IRL Rolls Into MIS
July 22, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
The Michigan Indy 400 on July 28 is the inaugural Indy Racing League event at the 2-mile oval in the Irish Hills of Michigan, which has played host to major-league open-wheel racing since it opened in 1968.
Two races will take place during this event, as the Michigan Indy 400 for the IRL starts at 3 p.m. (EDT) July 28, preceded that day by a 100-mile race for the league's new development series, the Infiniti Pro Series, at 12:30 p.m. The Michigan Indy 400 will be televised live on ABC.
Nearly every top driver in open-wheel racing has won at Michigan. The winners' list includes past Indianapolis 500 champions Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue, Emerson Fittipaldi, A.J. Foyt, Gordon Johncock, Rick Mears, Juan Pablo Montoya, Bobby Rahal, Johnny Rutherford, Tom Sneva, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr. and Bobby Unser.
There are many new names that could be added to the illustrious list of winners at Michigan, starting with title contenders Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran and Sam Hornish Jr.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves, de Ferran and 2001 IRL champion Hornish are engaged in a tight race for the championship through 10 of 15 races this season. That chase will continue at Michigan.
de Ferran leads the series standings with 347 points and one victory in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara. His Marlboro Team Penske teammate, Castroneves, is right behind with 337 points and two wins. And Hornish also looms large in the title picture, in third place with three victories and 333 points in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara.
Marlboro Team Penske teammates Castroneves and de Ferran are winless in prior CART starts at Michigan. But Penske Racing has recorded nine victories at MIS since 1971, a winning legacy that could help Castroneves and de Ferran.
While Castroneves and de Ferran have made prior starts at MIS, this will be Hornish's first race at the track. But his initial start on a 2-mile oval, in March at California Speedway, was an unqualified success: Hornish edged Jaques Lazier for victory by .0281 of a second in the third-closest finish in IRL history.
Another big name that could be added to the winner's list at Michigan is that of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk. He is making only his fourth Indy Racing start since 1998 - and first outside of Indianapolis during that span - at this event in the No. 5 Meijer Indy Racing G Force.
Luyendyk has finished on the podium three times in Indy-style races at MIS, placing second in 1991 and 1994 and third in 1993. Luyendyk has 17 career starts at MIS in CART, True Value IROC and Super Vee since 1981, and that experience should help him contend for victory in the Michigan Indy 400.
The event also will mark the first time that a father and son have competed in Indy Racing competition on the same weekend. Luyendyk's son, Arie Luyendyk Jr., will drive in the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series race - the league's new development series - July 28.
2001 IRL Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone has no victories this season, but he has used consistency to climb to fourth in the series standings with 295 points in the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force. Giaffone has finished in the top seven in the last eight races, a streak dating to late March.
Giaffone also has winning experience at MIS, winning an Indy Lights event from the pole in 2000.
Alex Barron, who has two career Indy-style starts, also is climbing the IRL standings quickly in his first season in the series. Barron climbed to fifth in the standings with 243 points after earning his first career IRL victory July 20 at Nashville Superspeedway in the No. 44 Rayovac Blair Racing Dallara.
Perhaps no IRL driver would like to win at Michigan more than Robbie Buhl, a native of Detroit. Buhl, an avid fan of the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, drives the No. 24 Team Purex/Aventis/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force.
The future of Indy Racing also will be on display during Infiniti Pro Series competition. The Michigan race will be the third of seven events for the inaugural season of the new development series.
While the series is new, it already features some of the most prominent names in Indy Racing, Foyt and Luyendyk.
A.J. Foyt IV, grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, won the inaugural Infiniti Pro Series event July 7 at Kansas Speedway in the No. 14 Harrah's/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara. Arie Luyendyk Jr. contended for victory at Kansas until he was eliminated in a three-car crash late in the race and finished second July 20 at Nashville Superspeedway.
Cory Witherill won at Nashville and leads the point standings, 87-84, over Foyt.
The Infiniti Pro Series also will feature two local connections.
Ronnie Johncox, from Jackson, Mich., will drive the Rev. 1 Racing Special Dallara in the 100-mile race. IRL veteran Johncox led four laps in the inaugural race at Kansas and hounded Foyt for the lead until he was eliminated in a three-car crash with Luyendyk and USAC short-track standout Aaron Fike.
Mike Koss, from Coldwater, Mich., will drive the No. 37 Bowes Seal Fast Automotive Products entry. He finished fourth in the inaugural event at Kansas.
Other top Infiniti Pro Series drivers are actor-driver Jason Priestley and USAC short-track standouts Ed Carpenter and Fike.