Drivers Welcome Opportunity To Go Road Racing In 2005

3/1/2005 7:20:15 PM

Considering that 19 of the 20 drivers competing full-time on the IRL circuit came from road racing backgrounds, the league's departure from an all-oval series in 2005 is being met with open arms and wide smiles.

The IRL takes to the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. in early April before late-season stops at the famed road courses of Infineon Raceway (Calif.) and Watkins Glen (N.Y.). Not only do these three shows add some diversity to the IRL's schedule, they also add some joy.

"I've been hoping we would go road racing and I think I speak for a lot of my fellow drivers," said Dario Franchitti, the first to test an IRL car on the 12-turn, 2.2-mile Infineon road course at Sonoma, Calif. last November. "I was pleasantly surprised with how the cars performed, and I think this is going to be a very physical race for the drivers.

"I've never been on a track like this. You're really compromising on every turn. This course is really challenging and the corners are very quick, which makes it difficult. These cars accelerate very quickly, so you're coming into the corners very fast."

During two days of spring training on the road course at Homestead, Fla. in midJanuary, Franchitti turned in the fastest time, followed by teammate Dan Wheldon.

"It's really good to be part of the league that is now running on road courses. I think they're great fun," said Wheldon, who went from Formula Fords and Formula Vauxhall in England to Indy Lights and Formula Atlantic in the USA before beginning his IRL career in 2002.

"Some of us are kinda rusty at turning right and left because it's been a while, but it didn't take long to get back in the groove."

Defending IRL champ Tony Kanaan logged the fourth-fastest lap at Homestead, followed by AGR's Bryan Herta. "It felt great to be on a road course again. I was probably looking forward to this as much as anyone in the series," said Herta, who was a master of Laguna Seca in a Champ Car.

"Road racing has been a big part of many of our careers and I'm so happy we've got three of them this year."