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More USA Today coverage for IndyCar
Ed Note: USA Today seems to be making IRL coverage a regular element of its sports coverage now:

Look into the backgrounds of many American racers, and you'll likely discover many who spent part of their formative years competing in go-karts or quarter-midgets before deciding whether to pursue stock cars or open wheel as careers. That won't change, but the IRL hopes its Road to Indy developmental initiative will spur aspiring drivers to follow a defined path through open wheel, culminating with an appearance at storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Izod IndyCar Series.

Three Americans will race in Sunday's season-opening Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Brazil, all racing for Andretti Autosport: Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Graham Rahal will jump on board for the U.S. opener March 28 in St. Petersburg, Fla., but Rahal, who is subbing for Sarah Fisher, is scheduled for one more race as he seeks a regular ride. Fisher will race at Kansas Speedway in May.

By comparison, seven Brazilians are entered this weekend, including hometown drivers Helio Castroneves and rookies Mario Romancini and Ana Beatriz.

"In the past, we had our hands full making (the feeder) Firestone Indy Lights (Series) and the Izod IndyCar Series as good as they could be," Indy Racing League commercial division president Terry Angstadt said.

"But now I think it's a fantastic opportunity to connect all the way from karting to (entry level) USF2000 now that it's sanctioned (by the IRL), to Star Mazda, to Firestone Indy Lights, to the Izod Indy Car Series. That ladder is now clearly defined and is a great opportunity for kids very young to see a clear path to the IndyCar Series."

Of Star Mazda's 23 drivers, 11 are Americans and two are Canadians. USF2000 has eight U.S. drivers, including Sage Karam, 15, signed last week by Andretti Autosport.

"There's a great example of a guy at the pinnacle of the series, and he'll have USF2000, Indy Lights and IndyCar teams," Angstadt said of team owner and Indy legend Michael Andretti. "He can hit three levels."

The stepladder initiative announced in December will follow IndyCar's mix of oval, road and street courses. All four series will be in action for IndyCar racing in St. Petersburg, Fla., as well as at Iowa Speedway and Indianapolis in May. USA Today

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