Top Indy Racing League Drivers Test Kentucky Speedway On "Belterra Casino Indy 300" Media Day
Indy Racing League points leader Gil de Ferran, Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish, Jr., joined fellow circuit drivers Sarah Fisher, Robbie Buhl and Richie Hearn to both preview the August 11 "Belterra Casino Indy 300" at Kentucky Speedway and test their racing machines on its 1.5-mile tri-oval.
Reported top test speeds bettered 222 mph.
de Ferran, a two-time CART Series champion, and Castroneves, a two-time Indy 500 winner, comprise Marlboro Team Penske and will enter "The Belterra Casino 300" occupying the top two spots in the points standings. de Ferran leads his teammate by 13 points after driving to his first career IRL victory at Pikes Peak and taking nine top-five finishes in 11 starts.
He predicted his first race at Kentucky will be both fast and exciting. "This is a very fast track," de Ferran said of his first visit to Kentucky Speedway. "Already we're going over 220 miles an hour and it's likely to increase by the time we come to race weekend. It's going to be very exciting and very, very fast."
He also shared his thoughts on his first IRL season. "It's been a really good year for us," de Ferran said. "We've been very competitive every race and in contention every race. It's also been a difficult year from the standpoint that it's our first year in the IRL. Despite the fact that we're doing well, it's been a steep learning curve. There are a lot of uncertainties because of our lack of experience."
Catroneves, who earned his first IRL victory at Phoenix this year and is one of three multiple event winners on the circuit, shared his impressions of his first IRL season and stated "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" will be exciting for race fans. "It's unbelievable when you have four and five guys really there all the time, and, in the last few laps of the race you still don't know who's going to win. That's what the fans like and that's what we like too. Speed on this (Kentucky) track?" Castroneves continued. "We're gonna go pretty damn fast. We're going to above 220 mph so that's going to be something pretty interesting for the fans."
Castroneves, famous for his "Spiderman" like climb on speedway fences following a victory, admitted he was making a visual assessment of the Kentucky Speedway's set up. "Actually, I did look. To climb the fence, first we have to finish so that's the procedure we're going to take. We have the championship that we're battling, so we have to take it step-by-step, race by race. Who knows what's going to happen yet."
Defending IRL Champion Sam Hornish, Jr., who is the only three-time winner on the circuit this season, will enter "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" third in the standings, just 18 points behind de Ferran. After finishing third in 2001, Hornish, Jr., said he is ready to continue his battle Marlboro Team Penske for the series lead at Kentucky.
"Last year we were the hunted all year long and this year we've had to deal with hunting," Hornish, Jr., said. "We're still working on how to do that. We were 60 points behind four or five races ago, and we're 18 behind now. Michigan was the first in five races that we lost points on the leader. We'll just continue to do what we do and if things go our way we should be up in front before long."
"They have three wins between them and we have three wins so it's kind of us versus them," Hornish, Jr., continued. "There are two (Penske) cars there. The bad thing is I'm out there running wheel-to-wheel with one of the cars and I get in a wreck, the other guy is still there and he'll collect a ton of points. It's a little bit tough, but that's why we come out here. We want to win, we want to do the best that we can do and continue to work our butts off to try to do better."
Even NASCAR legend and Kentucky Speedway consultant Darrell Waltrip, who visited the facility he helped design, was impressed with not only the speeds generated in the test session, but the tight, wheel-to-wheel racing the IRL has staged throughout the season.
"Man I told these guys, they've got a problem. They've got a big problem," Waltrip analyzed. "These races are too exciting. I tell you, I watch with my eyes closed. Eight cars at Michigan doing 220 mph, open-wheel cars, changing the lead down every straightaway and in every corner, bouncing off of each other, Sarah Fisher up in the middle of all of them, you know they've got it going on.
"I love Winston Cup, and I'm a Winston Cup guy, but I love to watch these IRL cars," he continued. "They are exciting, and they are putting on a great show. They've got the mechanical side of it figured out. They've got the handling package figured out. Tony George should be proud of what he's accomplished in a very short period of time."
Kentucky Speedway opens its fourth and final weekend of the season with the NASCAR Hills Bros. All Pro Series and IRL qualifying on "84 WHAS AM 150 & Pole Day" on Saturday, August 10. The "WHAS 150" begins at 2:00 p.m. and will be followed by Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series and IRL qualifying for "The Belterra Casino Indy 300." Speedway gates open at 10:00 a.m.
The action continues on Sunday, August 11, with the IRL "Belterra Casino Indy 300" and Kentucky Speedway debut of the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series in "The Kentucky 150." Speedway gates open at 8:00 a.m. "The Kentucky 150" begins at 11:30 a.m., and the green flag drops for "The Belterra Casino Indy 300 at 1:30 p.m. The first 15,000 fans to enter the speedway on Sunday, August 11, will receive one of three bobbleheads depicting league drivers Buddy Lazier, Sam Hornish, Jr., and Al Unser, Jr. Fans also will be able to register to win the Official Kentucky Speedway Belterra Casino Indy 300 Pace Car, a 2002 Ford Mustang GT, courtesy of event title sponsor Belterra Casino Resort throughout the weekend. Tickets for Kentucky Speedway's closing weekend are on sale now and can be purchased in five easy ways:
- By phone at 1-888-652-RACE
- On the World Wide Web at www.kentuckyspeedway.com
- In person at either the speedway's Ft. Mitchell ticket office or at the Kentucky Speedway Fan Center off Ky. Hwy. 35 in Sparta, Ky.
- At Tickets.com and all Tickets.com retail outlets located in Greater Cincinnati
area Meijer Hader Hardware and Play-It-Again Sports stores.
- In person at all Greater Cincinnati AAA locations.