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IRL Emphasizing Potential with Young Drivers

March 22, 1996

PHOENIX (AP) _ CART loyalists look at the 17 rookies on the tentative entry list for the Dura-Lube 200 and see a weakness. Phoenix International Raceway owner Buddy Jobe looks at them and sees a strength.

``There are a lot of drivers who have the ability to race Indy cars, but don’t have the chance,″ Jobe said of the field of 33 hopefuls for Sunday’s race. ``They’ve been brought up in open-wheel racing, but they would not get the opportunity otherwise.″

After the CART-PPG race on his 1-mile oval last April _ the 51st Indy-car event in 31 years at Phoenix _ Jobe threw his support behind Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George and the fledgling Indy Racing League.

He said lowering the cost of Indy-car racing by cutting out road courses, which make crews set up and test cars for two types of cornering, will create new stars by opening the door for new teams.

``Here at Phoenix, we’ve started as few as 22 cars for a CART race,″ Jobe said. ``And only 15 of them were real racecars. The rest were cars brought in to fill the field.″

When Buzz Calkins won the first-ever IRL race Jan. 27 in Orlando, Fla., with fellow rookie Tony Stewart second, critics of the IRL said it could only happen because drivers like Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal and Emerson Fittipaldi stayed with CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams).

``I don’t take it personally,″ Calkins said. ``We could put on a great race, where we had 30 cars in a train on the lead lap, and there would be people finding some flaw or other. I think the more knowledgeable the fans are, the more they’re going to support the IRL.″

He and Stewart may not even be the hottest rookies.

The field includes Richie Hearn, 25, who turned the fastest lap (185.854 mph) in Phoenix history last month during testing of a car rebuilt after a wreck in Orlando.

Hearn won the Toyota Atlantic championship last year, and Della Penna Motorsports owner John Della Penna has a similar background on road courses, where CART ran 11 of 17 races last year.

Della Penna said his team will split between CART and IRL events, with Hearn racing road courses at two CART races in California.

But the big attraction is the Indianapolis 500, the IRL’s ace in the hole against the established series.

``We’ve kind of stayed out of the controversy,″ Hearn said. ``Our mission after last year was to move up in Indy cars and race in the Indy 500.″

The Indy 500 race on Memorial Day weekend completes the IRL point series. Then the IRL will begin its first full season, finishing up at Indianapolis again.

George said he expected seven or eight races in 1996-97, and up to 12 in a few years ``after some tracks create permanent oval faciities.″

He also addressed the lack of superstars.

``If the Indy 500 is the premier race in the world, then obviously this is a premier series,″ George said. ``We don’t choose to draw a lot of comparisons, because we are unique, but it will be a world-class series.″

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