1996 Indy Racing League
The 1996 Indy Racing League, the first in the history of the league, consisted of only three races, as the season concluded in May with the 80th Indianapolis 500. Walt Disney World Speedway was completed in time to host the first race of the season, and the first ever event of the IRL, and Phoenix International Raceway switched alliances from CART to IRL and hosted the second event of the season. At the conclusion of the three-race schedule, Scott Sharp and Buzz Calkins ended up tied for first place in the season championship. With no tiebreaker rule in place, the two drivers were declared co-champions.
|1996 Indy Racing League season|
|Indy Racing League|
|Start date||January 27|
|End date||May 26|
|Drivers' champion|| Buzz Calkins|
|Indianapolis 500 winner||Buddy Lazier|
On January 23, 1995, at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort the IRL announced the dates for two of the races scheduled for the inaugural 1996 season. The Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway was scheduled for January 27, 1996, and 80th Indianapolis 500 was set for May 26, 1996. On April 3, the IRL announced that Phoenix International Raceway and the then-under construction Las Vegas Motor Speedway would be on the 1996 schedule, but no dates were confirmed. Later that month, on April 13, 1995, the respective dates were finalized for Phoenix (March 24, 1996) and Las Vegas (September 15, 1996). On May 30, 1995, New Hampshire Motor Speedway officially switched alliances from CART to IRL, and scheduled their race for August 18.
The original plan was to have every Indy Racing League season end with the Indianapolis 500, with the IRL championship being awarded at the conclusion of the Indy 500, and possibly to the Indy 500 winner. The next season (in this case the 1996–97 season) would begin immediately after the Indy 500, and spread over two calendar years to conclude at the next Indianapolis 500. As a result, the two races at New Hampshire and Las Vegas, already announced, would in fact open the 1996–97 season. This scheduling format went against the traditional motorsports grain, and the idea was eventually scrapped in October, with the 1996–97 season being expanded in order to bring the schedule back in sync with the rest of the motorsports world for 1998.
The season was contested with 1995 and older CART chassis produced by Lola and Reynard with a fixed limit on how much a team could spend on its combination. In addition, nearly every car was powered by a Ford Cosworth XB, Menard V6 or Buick V6 engine. Despite the short season, only fifteen drivers competed in all three. All races were well-attended by competitors as a legal chassis and engine combination could be acquired for well under $100,000.
Teams and driversEdit
- A. J. Foyt Enterprises became the only Indy Car full-time team to join the Indy Racing League ranks for its 1996 inaugural season. The team would fill more than one car at every race for the first time since Roger McCluskey joined Foyt as teammate in the 1969 USAC Champ Car season.
- Indianapolis business man Fred Treadway formed an alliance with Andreas Leberle, owner of the Project Indy team that had run 15 Indy Car races in two years, and Jonathan Byrd, who had lended support to a number of teams in the Indy 500 since 1985. The one-car team was initially known as Byrd/Leberle–Treadway Racing, and acquired a Reynard chassis that had been previously used by Team Green as a back-up car for Jacques Villeneuve.
- Four teams that had competed in Indy Car in a part-time basis, mainly at the Indianapolis 500, also entered the competition:
- Team Menard, who had been running an Indy 500 one-off program with their own engines for a decade, planned to compete in the Indy Racing League with a two-car program. Since 1985, their only Indy Car race outside Indianapolis was the 1990 Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, with Jim Crawford.
- Hemelgarn Racing also entered the Indy Racing League, competing outside Indianapolis for the first time since 1990. The team only employed Ford Cosworth powerplants, phasing out entirely the use of Buick engines after 10 years.
- Pagan Racing, a team that had run a 3-race program in Indy Car in 1995, entered the series. Having used a Reynard-Mercedes package in 1995, the team switched to Lola and Ford Cosworth, as Mercedes declined to lease their Ilmor powerplants outside of the Indy 500.
- Beck Motorsports, a team that had debuted at the 1995 Indianapolis 500 after four years running entries for other teams, partnered with The Zunne Group, a company that tried to promote San Antonio as a racing hub, to compete in the IRL season.
