Ganassi Racing, the dominant CART team the past four years, entered four cars in the Indy Racing League's Indianapolis 500 on Monday for defending series champion Juan Montoya and teammate Jimmy Vasser.
Car owner Derrick Walker also plans to enter the race with cars for 19-year-old rookie Sarah Fisher, giving CART the most drivers it has had in Indianapolis since the IRL's founding triggered a boycott by the more-established racing body four years ago.
"It doesn't matter to me if they make me race in a school bus," Montoya said. "I'm excited to finally see the famous track that I've been watching on television since I was 5 years old."
Montoya and Vasser will drive a pair of G Force IRL cars powered by Olds Aurora engines. Their first testing sessions in Indianapolis will be March 29, a week before the annual Rookie Orientation Program for all first-year Indy drivers.
Montoya, who won seven races and the CART season title last year, will not be required to participate in the rookie program because of his experience on ovals in CART.
He will still be classified in the race as a rookie, however, according to Brian Barnhart, the IRL director of racing operations.
Vasser has competed in the Indianapolis 500 four times from 1992-95, with a best finish of fourth in 1994.
"I'm looking forward to the competition, for sure," Vasser said. "I really enjoyed all the races I had here before. It's still the Indianapolis 500, and it's something I want to add to my credentials as a race win."
Vasser was dueling Scott Pruett for the lead 30 laps from the finish in 1995 when he crashed in the third turn.
"I remember clearly the last lap I ran here at Indianapolis, I led," Vasser said. "And then I ended up in the fence. It was great racing. That moment was the springboard for what was to come for me in 1996 and the coming years. To think that was five years ago seems unreal."
Vasser won the CART title in 1996 and former Ganassi driver Alex Zanardi won the championship in 1997 and 1998.
"Racing in the Indy 500 is a dream for any owner or driver," said car owner Chip Ganassi, who also drove in Indianapolis in 1982-86.
"To quote a basketball term, this is not a layup, to do a program like this," Ganassi said. "We will have to work just as hard (as IRL teams) just to do a decent job. We want to approach this with the utmost professionalism, as we have with everything else, and do the best job we can."
Ganassi became a team owner by purchasing an interest in Patrick Racing in 1988. The team won the Indy 500 and the CART championship with driver Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989, and Ganassi became full owner of the team in 1990.
The Ganassi entries at Indianapolis will carry the numbers 10 for Montoya and 15 for Vasser, with primary sponsorship from the Target retail chain, the same company that sponsors the tea in the CART series. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. and Budweiser beer will be an associate sponsor.
Since the IRL split, the only CART drivers who have competed at Indianapolis were Mike Groff, driving for Walker in 1996; and owner-driver Robby Gordon last year. Former Indy and CART champion Al Unser Jr., who last drove an Indy car at the Speedway in 1994, joined the IRL's Galles Racing team this season and also will return to the Brickyard.
There has been speculation about a possible reconciliation between IRL and CART, and CART owner Roger Penske, whose drivers have won a record 10 Indy 500s, said he considered returning to the Speedway this year.
"But after we sat back we decided this wasn't the year," Penske said three weeks ago.
Practice for the May 28 race begins May 13.
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