INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Jeff Simmons is pulling double duty this week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He’s planning to race in the Freedom 100 in the IRL’s developmental Indy Lights Series on Friday and the big race two days later. Simmons isn’t attempting the Indianapolis 500 and a quick flight to Charlotte, N.C., for NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the more familiar racing double.
He and Phil Giebler, last year’s Indy 500 rookie of the year, are the only drivers to compete in both events at Indianapolis the same year. Giebler did not qualify for Sunday’s race, however - a crash in practice last week prevented that - leaving the 31-year-old Simmons the busiest driver at the track this week.
“Coming into the month, I didn’t have a ride at all, and now I’m in the Indy 500 and I also have the Freedom 100 ride, so I’m doing the double,” said Simmons, who was hired by team owner A.J. Foyt last week to take the spot intended for Foyt’s son, Larry, the team director. “The more track time the better and the more racing the better in the month of May, so it’s fantastic.”
Simmons was the Indy Lights runner-up in 2003 and 2005. In 2004, he finished second in the Freedom 100 driving for Foyt and 16th in his rookie Indy 500 for Mo Nunn Racing. His best finish in three starts in the 500 was 11th last year.
He qualified Saturday at 221.103 mph for a start on the outside of the eighth row. Foyt’s primary driver, Englishman Darren Manning, will start 14th, in the middle of the fifth row.
“We’re going to try to have strong runs in both of them,” Simmons said of his two races at Indy. “I love that fact that I’m racing here with A.J. Foyt Racing. He’s been engineering me …, and it’s been a privilege. I’m really looking forward to working more with him and Darren.”
Practice and qualifications for the Freedom 100 are scheduled for tomorrow.
Among the others in the developmental series are some familiar names, including Al Unser III, the grandson of four-time Indy winner Al Unser Sr., and son of two-time winner Al Unser Jr., and Arie Luyendyk Jr., son of two-time Indy winner Arie Luyendyk. Others include Richard Antinucci, the nephew of former Indy winner Eddie Cheever, and Sean Guthrie, the son of former Indy driver Jim Guthrie.
Indy Lights has been a steppingstone into the IndyCar Series in recent years, including last year’s Freedom 100 and series champion Alex Lloyd and series runner-up Hideki Mutoh. Other Indy Lights drivers racing in the IRL’s top series include Giebler, Jaime Camara, Jay Howard, Marty Roth, Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter and A.J. Foyt IV, Foyt’s grandson and the series’ first champion in 2002.
After four races, Californian J.R. Hildebrand leads Antinucci 142-139 in Indy Lights season points. England’s Dillon Battistini is third with 123 points, followed by Brazil’s Raphael Matos with 107 points and Luyendyk Jr. with 103 points.