- Two teams joined the IRL from junior series: Della Penna Motorsports, who had won the 1995 Atlantic Championship, and Bradley Motorsports, a family-run effort with 3 years of Indy Lights experience created by the owner of Bradley Petroleum. Della Penna also contested a partial Indy Car schedule.
- Team Scandia was an IMSA GT outfit led by driver Andy Evans, who entered the IRL in a partnership with Indy Car team Dick Simon Racing. This union was defaulted in January when Evans took full control of the team, although Simon remained as team manager. The team competed as Scandia/Simon Racing in the first race, before switching to its original name.
- Two further teams also came from IMSA GT competition: Cunningham Racing, a team that also had experience at Le Mans, and Leigh Miller Racing, a relatively novel team with two years of experience.
- Blueprint Aircraft Engines, an independent engine builder owned by former drag racer Ed Rachanski, entered the series as Team Blueprint, being later renamed to Blueprint Racing.
- Three weeks before the inaugural IRL race, long-time chief mechanics Paul Diatlovich and Chuck Buckman led the formation of a new race team, which would be known as PDM Racing. The team had bought the assets of the defunct Leader Card team, on which Diatlovich had been the Team Manager for its last three years.
- With the support of Frank and Dominic Giuffre, owners of a crane company and past Indy-backers, veteran driver Bill Tempero was able to set-up his own team, Tempero–Giuffre Racing. Out of all the driver-owner teams coming from the American Indycar Series, Tempero–Giuffre was the only one able to compete in an IRL race.
- On February, Beck Motorsports and Zunne Group ended their partnership. As Zunne Group was the legal owner of the cars employed by Beck, the team retained them to compete on their own, partnering with McCormack Motorsports to run the operation, and Beck had to sat out the Phoenix race while looking for new machinery.
- On February 13, Andreas Leberle stepped out of his partnership with Jonathan Byrd and Fred Treadway, as he desired to compete in selected events in the Indy Car World Series, while Treadway and Byrd wanted to concentrate exclusively on the IRL. From then on, the team was known as Byrd–Treadway Racing, while Project Indy competed independently in the IRL.
- On February 26, ABF Motorsports was registered as a new team under the leadership of Canadian owner Art Boulianne, a former Super-modified driver.
- At some point between the Phoenix and Indianapolis races, Leigh Miller Racing's assets were bought by Beck Motorsports in order to compete at the Indy 500.
- On April, Galles Racing and Walker Racing, two teams competing in Indy Car, confirmed they were entering the Indianapolis 500 because of sponsorship commitments. Walker's main sponsor, Valvoline, was also a sponsor of the race telecast on ABC, while Delco Electronics, primary sponsor for Galles, was based in Indiana.
- The first teams and drivers were introduced during test days at Walt Disney World Speedway from November 28-December 8, leading to a tentative entry list with 18 drivers:
- Byrd/Leberle–Treadway Racing announced that 1990 Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk would drive the No. 5 entry. Luyendyk was the most popular driver in the IRL roster, although he had only run a couple of oval races in 1995.
- A. J. Foyt Enterprises announced that supermodified champion Davey Hamilton, who had failed to qualify three times for the Indianapolis 500 during the decade, would drive the No. 14 car.
- Team Menard announced that veterans Scott Brayton, who earned the 1995 Indianapolis 500 pole position with Menard, and Eddie Cheever, one of two IRL drivers to had driven full-time in the 1995 Indy Car season, would drive their No. 2 and 3 entries.
- Hemelgarn Racing announced that Stéphan Grégoire would drive the No. 9 entry. Grégoire's only Indy car experience was a 19th place finish at the 1993 Indianapolis 500.
- Pagan Racing announced that Roberto Guerrero, the 2-time pole-sitter at the Indianapolis 500, would drive the No. 21 entry, the same he had driven at Indianapolis in 1994 and 1995 after losing his full-time status.
- Della Penna Motorsports fielded the No. 4 for 25-year old Richie Hearn, who had won the 1995 Atlantic Championship with the team, and would also compete in Indy Car with them.
