Champ Car casts glance at Sebring

By Times Staff
Published July 12, 2005

Champ Car will regain the early season toehold in Florida it lost with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg if negotiations can be completed to hold its season opener in conjunction with the 12 Hours of Sebring sports car race in March.

The open-wheel series raced through the streets of St. Petersburg in February 2003, but abandoned the venue because of a litany of financial and logistical issues and the city's interest in the rival Indy Racing League. The IRL held its first grand prix in St. Petersburg on April 3.

Sebring International Raceway president Tres Stephenson said the deal is "not officially done" and he had not been privy to discussions.

Champ Car would have to race either Friday, the day before the American Le Mans Series opener, or Sunday, which would not be conducive considering the differences in tires between the two series. Champ Car and ALMS are discussing running several doubleheader weekends involving different promoters.

Tim Mayer , chief operating officer of International Motor Sports Association, which sanctions ALMS races, called reports on SpeedTV.com that Champ Car had a tentative March19 date in Sebring "somewhat speculative." He did, however, see value in adding Champ Car to the weekend: "I think that any time that you can bring more value to your fans, it's good for motorsports. And obviously Sebring is a race with a lot of tradition and a lot of fans, but as an organization, we're always trying to find ways to improve that for our fans."

League spokesman Steve Shunck said several steps would be involved in coming to Sebring, including a review by vice president of operations Tony Cottman . "It takes a lot to go into a new venue and see potential track layouts, etc.," he said. "Just because we've talked to Sebring doesn't mean it's going to happen."

ALMS typically announces its schedule in September, Champ Car by mid August.

COMING ON: David Reutimann 's midseason charge in the NASCAR Truck series continued Saturday at Kentucky Speedway when he finished third in the No.17 Toyota for his fifth top 10 and third top five in six races. The Zephyrhills native finished third July 2 at Kansas, matching his best of the season. "We thought we had a shot at winning the race. Then we had a lug nut fall off the right front that cost us valuable track position with about 46 laps to go," he said. "It's unfortunate. I feel like we could've won the race, but we ran out of time." Reutimann jumped three spots to ninth - 97 points behind leader Dennis Setzer - in the driver standings.

GO TIME: Jeff Gordon 's midsummer doldrums continued Sunday when he was wrecked by Mike Bliss and finished 33rd. The four-time series champion is 15th in points, 512 behind leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson with eight races left until the regular-season final Sept.10 at Richmond. Gordon has been extremely successful at the next eight venues, however, with 26 wins, 73 top fives, 99 top 10s and 24 poles at New Hampshire, Pocono, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, Fontana and Richmond.

FINES: The crew chief for Johnny Sauter was among five fined by NASCAR for infractions during the July 2 Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Joel Shear was fined $10,000 for using unapproved rear coil spring mounts. He was also fined $5,000 because the infraction violated his probation imposed in April.

Dan Kolanda , crew chief for Morgan Shepherd , was fined $10,000 for also using unapproved rear coil spring mounts, and Bobby Hamilton Jr. 's crew chief, Harold Holly , was fined $10,000 for using an unapproved oil reservoir tank cover. Glenn Darrow , crew chief for Kevin Lepage , was fined $2,500 for using unapproved fuel cell foam, and Tony Eury Jr. , crew chief for Michael Waltrip , was fined $500 for missing the prerace driver's meeting.

A FIRST: Bill Lester became the first African-American driver to earn more than $1-million in purses when he started (and finished 22nd) in the Truck series Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

--Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.