Ijoliet Notebook:/I Sunday

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JOLIET, Ill. – The Indy Racing Northern Light Series is scheduled to receive more television air time next season as a result of a contract extension announced Sunday before the start of the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy Racing League, ABC and ESPN will continue to be partners through 2007.

“It is very important to the growth of our sport to have more television news reporting of the Indy Racing League, and I am grateful to the ESPN networks for making this commitment,” said Tony George, president and chief executive officer of IMS and the IRNLS. “The combination of ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 gives us the best broadcasting and cable platform in American television to carry America’s premier open-wheel, oval-track series.”

Under the agreement, there will be more live coverage from IRNLS events, including daily programming originating from Indianapolis by ESPN2’s RPM2Night during May and similar programming from other IRNLS events each year. The deal also makes the IRNLS the exclusive American open-wheel series on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 during the course of the contract.

“Growing the relationship between ABC Sports and the Indianapolis 500 has always been one of our top priorities, and we have been very pleased with the growth of the event under the current contract,” said Howard Katz, president of ABC Sports. “We are excited about the potential of growing the Indy Racing League, and this arrangement gives us the ability to put in place long-term strategies that will help grow both the league and the 500.”

Testing at Michigan: While their IRNLS counterparts prepare for the season-ending Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Robbie Buhl and Scott Sharp will be turning in the first official IRNLS laps at Michigan International Speedway as part of a Firestone tire test Wednesday.

The IRNLS will compete for the first time at the 2-mile track July 28, 2002.

Buhl and Sharp expect the race to become one of the IRNLS’ premiere events.

“The formula of our cars and the competitiveness of our cars, it’s going to be a fantastic race,” said Buhl, who drives the No. 24 G Force-Infiniti for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. “It’s fast, no two ways about it. It’s always been fast, still will be fast.”

“I think it’s going to be great,” Sharp said. “I mean, it’s going to be three-, four-abreast all the way through the corners. It’s going to be awesome. Once again, it’s another Midwest race, the heart of our race fans. It’s a traditional, strong, Indy-car track.”

MIS has hosted the CART FedEx Championship Series for two decades, but the two organizations parted ways after this year’s race in July. For the past few seasons, the race has been the most exciting on the CART schedule, and both Buhl and Sharp expect that to continue when the IRNLS visits Brooklyn, Mich., next year.

“Most other series go to tracks, and they have problems putting on really competitive, good, side-by-side racing, and we put on great shows,” said Sharp, driver of the No. 8 Dallara-Aurora. “So, what does that tell you about a place like Michigan, where some of those guys put on pretty good shows? We’re going to put on an unbelievable show.”

“It will be some exciting racing, and I think from where the Indy Racing League is going and from where our fan support is coming from in the area in the Midwest – it’s close to Indianapolis, it’s close to a lot of other venues we race at – we’ll have a good turnout there,” Buhl said.

Infiniti Cars go Opposite Directions: Robbie Buhl and Eddie Cheever Jr. have been two cars to watch all weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. That continued in Sunday morning’s final practice session, but for different reasons.

Buhl turned in the fastest lap in his No. 24 G Force-Infiniti at 221.634 mph. It was the third time in four practices that Buhl has been the fastest car on the 1.5-mile, high-banked track.

Cheever took top honors in Saturday morning’s practice, giving Infiniti powerplants a sweep of the four practice sessions. In final practice Sunday morning, his engine finally let him down.

“Something broke in the engine,” Cheever said. “We’re not sure what it was.”

Smoke billowed from Cheever’s No. 51 Dallara-Infiniti just 10 minutes into the practice session, but that was enough time for the veteran to turn in the 14th fastest lap of 218.731 mph.

Weather conditions Sunday morning were much the same as they have been all weekend, with cooler than normal temperatures, abundant sunshine and minimal winds.

Pole winner Jaques Lazier was second in Sunday’s practice at 221.218 mph in Team Menard’s No. 2 Dallara-Aurora. Mark Dismore was third at 221.053 mph in his No. 28 Dallara-Aurora, followed by points leader Sam Hornish Jr. at 220.521 mph in his No. 4 Dallara-Aurora and Jeff Ward at 220.424 mph in his No. 35 G Force-Aurora.

In four practice sessions, IRNLS drivers have completed 3,962 laps without an accident at the brand-new track.

Chicagoland Announces Schedule: Chicagoland Speedway announced its schedule for 2002 on Sunday, and it includes a surprise addition to the lineup.

The Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series will compete at the 1.5-mile track in Joliet, Ill., during the IRNLS weekend of Sept. 7 and 8 next season.

Joie Chitwood, vice president and general manager of Chicagoland, likes the idea of staging an IRNLS support series race at his track.

“I think that’s really going to complement that weekend,” he said.

The IRNLS’ Delphi Indy 300 has been moved back one week next season, off its Labor Day weekend date, and Chitwood thinks that’s a good move.

“I really believe Labor Day is the last chance for people to have summer vacation, and I think it makes sense to get off that weekend,” he said.

The complete Chicagoland Speedway schedule follows.

  • July 13: NASCAR Busch Series, Hills Bros. Coffee 300
  • July 14: NASCAR Winston Cup Series, Tropicana 400
  • Sept. 7: ARCA 200
  • Sept. 8: Indy Racing Northern Light Series, Delphi Indy 300
  • Sept. 7 or 8: Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series

    The Infiniti Pro Series race announcement is the first for the IRNLS support series that was announced Friday at Chicagoland Speedway.
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