- Bradley Motorsports fielded the No. 12 entry for Buzz Calkins, who had finished 6th in Indy Lights. The team had been formed around him by his father, in order to aid his racing career.
- Thanks to its ties with Dick Simon, Team Scandia entered veteran Eliseo Salazar, who had finished 21st in his debut Indy Car season with Simon, and Michele Alboreto, a former Ferrari driver with 15 seasons of Formula One experience and 5 Grand Prix wins, who had last driven in the DTM in 1995 for Alfa Romeo.
- Leigh Miller Racing entered the No. 17 for Stan Wattles, a road-racer in SCCA and IMSA who had been 12th in the 1995 Atlantic Championship, which would also contest in 1996.
- Cunningham Racing filled the No. 75 entry for Johnny O'Connell, who had raced for the team since 1991. O'Connell, champion of the Formula Atlantic Pacific division in 1987, was a consummate GT driver, having won the Le Mans 24 hour race in its class and finishing 5th in the IMSA GTS-1 class in 1995.
- Blueprint Racing submitted the No. 16 entry for 51-year old Johnny Parsons, with 11 Indianapolis 500 starts under his belt. Parsons had failed to qualify for the race since 1986, and his only Indy car race ever since had been in 1991.
- As owner of Tempero/Giuffre Racing, 52-year old Bill Tempero, who ran 25 Indy Car races in the early 1980s with his own team, entered himself to drive the No. 15 car. Tempero was the reigning American Indycar Series champion, which he owned and had won a record 4 times, but he had not run an Indy car race in 13 years.
- Butch Brickell entered the series as a driver-owner of Brickell Racing with the No. 77 entry, despite a lack of road racing experience. Brickell had been more proficient in off-road racing and offshore powerboat racing, although his full-time job was as a Hollywood stuntman. He broke two vertebrae in a January 13 testing crash, and never raced in the series.
- Jim Buick, a commercial airline pilot who used to double up as a racing driver in a variety of amateur series, entered the race at Walt Disney World Speedway with his own Buick Racing team, from the American Indycar Series. Buick, who was 55-year old, had run four oval CART races in 1981. Despite being present at Orlando, he never took to the track.
- Rick DeLorto was another driver with American Indycar Series, midget and amateur racing experience that entered the race at Orlando as a driver-owner. DeLorto, a 46-year old, had unsuccessfully tried to qualify for two CART races in 1982, and he would fail his rookie tests at Orlando practice and Phoenix testing for being too slow.
- Tony Turco, also with American Indycar Series experience, entered the Orlando race with his own team, but he withdrew two weeks before the race, as he had no sponsor to field his car.
- On January 8, PDM Racing, by then under a provisional name, announced John Paul Jr. as the driver of the No. 18. Paul Jr., the 1983 Michigan 500 winner, had been mainly an Indy 500 one-off driver during the decade, years after serving time for drug-related charges.
- On January 10, Team Scandia announced that Lyn St. James would drive the No. 90 entry during the 1996 season. St. James had 11 Indy Car starts since 1992, four of them at the Indianapolis 500, where she qualified 6th in 1994.
- On January 12, Hemelgarn Racing announced that Buddy Lazier would drive the No. 91 entry for the season. Lazier had been a perennial backmarker in Indy Car since his debut in 1990, with only 3 top-10 finishes in 55 starts.
- On January 12, Beck Motorsports announced that Robbie Buhl would drive the No. 54 entry. Buhl, the 1992 Indy Lights champion, had contested 12 Indy Car rounds between 1993 and 1994. After Beck and The Zunne Group split, Buhl was allowed to run with Zunne at Phoenix in the No. 45 car, before returning to Beck Motorsports at Indianapolis.
- On January 15, A. J. Foyt Enterprises announced that Scott Sharp would drive the No. 41 entry (later the No. 11). Sharp was a former SCCA champion who had run the 1995 Indianapolis 500 with the team, having also competed in the whole 1994 Indy Car season with 2 top-10 finishes.
- On January 19, Team Menard announced that Tony Stewart would drive the No. 20 entry for the season. Stewart had been the first driver ever to achieve the USAC Triple Crown, and combined the IRL season with a partial schedule in the NASCAR Busch Series.
