2005 IndyCar Schedule Includes Road Racing for First Time

8/23/2004 7:33:25 PM

In a move applauded by most of its drivers and hopefully by many fans, the Indy Racing League is branching out and staging its first-ever road races in 2005.

After nine years of ovals only, Tony George's series will diversify and add Sonoma, Calif. and Watkins Glen, N.Y. to the mix, with a possibility of an additional date at St. Petersburg's street circuit.

Honda, which won six consecutive drivers' championships in CART's melting pot of motorsports from 1996-2001, welcomes the challenge, as does its drivers.

"Bring it on," said Dario Franchitti of Andretti Green Racing. "Obviously, I'm very excited to see the IRL go road racing - it's a direction I was hoping to see them go in. It will complement the series very well, and I hope there are additional road races to follow.

"And we're going to two tracks I've never driven, so I'm excited in that respect."

IndyCar championship points leader Tony Kanaan figures it's the best for everyone.

"Let's face it, 90 percent of the field is from a road racing background, so we are all welcoming it with open arms," he said. "It puts a bit of variation in the series and it's great for the fans. I'm definitely looking forward to it, as I'm sure most people are."

Robert Clarke, vice president and general manager of HPD, said he's been pushing for road racing since Honda first started talking about joining the IRL in 2002.

"I'm very happy and I think it's a natural progression," he said.

Infineon Raceway, a 10-turn, 1.9-mile course located north of San Francisco, hosts NASCAR every year but hasn't had an IndyCar race since 1970. Watkins Glen, one of the most storied race tracks in America and longtime site of the U.S. Grand Prix, hosted CART from 1979-81 and is NASCAR's other road race each season.

"Road racing is important for a number of reasons," said Ken Ungar, IRL senior vice president of business affairs. "We're excited to be at a point of maturity where expanding beyond ovals is a possibility. It's a real breakthrough for the IRL because it helps us access markets we can't reach because they don't have an oval track."

Negotiations are also continuing for the possibility of a street race at St. Petersburg in early April.

Besides the new venues, there are also two deletions - the second race at Texas and Nazareth, Pa.

Beyond that, the season continues to open at Homestead, Fla. (March 6) and will now close at Fontana, Calif. (Oct. 16). There will be three night races (Texas, Richmond, Nashville) and Phoenix will be moved to a Saturday day race to accomodate national television.