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Archive for Sunday, July 28, 2002

IRL: No smiles for Scheckter

Rookie takes Michigan 400 pole despite turmoil

July 28, 2002

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— Tomas Scheckter, Buddy Rice and Eddie Cheever Jr. made Indy Racing League history Saturday.

Then, they talked about just about everything other than their 1-2-3 finish in qualifying for today's Michigan Indy 400, the inaugural IRL race at Michigan International Speedway.

Few were interested in discussing the fact that Red Bull Cheever Racing became the first IRL team to put drivers in the first three positions, or that Scheckter and Rice will be the first rookies since the series began in 1996 to start a race in the front row.

The issue of the day was the issues within Cheever's team.

Cheever, who is an owner and driver, created waves on his team this week by adding Rice who hadn't driven an IRL car before as a third driver and giving him the crew that was working with Scheckter.

Despite earning his third pole of the season two more than any other IRL rookie ever Scheckter isn't happy.

"We came into this qualifying with a little bit of a disadvantage," Scheckter said. "A lot of the performance parts that were on my car prior to this race were not on my car anymore. We've dealt with it good. I've got a setup on my car that was pretty hard to drive, and we managed to pull it off.

"It feels like we've been pushed to the underdog team."

Cheever is not pleased that Scheckter has crashed six cars five in races this year. He dismissed Scheckter's complaining as "static," and said he needs to mature.

"I have some of the same issues with my 9-year-old son," said Cheever, who didn't join his drivers at the post-qualifying news conference.

Cheever said he's paying for the third car this week out of his own pocket because he wants his team to win its first race

Rice is in the middle of the drama, but he wants no part of it.

He just wants to drive.

Rice, who signed a one-week contract, has failed to secure anything more than testing contracts since winning the 2000 Toyota Atlantic championship.

"The problem between Tomas and Eddie is between them, it has no bearing on my situation," Rice said. "It might be a one-race deal, so I might be out. I'm on a day-to-day program right now. I have no idea what's going to come as of Monday."

Scheckter, who was at an arm's length from Rice during Saturday's news conference, said he has no problems with Rice.

"If I was in the same situation, I'd do exactly the same as he's done," Scheckter said.

IRL points leader Gil de Ferran will start 17th out of 25 drivers on the two-mile oval. Sam Hornish Jr., who is third in points, is in the fourth position and became the first IRL driver with 20 consecutive top-10 starts.

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