SPARTA, Ky. (AP) _ Brian Barnhart’s new role as vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League won’t be that much different from his previous job as director of racing operations.
Barnhart, who was promoted last week by IRL founder Tony George, begins his new role by overseeing Sunday’s inaugural Belterra Resorts Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway.
``It’s going to be a little different role,″ Barnhart said. ``Many of the things I did do I will continue to do, and probably it will be just an expansion of working more closely with Tony on the day-to-day operations of the league.
``Obviously, Tony has a lot of commitments across the street at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the F1 event (Sept. 24), the Brickyard (400), and everything else that he does. I’ll probably work more closely with him on some of our operational issues, deal more with the track promoters and also work very closely with (senior vice president and chief marketing officer) Bob Reif and our marketing group to try to improve and grow the league in the future.″
The Indy Racing League is nearing completion of its fifth season. It started with three races in 1996 followed by a combined 1996-97 season. The last three seasons have stretched from January to October, but next year a minimum of 13 events will be condensed into a period between March 18 and Sept. 30.
``I’m very pleased with where we’re at,″ Barnhart said. ``I think, with many of our founding principles and philosophies, we have achieved many of our goals. We’ve created many new opportunities for people like Tony Stewart, Billy Boat, Donnie Beechler, Jimmy Kite and Davey Hamilton. We’ve created a lot of opportunities for the grassroots-type of American racers to have a path to Indianapolis and Indy-car racing.″
ROBERTO’S RETURN: Roberto Guerrero will drive here Sunday, the first time he has raced an IRL car since the 1999 Indianapolis 500.
The driver from Colombia, now a naturalized American, came up short of making this year’s 500 in a car owned by A.J. Foyt, and it appeared his Indy car career might be finished at 41.
But that changed when Corey Coulson, a new IRL car owner from Minnesota, called Guerrero. Coulson asked if Guerrero was interested in driving his ’99 G Force-Oldsmobile in the final two races with the hope of getting sponsorship and putting together a competitive team in 2001.
``They had the car at Indianapolis and he wanted me to drive it there,″ Guerrero said. ``I told him at Indy with a ’99 car you were kind of wasting your time. But we built a relationship. Then he contacted me when he decided to do these last two races, and I said I felt we could.
``It’s a different story. You’re going to be in the race, so you don’t really have to worry about qualifying. Hopefully running a smooth, consistent race and trying to finish, it really would be the goal.″
Guerrero admits he thought about retirement, but added, ``I still enjoy very much driving these cars. We’ll see what happens.″
UNFAIR ADVANTAGE: You wouldn’t think Oldsmobile’s IRL Aurora V8 engine needed any help after winning 35 of its first 36 races in the Indy-car series.
But the GM brand introduced a revised cylinder head design and corresponding engine management calibrations here intended to give the engines more mid-range power and quicker throttle response.
``It will improve acceleration on restarts and will enhance the quality of the racing as drivers work their way through traffic,″ said Joe Negri, GM’s IRL-road racing group manager.
That’s bad news for rival Nissan Infiniti, which finally broke through for its first IRL win earlier this season at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Colorado.
IDENTICAL TRIPLETS: Jaques Lazier, Buzz Calkins and Jimmy Kite all ran identical qualifying laps of 215.681 mph on Saturday. Their fast laps were clocked at 25.037 seconds.
Lazier was awarded the 10th spot in the 37-car lineup, with Calkins 11th and Kite 12th, after IRL scoring officials computed their times to the fourth decimal place _ ten-thousandths of a second.
SPARK PLUGS: Brad McCanless, team manager and engineer for Blueprint Racing and driver Jimmy Kite, remained in Indianapolis this weekend to care for his father, who recently suffered a stroke. ... Scott Goodyear, who is third in the season points, has completed more laps than anyone this year with 1,398 of a possible 1,424. ... Robby McGehee has led six of the seven races this season, but hasn’t won. ... Officials at Kentucky Speedway are expecting a crowd of 55,000 on Sunday, about 10,000 under capacity.