CART champion Team Penske will warm up for its return to the Indianapolis 500 by running Gil de Ferran and new signing Helio Castroneves in the Indy Racing League's season-opener at Phoenix.
Penske will return to Indianapolis for the first time since 1995, when both its cars sensationally failed to qualify only one year after Unser Jr won the race for 'The Captain'.
From 1996 onwards, the Indy 500 became the sole preserve of the breakaway IRL, until CART pace-setters Chip Ganassi Racing and Juan Pablo Montoya entered and won last year's event, which was run under new-for-2000 IRL technical regulations.
Penske hopes to emulate Ganassi's feat, but believes it needs extra preparation to be competitive now that the IRL regulars have honed their cars for a full season under the new rules. Phoenix, on March 18, is the only IRL race not clashing with a CART date in the run-up to the Indy 500 on May 27.
Penske officially confirmed its Indy 500 participation on Wednesday. It will race in Marlboro colours for the Memorial Day classic, but will run under a different livery at Phoenix due to US tobacco legislation. The team will use a Dallara chassis with Ilmor-built engines.
"It certainly means a lot to me," said defending CART champ de Ferran. "Particularly that I'm going with Marlboro Team Penske, which has a great history at Indianapolis. At the end of the day, jumping through hoops to try and race there was the farthest thing from my mind. But now it is a title I would like to add to my CV."
Penske has already tested at on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway with chassis supplied by IRL regulars Treadway Racing.
Gil de Ferran has finished top of the heap in CART's voting for its 2000 All-Star Team. The Brazilian beat Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Tracey into second and third, with Adrian Fernandez fourth. In a sign of the times, Michael Andretti was the highest placed US-born driver, but only in fifth.
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