IRIPS Ready To Roll
July 5, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
When the green flag flies on the opening lap of the first IRIPS event at Kansas Speedway this weekend it will be the start of a series that has names like Foyt and Luyendyk, one former TV star, a couple USAC standouts, and even a former Indy Racing League regular.
What more could IRIPS brainchild and IRL President and CEO Tony George really ask for?
IRIPS consists of seven races beginning with this weekend’s Ameristar Casino Indy 200 event through the season finale Sept. 14 at Texas Motor Speedway. Drivers will race in 100-mile "sprints" at the same track and on the same day as Indy Racing League events except for the Texas race, which will be conducted the day before the IRL's season-ending Chevy 500. Drivers will compete for a $100,000 purse at each Infiniti Pro Series race.
Infiniti Q45 engines will power new Dallara Automobili chassis built for the series, with Firestone Firehawk tires used exclusively on all cars. The V8 engines will produce approximately 450 horsepower for the single-seat winged chassis.
The series is providing a clear road to the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis 500, breeding future IRL and Indy 500 stars.
But the Infiniti Pro Series has plenty of marquee value in its driver lineup even before the green flag flies to start the first race.
After all, how many open-wheel series have drivers named Foyt and Luyendyk, an Indianapolis 500 veteran and a worldwide television and movie star on its initial driver roster?
A.J. Foyt IV, the 18-year-old grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, will drive the Harrah's/A.J. Foyt Team Dallara/Infiniti entry fielded by his grandfather's IRL operation. Young Foyt's car will carry the No. 14 that his grandfather made famous at Indianapolis.
“I think the Infiniti Pro Series is going to mean a lot to the growth of the Indy Racing League,” Foyt said. “The drivers in the Pro Series are driving there with the intention of driving Indy cars one day, and it should attract a lot of young drivers.
“I also think the team owners in the IRL will start looking at the drivers in this series as potential drivers for their teams, and it may encourage the expansion of one-car teams into two-car teams. For me, it came along at just the right time.”
Arie Luyendyk Jr., the 20-year-old son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, will start his path to the IRL and Indianapolis in the No. 5 Luyendyk Racing entry.
“I'm excited and a bit anxious because I've been waiting so long for Kansas City to come around,” Luyendyk said. I'm looking forward to it. Growing up at the racetracks and being on the road with (my father) and being around him so much, it was just second nature. I really enjoyed doing it. It was so fun, and I had such a passion for it when I was little.
“I got discouraged when I didn't do well, and I just always was looking forward to the next time I could go out. I've always loved doing it, and I don't think that will change any time soon."
Former Indianapolis 500 starter Cory Witherill will drive the No. 92 WSA Healthcare Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone fielded by Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports, co-owned by 2000 Indy Racing League champion entrant Ron Hemelgarn.
Witherill, a Navajo, is the only full-blooded Native American in professional open-wheel racing. He teams with short-track ace Aaron Fike on the Hemelgarn 91 Johnson team.
Jason Priestley, who played Brandon Walsh in the worldwide television hit "Beverly Hills 90210," will make his open-wheel racing debut in the No. 7 HomeMed Pharmacy entry fielded by standout IRL team Kelley Racing. Priestley is a veteran sports-car racer.
“The Kelley Racing team has worked extremely hard to get prepared for our first race at Kansas Speedway,” Priestley said. “We had three very successful tests at Michigan, St. Louis and Chicago, which gave me a tremendous opportunity to work closely with my team. It was amazing how quickly we were able to communicate and translate that dialogue to making adjustments on the car.
“Having Tony Renna as my driving coach and spotter has sped up the learning curve. His talent and expertise in the car have given me insights it would have taken much longer to develop without his guidance. The Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series will be my greatest challenge in racing thus far in my career.”
There's plenty of name recognition among Infiniti Pro Series teams, too. Sinden Racing Service, which will field an entry for USAC short-track standout Ed Carpenter, and Sam Schmidt Motorsports, fielding an entry for G.J. Mennen, join A.J. Foyt Racing, Hemelgarn Racing and Kelley Racing as IRL teams fielding or co-fielding an Infiniti Pro Series entry.
Bowes Seal Fast Racing, a team with deep roots in Indy-style racing, is fielding cars for Mike Koss and Matthew Halliday. Bowes Seal Fast has participated in the Indianapolis 500 since 1930. Legendary drivers who have competed in Bowes Seal Fast Indy-style cars include A.J. Foyt, Louis Meyer, Troy Ruttman and Jackie Stewart.
Brian Stewart Racing, which has earned 31 wins, 27 pole positions and two series championships in open-wheel developmental series, is fielding a car for Marty Roth.
The Infiniti Pro Series also will show the versatility of two of its younger competitors, Fike and Ed Carpenter.
Both Fike, 19, and Carpenter, 21, are standouts in USAC open-wheel racing and plan to stay loyal to their short-track roots while preparing themselves for a career in the IRL. Both drivers will encounter some interesting "double duty" this season, starting with this weekend.
Fike will drive the No. 91 Hemelgarn Racing entry in the Infiniti Pro Series race the morning of July 7 and then fly to Wisconsin to race in the USAC Stoops Freightliner Sprint Car Series race that evening at Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, Wis.
Carpenter will drive in the USAC Sprint Car race July 5 at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway and then return to Kansas for Infiniti Pro Series qualifying July 6 and the race July 7 in his No. 2 Menards/Jack K. Elrod Co./Futaba/Delphi Dallara/Infiniti.
“I'm going to be driving the Indy Racing two-seater at Kansas on Thursday and then possibly running the morning practice session on Friday, flying to Indiana and racing the sprint car at Winchester, and then flying back either late Friday night or early Saturday morning for the practice session Saturday and qualifying,” Carpenter said.
“I don't really think it's going to be that rough. I'm not worried about the physical aspect of it. Hopefully everything goes smoothly in Winchester. If I run well there, it's just going to be more momentum built up that I think will carry me into Kansas City.”
For IRIPS that kind of momentum has been building for 310 days now.