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Series sends drivers usual word of caution

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2002

INDIANAPOLIS -- They're told the same thing every year, and they nod, and sometimes they behave themselves.

Occasionally, though, despite the caution that the Indianapolis 500 isn't won in the first few laps, a driver will make a rush to the front, and another will try to hold him off, with predictable results.

"Don't crowd each other," IRL director of operations Brian Barnhart told them Saturday. "Give everybody plenty of room, and let's have a clean start to a long and difficult day. ... "Do not impede the progress of the car behind you. There are rules defining your behavior and officials to interpret your actions. Not all penalties are called in football ... but you know the consequences of your actions and the risks you're taking on the track, and be prepared to pay the price."

Several thousand fans attended the ceremony: the introduction of drivers and presentation of a number of awards.

"It's fantastic to be here. Last year, you saw how happy I was," 2001 winner Helio Castroneves said. "But last year was last year. Now we have another race (today)."

Defending IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr., starting on the third row, said he has a hard time "going at somebody else's pace. I always like to be at the front."

PUTTING THE CART FIRST: Rookie Indy 500 drivers Max Papis, Dario Franchitti, Alex Barron, Shigeaki Hattori and Tony Kanaan have driven in CART. Castroneves and Juan Montoya were CART drivers who won in their first Indy 500s the past two years.

"It's not a coincidence," Kanaan said. "If that happens (today), I'd be very happy. All 33 drivers can do it, not just the veterans."

NEXT IN LINE: A.J. Foyt won four Indy 500s. Now the fourth A.J. is getting closer to the crown jewel of open-wheel racing.

The elder Foyt is entering a car in the new Infiniti Pro Series and is putting A.J. Foyt IV, his grandson, in the driver's seat.

The series is one step below the Indy Racing League, which operates it. It is the IRL's version of the Indy Lights series that CART discontinued this year. An abbreviated seven-race Infiniti series will open July 7 at Kansas Speedway and is expected to expand to 12 races in 2003.

A.J. IV knows the benefits and drawbacks of carrying such a prestigious name. "There may be more pressure on me, but I don't think he'll be all that hard on me. He just tells me all the things I do wrong, pretty much like he treats his other drivers, which is both good and bad."

And the grandfather acknowledges there's some of him in his grandson. "I know everything he tells me, or hollers at me, will be all for the good," A.J. said.

A NEW CHASSIS TO PUT IT IN: The IRL, which has agreed to add Honda to Chrevrolet, Infiniti and Toyota as approved enginemakers, added MK Racing Saturday as a third chassismaker for 2003-05.

The Concord, N.C.-based company joins Dallara and G Force. MK co-owner Michael Kranefuss recently worked with Roger Penske in the NASCAR Winston Cup series.

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