Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Fisher close to hitching ride for Indy 500

Associated Press Writer

        INDIANAPOLIS — Sarah Fisher is close to hitching a ride for the Indianapolis 500.

        Fisher said Monday a deal is pending to drive for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, the same team she for which she finished fourth in last month's Firestone Indy 225. She expects an announcement Tuesday or Wednesday.

        Fisher, the Indy Racing League's most popular driver in 2001, replaced the injured Robbie Buhl in Nazareth, Pa., and finished fourth.

        “It was wonderful,” she said. “It was the first time I had fun in a race car in a long time. It was great having a good race car. The car just got better and better as the race went on.”

        Fisher has been without a deal since the Kroger grocery chain withdrew its Walker Racing sponsorship after last season. When another sponsor failed to materialize, Fisher asked for her release. Walker Racing granted her request April 8.

        “It's not been too difficult,” she said of the three weeks she spent looking for a new team. “Going from job to job gives you some time off to think about a lot of things. You just try to pick the best options.”

        For now, that's Dreyer and Reinbold. Fisher said she was grateful for the opportunity to compete for an experienced team.

        “Not only did they put me in a car at Nazareth, but they're just a good team,” she said. “You look around and everybody's doing what they're supposed to do. It flows real smoothly. They keep the car together really well. Everything's perfect.”

        But Fisher's experiences at Indianapolis have been far from perfect. Fisher, the third woman to race in the Indianapolis 500, has crashed two straight years at the speedway, finishing 31st each time.

        “I don't care,” she said. “The past is the past. This is a completely different team, a completely different year.”

        Fisher said she enjoyed the Infiniti-powered car she drove in Nazareth, and credited Buhl for becoming a mentor.

        “He's very smart, very educated and he knows what he's talking about,” she said. “He knows what he wants of a race car. He's been passing that along to me. He's real happy so far.”

        Fisher, who at 19 became the youngest person to compete in the IRL in 2000, finished a career-best second in Homestead, Fla., last year. It was the best finish for a woman in Indy-car history. She earned two top-10 finishes and pushed her career earnings to more than $1 million.

        Now, she's looking toward a fresh start at Indy.

        “It's a turning point,” she said. “It's something you have to go through. You can't keep one job forever. With these guys I'm learning a lot.”

        Fisher was not among the 28 drivers who managed to practice Monday following a 5-hour, 43-minute rain delay.

        Defending champion Helio Castroneves was fastest with a speed of 226.716 mph. Rookie Laurent Redon was second at 226.147.

        Castroneves was second-fastest — to Scott Sharp — in Sunday's opening practice, but Sharp did not practice Monday.

        “Right now, our focus is on bottom-line speed,” said Castroneves, who drives for Roger Penske. “The setups are working fine, everything's working fine. It's been good.”


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