- On January 24, Tempero/Giuffre Racing announced that David Kudrave would drive a second car for the team. Kudrave had started 7 races in the 1993 Indy Car season, scoring points at Phoenix and Michigan. After running the No. 25 entry at Orlando, Kudrave ran the No. 15 car at Phoenix, and was scheduled to do so at Indianapolis.
- On January 25, A. J. Foyt Enterprises announced that Mike Groff would drive the No. 41 car, just before the start of practice at Walt Disney World Speedway, and up to the Indianapolis 500. Groff had 53 IndyCar starts with 11 top-10 finishes under his belt since 1990, but he hadn't raced since losing his full-time ride at Rahal-Hogan Racing at the end of 1994.
- On February 26, Team Scandia announced that Michel Jourdain Jr. would drive the No. 22 car at Phoenix and Indianapolis, becoming one of the youngest Indy car drivers of all time at 19 years old. Jourdain Jr. was the son of former Indy Car driver Bernard Jourdain, having run in the Mexican Formula 2 series until that point. Jourdain Jr. would also contest a partial, 6-race program in the Indy Car World Series.
- On February 26, Blueprint Racing announced that Jim Guthrie would drive the No. 27 entry from Phoenix onwards. Guthrie had finished 11th in the Indy Lights standings the previous year.
- On March 8, Team Scandia announced that Fermín Vélez would drive the No. 7 entry at Phoenix, replacing Eliseo Salazar, who had been injured at Walt Disney World Speedway. Vélez would later be entered as an additional entry for the Indianapolis 500, initially in the No. 43 car. Vélez was the reigning IMSA GT champion with Scandia, and he last raced in an open-wheel car in the 1988 Formula 3000 season.
- On March 8, Blueprint Racing announced that Dan Drinan would drive the No. 36 entry at Phoenix. Later on, Drinan bought the car and entered the Indianapolis 500 under the Loop Hole Racing banner. Drinan had run the USAC Silver Crown series in 1995, having been a midget racer the previous years.
- On March 15, ABF Motorsports announced 36-year old Paul Durant as the driver of the No. 96 entry. Durant had previously raced in the USAC Supermodified and Silver Crown series.
- On March 22, Project Indy announced that Johnny Unser would drive the No. 64 entry at Phoenix and Indianapolis. Unser had run five Indy Car races in 1993 and 1994, and finished 2nd in the GT2 class of the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans.
- On March 22, Tempero/Giuffre Racing entered Racin Gardner in the No. 25 entry, vacant after Bill Tempero failed to pass his rookie test at Orlando. Gardner had raced in the American Indycar Series, and had been a test driver for Project Indy in 1995. However, he couldn't pass his rookie test because of engine failures, and he was replaced the next day by Billy Roe, a former racing mechanic that had sporadically driven in Super Vee, Indy Lights and Formula Atlantic.
- On April 7, Walker Racing announced that Mike Groff would drive the No. 60 entry at Indianapolis, with Groff switching from A. J. Foyt Enterprises.
- On April 7, Galles Racing announced that their test driver Davy Jones, a noted sports car driver with 11 Indy car races behind the wheel, would drive the No. 70 entry at Indianapolis.
- As the entry list for the Indianapolis 500 was unveiled on April 15, a number of deals were made public:
- Team Menard fielded Mark Dismore in the No. 30 entry. With four Indy Car starts, he had failed to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991, suffering multiple injuries in a crash, and 1992, having run sporadically in the Atlantic Championship since then. Dismore had also won the 1993 24 Hours of Daytona for Dan Gurney's All American Racers.
- Hemelgarn Racing fielded Brad Murphey in the No. 10 entry. Murphey had failed to qualify twice for a CART race in 1984, and hadn't raced since suffering a concussion in an SCCA Corvette Challenge crash in 1988.
- Beck Motorsports fielded Hideshi Matsuda in the No. 52 entry. At the time, Matsuda was driving for Porsche in the All Japan GT Championship, and had run twice in the Indy 500, finishing 15th in 1995.
