US 500 1996 PPG Indy Car World Series

Race No. 6
U.S. 500 - Race Preview

By Jim DeFord

©1996 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.

And don't forget to keep an eye on the Michigan weather forecast. U.S 500 scanner frequencies are available.

It's the month of May and that means the best in IndyCar Racing. But this year the stars that we have come to know; Al Unser, Jr., Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Jimmy Vasser, Emerson Fittipaldi, Scott Pruett, Andre Ribeiro, Robby Gordon, and Greg Moore will be at Michigan International Speedway on the traditional Memorial Day race now known as the U.S. 500.

Yes, there will be an Indy 500 race this year, but that race is now being run by the Indy Racing League (IRL) drivers in a series created by Tony George after a rift with the owners of IndyCar, Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), over disagreements of where the direction of the sport was heading.

It was Tony George's hope to bring the races that revolve around the Indy 500 to go back to "American grass roots-racing..." and to provide more opportunity for young American oval-racing drivers. He also hopes to lower costs with cheaper engines and chassis for 1997.

Mr. George has also changed the way that teams qualify for the Indy 500. The actual qualifying sequence has not changed, but there are 25 spots on the grid that are "reserved" for established IRL teams, leaving only 8 other spots open to non-IRL teams.

The Indy 500 marks the end of the first IRL season, which included only two other races at Orlando, Florida and Phoenix, Arizona.

CART considered this an essential lockout for participating in the Indy 500, and so we now have the U.S. 500.

Though not yet announced, it is expected that the U.S. 500 in 1997 will be at the new California Speedway currently under construction near Los Angeles.

The U.S. 500 festivities began last weekend in which the teams held qualifying sessions. PPG Cup points leader, Jimmy Vasser will start on the pole after qualifying at 232.025 mph.

Jimmy will be joined on the front row of three by Adrian Fernandez and Bryan Herta, with the second row being filled by Al Unser Jr., Andre Ribeiro and Paul Tracy.

In positions 6 - 9, will be Paul Tracy, Raul Boesel and Emerson Fittipaldi.

Scott Pruett, the winner of the 1995 Marlboro 500, held at MIS last August, will start in the fourth row in position #10, followed by Michael Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi, who round out the top twelve qualifiers.

There are a total of 25 drivers qualified for the next weekend's U.S. 500 with one more chance to qualify on Saturday. At this point it is not expected that any more cars will attempt to qualify.

The 1995 Marlboro 500 was one of the closest and most competitive races in IndyCar history, with Al Unser Jr. and Scott Pruett locked in a classic side-by-side, nose-to-tail battle over the last 100 miles of the race.

They exchanged the lead several times and Scott won with a daring outside pass coming out of turn 4 and nipped Unser right at the start-finish line.

As competitive as the 1996 season has been so far, it is expected that we will see more of the same at the 1996 U.S. 500.

The race will be shown live at 2:00pm EDT on ESPN and broadcast to an estimated 187 countries worldwide.