN2 will televise pole qualifying at 5:30 p.m. (EST) March 18.

The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 3:30 p.m. (EST) March 19, followed by the live race broadcast at 4 p.m. IRRN will broadcast a qualifying show at 4 p.m. March 18.

The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracingleague.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.

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Tickets: Tickets for the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 are available by calling (602) 252-2227.

-IRL/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Davey Hamilton , Scott Sharp , Mark Dismore , Scott Goodyear , A.J. Foyt
Teams Dreyer & Reinbold Racing