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A league for growth

By BOB PUTNAM
Published March 30, 2007


In 2001, the Indy Racing League toyed with idea of launching its own minor league. Its aim was to give the IRL what the Indy Lights could not: the IRL brand used in something of an experimental lab for marketing ideas, in addition to being a feeder system for drivers and many others.

The Indy Pro Series is no longer a concept. It is a reality.

And it is growing.

Think about all the up-and-coming drivers in IRL's premier IndyCar series: Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter and A.J. Foyt IV.

All got their start in the Indy Pro Series. Even Jason Priestley of Beverly Hills 90210 fame drove in the developmental series.

The Indy Pro Series, now in its sixth year, will run two races this weekend at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, one Saturday and one Sunday.

 

How it works

A Pro Series car looks similar to its IndyCar counterpart but has some differences.

An IndyCar has a minimum weight of 1,530 pounds, not including fuel and driver; a Pro Series car has a minimum weight of 1,430.

The fuel capacity is 22 gallons on an IndyCar, 25 on a Pro Series car.

Both series run V-8 engines; an IndyCar engine produces about 650 horsepower at 10,300 rpm; in the Pro Series it's around 450 horsepower at 8,200 rpm.

 

Local flavor

St. Petersburg resident Jay Howard, who won the IPS title as a rookie last year, is one of the favorites in this weekend's Indy Pro Series Grand Prix.

Last year, Howard finished third in one race and second in another. Both races were won by Raphael Matos, who is not entered this year.

 

5 Things to watch

Chris Festa

The 21-year-old, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, attended Florida State. He is in his third season in the series after coming over from Atlantics and sat on the pole for the opener at Homestead, where he finished second.

Alex Lloyd

Lloyd won at Homestead, a race marred by two serious accidents, one of which left Pablo Perez with serious leg injuries. Lloyd will try to keep the momentum going this weekend.

Crowded fields

The series, which had car counts barely into double digits when it started, had a record 25 entrants for Homestead. The Grand Prix will have the same number of drivers.

Bobby Wilson

Wilson works as a driving instructor for the Ocala Gran Prix, which also sponsors him in the Indy Pro Series. He won the race last year at Watkins Glen. This year, he moved to Brian Stewart Racing, which has won the past two championships.

The next superstar

Two years ago, Marco Andretti was victorious here in the Indy Pro, becoming only the fourth driver in the developmental circuit's five-year history to win in his first-ever race. Andretti has moved on to the IndyCar series, where he won once last season as a rookie and set the record for youngest winner in a major series. Which Indy Pro driver will make the leap this time?

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@sptimes.com or 727 445-4169.