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The IRL 10-years on

January 26, 2005

IndyCar Series Accelerates Into 10th Season Of Racing: 2005 marks the 10th season of racing for the IndyCar Series, which held its first race on Jan. 27, 1996. The following is the first in a monthly series focusing on the IndyCar Series 10th anniversary.

A decade after Tony Kanaan was getting his feet wet in the Italian Formula 3 Championship, he is drinking in the adulation accorded the reigning IRL IndyCar® Series champion.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Kanaan, whose gusto for life is superseded only by his passion for driving a high-tech race car at more than 215 mph inches from competitors. “It makes you proud of all the hard work you put in through the years.”

Kanaan, 30, also has respect for the IndyCar Series, which kicks off its 10th season of competition March 6 with the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Some of the greatest names in auto racing – Foyt, Mears, Andretti, Rutherford, Unser, de Ferran, Castroneves, Hornish and Rahal – are associated with the series, and Kanaan considers it a privilege to share their company.

"I see it growing and getting better every year,” said Kanaan, one of four drivers in the Andretti Green Racing armada. “I’d say the competition level is the highest it’s ever been. The series has survived the tough times and I think we have the product, the cars and the drivers to grow it further.

“In another 10 years, and another 10, we’ll be old and watching young kids racing in the IRL.”

Visionary

The champ shares the vision set forth in 1994 by Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. President and CEO Tony George for an exciting oval-based racing series with the historic Indianapolis 500 as its centerpiece. Less than two years after the ambitious plans were set in motion for the inaugural race at a new facility, a sellout crowd of 51,000 watched Buzz Calkins hold off Tony Stewart for the victory on Jan. 27, 1996, at Walt Disney World Speedway.

The margin of victory (0.866 of a second) became one of the calling cards of the series, which has followed with 47 of its 103 races decided by less than a second. For Calkins, the competitive racing, technological and safety innovations and team spirit also have been hallmarks of the IndyCar Series.

“(The longevity) is a testament to the IRL,” said Calkins, the first season’s co-champion with Scott Sharp. “The attitude at that time, if you would’ve asked 100 people if the IRL would make it to 100 races, outside of the competitors and those involved, everyone would’ve said ‘no.’ It’s pretty neat to see how it’s succeeded.”

Moving forward

Phil Casey has been on board since the spring of 1995. In the early years, the IRL Senior Technical Director has been traffic cop, secretary and parts manager. Essentially, he’s seen and done it all and can chuckle in hindsight. What the veteran car builder and mechanic sees entering the 10th year of competition is growth in the mechanical stability of the cars and technical experience of their drivers.

“You can see how the series has improved with the number of transporters, the quality of the teams and the quality of the competition that we have now,” he said. “When we first started, the first year any ways, we had four or five guys that could win races. Now the whole field is almost capable of winning races. The quality of competition has really increased since the beginning.”

The 100th-race milestone was celebrated with birthday cake and fireworks at Nazareth Speedway on Aug. 29, 2004. Dan Wheldon of Emberton, England, continued the celebration after he took the checkered flag.

“This is the best racing series in the world, bar none,” Wheldon said after leading a 1-2-3 sweep by Andretti Green Racing – another first in series competition. “I’m just so happy for the opportunity to compete in this series.”

Opportunities abound

Through 103 races, an equal number of opportunities have been presented to drivers from around the globe to test themselves against the best competition, drive the most technically advanced machines, and win.

“There was so much that was new (in 1996),” said Sharp, the only driver to start a race in each of the series’ nine previous seasons. “It was a real fun time of enormous growth with the IRL. It’s just continued to grow and grow and grow.”

Sharp, who has made 98 IndyCar Series starts and is the only driver from the inaugural IndyCar Series season still racing in the IRL.

“You never count the races, and suddenly you turn around and you’ve run 80-something races in a row,” said Scott Sharp “It’s pretty amazing. I’m very competitive and take (races) one at a time, everything I do I want to do as well as I possibly can. That’s what drives me.”

There will be many more opportunities in the years ahead. It’s only the 10th anniversary of the IndyCar Series.

There will be many more opportunities in the years ahead. It’s only the 10th anniversary of the IndyCar Series. .

-IRL-

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