IZOD IndyCar Series Stars Geared Up for Kentucky Return, Indy 500
Lingering effects of heavy weekend and overnight rains hampered a scheduled IZOD IndyCar Series test today, but didn't dampen driver enthusiasm toward returning to Kentucky Speedway Sept. 4 for 300 miles of racing.
Last season's Kentucky winner Ryan Briscoe joined circuitmates Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and defending series champion Dario Franchitti in the Kentucky Speedway Media Center to share their thoughts on night racing at the track and the May 30 Indianapolis 500.
Briscoe earned the closest IZOD IndyCar Series finish in Kentucky Speedway history and the 12th-closest overall finish in series history last season by nipping Ed Carpenter by 0.0162 of a second. The average race speed of 200.893 mph made the event the fastest series race in track history and third-fastest all-time series race.
The victorious memories are still fresh in his mind just a little more than eight months removed from the triumph.
"For sure, last year was really exciting. I think any one of the top eight or 10 drivers could've won that race. I was lucky to get the track position when we needed it and hold off Ed Carpenter. It was exciting. It was one of the closest, hard-fought oval races of the year. Our cars were working really strong," Briscoe said.
Castroneves owns the Kentucky Speedway lead in IZOD IndyCar Series top-five finishes with six and top-10 finishes with seven. He earned his second straight and fourth Kentucky Speedway top-five finish in his last five starts at the track with a fourth-place showing last season. He will enter this season's
"Kentucky Indy 300" searching for his first victory on one of this favorite tracks and looking to build on his streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes at the track.
He expects to encounter racy Labor Day weekend conditions.
"We like to race over here, especially under the lights. You saw last year how incredible it can be and I think this year will be pretty similar. The funny thing is, when you practice in the day and go qualifying at night, it's a big deal because everything changes.
"When you start in the twilight, it's really cool and you don't feel much of the difference. Certainly, the cars change. Remember, the cars are very sensitive to the weather. As it cools down, everyone gains more grip, the cars become equal and the race is more of a challenge," he said.
The Penske Racing competitor may own a piece of open-wheel racing history when he returns to Kentucky in September. The 2002 and 2001 Indianapolis 500 winner will attempt to win back-to-back race titles for the second time in his career and become just the fourth driver to earn four 500-mile-race crowns later this month. Al Unser was the last driver to accomplish both feats. He raced to Indianapolis 500 victories in 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987.
"I think it's an incredible opportunity. I'm so excited and so grateful to be in this position. I'm a driver. I want to go out there and do my best and I know Team Penske will show with the best equipment and do the same thing. Hopefully, the best team, the best driver wins.
"I don't feel pressure, I feel honor to be in this situation. How cool would it be to win four? It's been more than 20 years since the last driver did it. We're excited, nervous and ready. It's definitely a magical place," Castoneves said.
Before he can challenge for the victory, Castroneves will have to successfully navigate a new Indianapolis 500 qualifying format in which the nine quickest cars that emerge from traditional qualifying days will engage in a 90-minute shootout for the pole position on May 22.
"It definitely adds excitement for the fans, but it will be tough for drivers and teams," Briscoe said.
To get one run perfect is massively tough in itself. When we did it in 2008, we had the right wind and it was just one of those runs. Even when we went back out a couple of other times to match or better it, we couldn't do it. To put all the effort in to make it into the top nine and then lose your times again is going to be pretty tough.
"In previous years, we've always had a fair bit of time to go out, do practice runs, simulate what we'll do in qualifying and try to have a good understanding of what qualifying will be like. With this new format, there's not going to be time to get those practice runs in. Already having done practice runs, it's (qualifying) one of the most nerve-wracking moments you can ever have. Now, if we're going to have to do it without having practiced it, it's going to be really tough," he added.
The Indianapolis 500 will be the second in an oval track segment of the schedule that includes events at Texas Motor Speedway June 5 and Iowa Speedway June 20.
The "Kentucky Indy 300" will be the second in a season-ending four-race stretch and will be part of a Labor Day Weekend Speed Celebration that includes a race-day concert with Diamond Rio and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series "Built Ford Tough 225 presented by the Greater Cincinnati Ford Dealers" on Friday night, Sept. 3.
Weekend Big Deals starting at $20 can be reserved now by visiting the "Tickets" pages of this Web site. Great seats for both race days also can be reserved by phone at 888-652-7223 (RACE) or by visiting the Kentucky Speedway ticket offices located at 400 Buttermilk Pike, Suite 100, in Ft. Mitchell, Ky., and in the Sparta, Ky., Fan Center located off of Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N.
Story by Mike Schmaltz
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