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IRL may add another Canadian race

Thursday, May 15, 2008


AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indy Racing League might add a second Canadian race next year after Andretti Green Promotions announced Thursday that it has purchased the assets of the Toronto Grand Prix.

Since the unification of America's two biggest open-wheel series in February, the IRL has added two former Champ Car street courses, in Edmonton and Australia, to this year's schedule.

Now that Michael Andretti's company owns the assets to Toronto's race, the Andretti team is hoping to make it onto the schedule next year.

Financial details of the deal weren't immediately available.

"As a driver, Toronto was always my favorite race of the year and it will be no different as a promoter," Andretti said in a written statement. "The fans are some of the most enthusiastic you'll ever be around and we're looking forward to building on the great history of this event."

The series has 18 races this season, and IRL founder Tony George has said he envisions a schedule of 18 to 22 races annually. Toronto is one city the IRL is interested in as a new venue.

"Since unification came along, Toronto is a city we have identified as a potential destination for us," league spokesman John Griffin told The Associated Press. "We've talked to AGR and they have a real understanding of what we need to go forward there, and I think we'll know more in about 45 days when we're ready to announce our 2009 schedule."

VISO'S IMAGE: E.J. Viso might not be making many new friends on the IRL circuit this season, but he's certainly making an impression in the 13-man rookie class at Indy.

"You know, with these guys, you can't discount any of them," 2005 race winner Dan Wheldon said before joking about his friend, Viso. "The craziest by far is Ernesto Viso, I think his name is. Dude, he looks nuts. You can tell he hasn't hit the wall yet. When he does hit the wall, you'll know because he'll pull out slowly from the car in front, move back nicely."

The 23-year-old Venezuelan is a former test driver from the Formula One circuit, and hasn't gotten off to the smoothest of starts in IndyCars. During the first three IRL races, he has been criticized, once by Danica Patrick, for getting in the way of faster cars.

Still, he did finish fourth on the road course at St. Petersburg, ninth in the Champ Car finale at Long Beach and has only been in one accident -- during the season-opener at Homestead.

Viso also is getting acclimated to the way things are done in the United States.

"He's a friend of mine," Viso said, smiling. "In the States, they do that. In Europe, they usually don't talk about other drivers. But I'm here, so it's OK."

Wheldon just thinks it will take a little time, and maybe a good hit or two, to get Viso accustomed to the series' racing style.

"In 2003, I came out of the box swinging. Then you hit the wall and you just start to calm down a little bit," Wheldon said. "Then you start to hit the wall a bit more, then you really start to calm down. You realize it's not a nice feeling."

SICK TRIP: IndyCar drivers spend the entire first week at the 2.5-mile oval looking for speed.

By Thursday they were going a little too fast for Pacers forward Danny Granger, the honorary starter for the practice session and a newcomer to watching IndyCars firsthand.

"It's unbelievable how fast they drive those cars," he said. "I've never experienced anything like that. I got kind of dizzy when the first one was coming at me so fast."

It wasn't just watching them that made Granger feel a little sick.

He also took a ride around the oval in the Corvette pace car, reaching speeds that approach only half of what IndyCar drivers normally practice at.

That was too much for Granger.

"When I was in the pace car, I was getting sick to my stomach and we were only going 100 mph," he said. "There's no way I could fit in one of those cars. I could barely fit in the pace car. It was an exciting, scary experience."

NEW HEROES: Panther Racing plans to unveil its new hero cards Friday, which will honor one member of the National Guard in each racing market through the rest of the season.

The drivers cards, which have become a staple outside garages and hospitality tents, will be revised with driver Vitor Meira appearing on one side along with a photo and details of the National Guard member's service on the other.

The first honoree is Staff Sgt. Patrick Shannon of the Indiana National Guard, who served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Somalia. While deployed in Ramadi, Iraq, he was wounded, losing the vision in his left eye, getting shrapnel in his left leg and sustaining a moderate traumatic leg injury. Afterward, he was sent to Walter Reed Medical Hospital and said he will use the platform to encourage donations to the Wounded Warrior Project.

"I'm doing pretty well," Shannon said. "I think it's a great program and I feel honored to be out there and representing the Indiana National Guard and everyone out there who helps the severely wounded."

Shannon will sign cards along with Meira at the team's autograph sessions through the rest of May.

The Panther Racing car is sponsored by the National Guard.

RAISING MONEY: The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation raised more than $300,000 for medical research at its annual fundraiser Monday night in Indianapolis.

Schmidt, a former IRL driver and now a team owner, started the foundation 14 months after being injured in a test practice crash at Orlando, Fla., in 2000. He lost all feeling from the chest down and remains paralyzed.

The money helps fund research for those recovering from spinal cord injuries, strokes, Parkinson's Disease and Lou Gehrig's disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

Schmidt's organization has raised more than $2 million since its inception nine years ago and has become one of Indy's biggest off-track events in May. This year, Schmidt honored Tony George and his family for their commitment to advancements in racing safety.

"They've always been proactive in the search to make things safer and they invested their own money in the SAFER barrier," Schmidt said. "They've been very aggressive with Delphi in everything from the yellow-light system to seat safety to head rest improvements."

Mario Andretti, the 1969 Indy winner, also was presented with the Legendary Driver Award.

AWARD NOMINEES: The new Paddle Shift System, which allows drivers to shift gears by pressing a button on the steering wheel, is among three nominees for this year's Louis Schwitzer Award.

The award is given to engineers for innovative concepts in racing technology, and the winner will be announced Friday morning at the speedway. This year's other nominees are the variable ratio rack-and-pinion steering technology, and the micro-channel heat exchanger.

Past winners have included the SAFER barrier walls, the HANS device and the turbine engine.

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