- McCormack Motorsports fielded Randy Tolsma in the No. 24 car, although his entry would be later integrated under the Zunne Group Racing banner. Tolsma had been a regular in the USAC Silver Crown and Midget circuits since 1993.
- Scott Harrington entered the race as a driver-owner of the No. 39 entry, in an effort run by Larry Nash's LP Racing. Harrington ran one Indy Car race at Road America in 1989, and had last raced at the SCCA Can-Am series in 1994.
- At some point between the first entry list and the start of practice, four drivers signed to drive in the Indy 500.
- A. J. Foyt Enterprises entered Brazilian driver Marco Greco in the vacant No. 41 car. Greco had been a regular of Indy Car's lower ranks for the past three years, with no top-10 finishes to his credit.
- Team Scandia reached a deal with Alessandro Zampedri to drive the No. 8 entry. Zampedri had run in Indy Car for two years, collecting five top-10 finishes in 28 starts. The team also signed Racin Gardner as a replacement to Lyn St. James, as she was unable to find enough sponsorship to keep her seat.
- Tempero-Giuffre Racing entered Joe Gosek to drive the No. 25 entry. 'Double-O Joe' had a cult following at grassroots level, being a Super-modified champion and a two-times track champion at the Oswego Speedway.
- On May 5, the first day of practice, Tempero-Giuffre Racing put Justin Bell in the No. 15 entry, replacing David Kudrave. Bell was a GT driver for various General Motors' brands, and had previously competed in the American Racing Series, precursor of Indy Lights. On May 16, he stepped out of the ride, as his chassis kept struggling for speed.
- On May 7, Zunne Group Racing announced that Lyn St. James would drive the No. 45 entry at Indianapolis. Unlike Robbie Buhl in the previous race and Randy Tolsma, she competed with Goodyear tires.
- On May 14, Pagan Racing announced that Billy Boat would attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in the team's back-up car, the No. 99 entry. Boat was the reigning USAC Western Midget Series champion, and had won the prestigious Turkey Night Grand Prix. On Bump Day, Boat sampled the No. 84 entry for A. J. Foyt Enterprises to prevent a possible bumping, but he crashed before being bumped from the grid.
- On May 16, Brickell Racing announced that Danny Ongais would drive the No. 77 entry at Indianapolis, as Butch Brickell had not been medically cleared to race. Ongais, who turned 54 on May 21, was the winningest driver in the field with 6 Indy car wins, but he hadn't raced since the 1987 Nissan Indy Challenge at the Tamiami Park street circuit.
- On May 16, Project Indy announced that Rob Wilson would drive the No. 46 entry at Indianapolis. Wilson, who had run in Europe since the mid 1970s, was the 1990 Barber Saab Pro Series champion, and had finished 12th in the 1994 Indy Lights season.
- On May 17, Scott Brayton was killed in a crash during practice for the Indianapolis 500 after suffering a basilar skull fracture. Two days later, Team Menard announced Danny Ongais as Brayton's replacement for the race. Brickell Racing replaced Ongais with Tyce Carlson, a dirt racer who had run in the three USAC national series the previous year.
- On May 19, Team Scandia fielded their seventh Indy 500 entry for Joe Gosek, who had left Tempero/Giuffre Racing after passing his rookie test two days before. He drove the No. 43 entry, as Fermín Vélez was moved to the No. 34 car.
- On May 19, Scott Harrington signed a last-minute deal to switch to the No. 44 back-up car for Della Penna Motorsports, after damaging his chassis in a practice crash on May 16.
|1||January 27||Indy 200 at Walt Disney World||Walt Disney World Speedway||Bay Lake, Florida|
|2||March 24||Dura Lube 200||Phoenix International Raceway||Phoenix, Arizona|
|3||May 26||80th Indianapolis 500||Indianapolis Motor Speedway||Speedway, Indiana|
All races running on Oval/Speedway. ABC Sports televised all three races.
In a controversial move, in July 1995, it was announced that the top 25 drivers in IRL points would secure guaranteed starting positions for the 1996 Indianapolis 500. Presumably, that left only eight positions open for at-large competitors. However, some interpreted the rule otherwise.
