Chris Festa Never Slows for Traffic in Indy Pro Series Fast Lane

But Ganassi Racing Ace Hits Pause Ahead of Freedom 100 for IndyProRacer.com

by Allan Brewer

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Chris Festa has plans for the long Memorial Day weekend. His plans, though, are a little more well-organized and definitely speedier, than a day at the beach or backpacking in the mountains.

Chris drives the bright red number nine Indy Pro Series entry that could pass for a body-double in the movies if Ganassi IndyCar series teammate Scott Dixon ever needed one.

On a beautiful Sunday morning in Indianapolis Chris was at ease talking about his year so far and what he wants to accomplish in the 2007 Indy Pro Series season; and about what he and the team have been doing since the Open Test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 27th and 28th.

“Since the Open Test we’ve just done a lot of testing,” he said. “We were up at Milwaukee the following week, then Mid-Ohio for a couple of days after that. We’ve been working on our cars for oval and road courses, short oval and big oval. The car’s just been rebuilt so I’m really excited about it.”

While some teams and drivers had more esoteric things they wanted to trial at the famous Milwaukee Mile, Festa and his team went with only one thing on their mind: winning.

“We went with the idea to make the car as good as it can be for that track. We want to go there and race for the win, so we were working on making the car as fast as we could make it,” he said. “We want to make it drivable and consistent over one hundred laps (the length of the Road Runner Milwaukee 100).”

Return to Milwaukee Mile Retraces Indy History

This year the Indy Pro Series follows the big cars to the famous Fairgrounds where racing on the weekend following the Indy 500 has a long and storied tradition. Indeed the race track, whose roots date back to the late nineteenth century, eclipses even Indy as the world’s longest-running venue for automobile racing, holding its first event in 1903. The relatively close Midwestern proximity of the Wisconsin city from Indianapolis also makes it a convenient destination for teams back on the road after a month-long stay at the Speedway.

“It’s not really too bad,” Chris said of restarting the racing schedule only nine days after the Freedom 100. “Last year we had Watkins Glen the following weekend from Indy so we’re used to that. I actually think it’s a little bit better because now we have tradition where it used to be—Milwaukee’s right after Indianapolis so it’s better as far as history’s concerned.”

The Ganassi Racing Dallara was quick during the Open Test at Indianapolis, which ran on for two days due to rain, rivaling the speeds of Sam Schmidt’s Alex Lloyd and Andretti Green/AFS Racing’s Wade Cunningham.

The first day Chris was second-fastest, then fifth-fastest on the rain makeup day.

“We actually feel really good,” said Festa. “The car rolled off the trailer strong and we were real happy with it. I could stay flat in traffic and pass anyone I wanted, which is ideal for a race setup. Our Q setup we’re still working on, just doing some minor tweaks and so forth trying to get a little more speed out of the car.”

"We feel we're a real contender in the Freedom 100," says Chris Festa

“We feel we’re a contender (for pole). Sam Schmidt’s team has always been very strong here, Panther’s strong, Brian Stewart’s strong as well; so we feel we can get it but we don’t think it’ll be easy.”

With the season soon one quarter gone, Chris Festa stands fourth in the championship points chase behind leader Lloyd, Hideki Mutoh and Bobby Wilson. With plenty of racing still to do, Chris is intent on moving up the food-chain with a rock-solid performance on Carb Day (May 25th) in the Freedom 100 at the series’ showcase event.

“Fourth in points isn’t where I want to be, but that’s where we are so we have to roll with it,” Chris said. “Unfortunately at St. Pete I got a black flag, and that’s the name of the game; but that just means I have to work harder to get those points back.”

On Indy Pole Day the Ganassi team hosted injured teammate Pablo Perez to watch Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon challenge for the top spot for the 500. It marked a victory for Perez as the first time he’s been back at the racetrack since being released from Methodist Hospital. It also gave the team a chance to celebrate his progress in recovery.

“Pablo’s awesome!” said Chris. “I was around him at the hospital and the first time I visited him he was joking just like always. I figured he was feeling pretty good at that point. It’s a shame. He is a really good driver; and to not have a teammate hurts the team as well. The important thing is he’s getting better and hopefully will be able to race again. It was a big thing for him and it made me excited too.”

Redefining the Words 'Fast Student' at Ganassi Racing

Festa cut his teeth in karting and on the road courses. The primary education he received on his way to the Indy Pro Series has served him well in competition against an ever-improving field of talented drivers from around the globe. When you look at his results, though, it’s apparent he is consistently fast on any kind of circuit.

“I come from a road racing background with Atlantics and karts, so that’s my past,” he said. “There’ll always be some coming home for me with the road courses, but I love the ovals too. It’s a different skill set. I think it’s great having both and racing on both.”

“I think the biggest thing (to learn about ovals) is patience. You can’t get impatient and do something drastic because you can get hit hard pretty fast. The speed is higher and there’s less room for error.”

In every respect Chris is getting a graduate-level education in big-time auto racing while his undergraduate studies at Florida State University are set aside for awhile. The twenty-one year old racer hasn’t given up on the idea of getting a degree. He’s just got greater opportunity, once in-a-lifetime opportunity, that deserves fulfillment right now.

“Right now I’m so busy with Chip Ganassi Racing that I don’t have any time to go to school. FSU’s on hold so I can focus fully on racing. FSU’s been great and allowed me to chase my dream career. No matter what happens with school I’ll always have strong good feelings for them.”

“The race season makes school difficult because the race season is still going when school semester begins,” he said. “I’d have to pick up in mid-semester which is really hard to do.”

“The big thing for me is I love racing. Whether I’m driving open-wheel or some other it doesn’t matter. I just want to drive. I love racing and that’s one of the reasons I came to Ganassi Racing.”

The sixth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Freedom 100 on May 25th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast as part of ESPN2’s coverage of Carb Day at 4PM EDT on May 25th.