INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2004 -- The Indy Racing League Menards Infiniti Pro Series opens its third season of competition Sunday with the Homestead-Miami 100 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Showcasing the future stars of IRL IndyCar Series...
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2004 -- The Indy Racing League Menards Infiniti Pro Series opens its third season of competition Sunday with the Homestead-Miami 100 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Showcasing the future stars of IRL IndyCar Series racing, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series features several teams with a strong history in motorsports as well as several top young drivers.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports fields one of the strongest teams in the race for the points championship. Schmidt, a former IndyCar Series driver, will start talented Brazilian Thiago Medeiros as well as Arie Luyendyk Jr., son of two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk.
Medeiros, 21, finished third in the 2003 Menards Infiniti Pro Series standings as a rookie.
"Last year was a steep learning curve for me, as I was new to everything," said Medeiros. "I'm looking forward to working with the entire Sam Schmidt Motorsports team this season, as I feel we have gelled well during preseason testing."
Medeiros, who earned his first Menards Infiniti Pro Series win in last year's season finale at Texas Motor Speedway, posted the fastest laps in both pre-season Open Tests at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
Luyendyk, runner-up in the inaugural Pro Series championship in 2002, captured two poles and five top-five finishes last year.
Hemelgarn 91/Johnson Motorsports and Brian Stewart Racing also will each field two cars. Ron Hemelgarn's team won the 1996 Indianapolis 500 and the 2000 IndyCar Series championship with driver Buddy Lazier. He returns to the Pro Series for the third year after previously posting wins with Aaron Fike and Cory Witherill.
Stewart, who has developed drivers such as Paul Tracy, Cristiano da Matta, Bryan Herta and Jaques Lazier, also will field two drivers.
Jesse Mason, 19, joins the series as a rookie from the British Formula 3 circuit and will drive the No. 3 car.
"I'm really looking forward to this season," Stewart said. "At open testing in Phoenix, Jesse Mason was setting the pace for most of the day. I believe we can win races with him in his rookie year."
Stewart's other car will be driven by IRL veteran Jon Herb. Herb has run in 13 IndyCar Series races since 2000.
Keith Duesenberg Racing, Roquin Motorsports, Beardsley Motorsports, Genoa Racing, AFS Racing and Kenn Hardley Racing all return to the Menards Infiniti Pro Series in 2004.
Long-time driver Marty Roth purchased the equipment of last year's champion, Panther Racing, and will field his own team for the first time. Greg Beck, who has fielded cars for many years in the IndyCar Series, also will enter a car.
Started in 2002, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series offers up-and-coming drivers a chance to gain experience in open wheel racing as they work their way up to the IRL IndyCar Series. Pro Series champions from 2002 and 2003 have both advanced to the IndyCar Series.
Mark Taylor, who posted seven wins en route to the series championship in 2003, joins inaugural season champ A.J. Foyt IV on the IndyCar Series circuit in 2004. The champs are joined by Ed Carpenter, winner of the 2003 Freedom 100 held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"The series, although still in its infancy, continues to get stronger," said Roger Bailey, Executive Director of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. "Six of our races will be held on the same day as the IndyCar Series events which will lead to increased attendance and visibility."
"The television package has also greatly improved," Bailey continued. "In addition to live coverage of the Freedom 100 from Indianapolis in May, ESPN2 will air same-day coverage of two events, and next-day coverage of two more races."
The remaining seven races will be aired by ESPN2 within six days of the events.
The Menards Infiniti Pro Series, featuring 12 100-mile sprints to the finish line, also makes stops at Phoenix International Raceway (March 20), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (May 22), Kansas Speedway (July 4), Nashville Superspeedway (July 17), The Milwaukee Mile (July 25), Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 1), Kentucky Speedway (Aug. 14), Pikes Peak International Raceway (Aug. 22), Chicagoland Speedway (Sept. 11, California Speedway (Oct. 2) and Texas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16).