The IRL points system was to be staggered to adjust for the number of races each driver entered. The number of points awarded per race would be multiplied by the number of events the driver had participated in. For example, if a driver had entered all three events, the points awarded for that third race were multiplied by three. This move was supposed to be an encouragement to enter all IRL events, but it did not attract any additional teams from the rival CART series.
Initially, IRL officials hoped that competitors from the rival CART series would choose to race in the IRL events, presumably since there were no foreseen conflicts in their respective schedules. The 1996 IRL schedule was finalized by May 30, 1995. However, a couple weeks later the CART series announced their 1996 schedule, immediately with conflicting dates. The CART race at Road America was scheduled for the same day as the IRL event at Loudon, while the CART races at Rio and Australia were bookended around the IRL race at Phoenix, creating an impossible travel situation. The only CART teams that participated in any IRL events in 1996 were Galles and Walker, but neither fielded drivers who were CART regulars.
|Round||Race||Pole position||Fastest lap||Most laps led||Race Winner||Report|
|1||Walt Disney World||Buddy Lazier||Buzz Calkins||Buzz Calkins||Buzz Calkins||Bradley Motorsports||Report|
|2||Phoenix||Arie Luyendyk||Arie Luyendyk||Arie Luyendyk||Arie Luyendyk||Byrd-Treadway Racing||Report|
|3||Indianapolis||Tony StewartA||Eddie Cheever||Roberto Guerrero||Buddy Lazier||Hemelgarn Racing||Report|
- ^A Scott Brayton was the fastest qualifier for the 1996 Indianapolis 500, but was killed during practice. Hence, second-fastest qualifier Tony Stewart started from the pole.
Note: † Scott Brayton, 37, won the pole for the 1996 Indianapolis 500, but was killed in a crash during practice after qualifying.
- #41 at Walt Disney World.
- #11 at Walt Disney World.
- At Walt Disney World.
- Used at Walt Disney World.
- Tyce Carlson and Andy Michner passed their Indianapolis rookie test in the car.
- Replaced Danny Ongais during practice for the Indy 500 after Ongais signed with Team Menard as a replacement for the fatally injured Scott Brayton.
- Switched from Harrington Motorsport during practice for the Indy 500.
- Used by Brad Murphey.
- Injured in a practice crash at Phoenix.
- Used by Roberto Guerrero at the Indy 500.
- Used at Phoenix.
- Used by Alessandro Zampedri, Joe Gosek and Racin Gardner.
- Used by Lyn St. James at Walt Disney World
- Used by Michele Alboreto at Walt Disney World and Lyn St. James at Phoenix.
- Injured in a practice crash at Walt Disney World
- Switched from Tempero–Giuffre Racing (cars #25 and #15) during practice for the Indy 500.
- At the Indy 500, Brayton withdrew his already qualified primary car and won the pole in the backup #32, but was fatally injured in a practice crash and replaced by Ongais, who switched from Brickell Racing.
- Used by David Kudrave
- "1996 Indianapolis 500 - The 239.260 car". 8W Forix. December 29, 2014. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
- "The Changing Face of Racing;A Rival Indy-Car Circuit Puts a Damper on CART's Season". The New York Times. February 6, 1996. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
- "PDM Racing, Inc". Indy Racing League. 1997. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
- "ABF Motorsports". Indy Racing League. 1996. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
- "Becks take on daunting task as a family". The Indianapolis Star. May 17, 1996. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
- "Mike Groff, Davy Jones Only Drivers From CART Teams". The Associated Press. May 15, 1996. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
- "Walt Disney World entry list (TENTATIVE)". Motorsport.com. January 6, 1996. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
- "Indy Racing League Seeking Magic in Debut at Disney". The New York Times. January 21, 1996. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
- "Two Teams To Double-Dip". SWX Right Now. April 7, 1996. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
- "Support Races Add Excitement to Grand Prix". Los Angeles Times. April 11, 1996. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
- "IRL: CHAMPCAR/CART: IRL press release 96-01-04". Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2007-04-03.