New TV deal extends through '09

INDIANAPOLIS -- ABC Sports and ESPN have agreed to televise
the Indianapolis 500 and the rest of the Indy Racing League
schedule through 2009, it was announced Thursday.

The old contract extended through the 2007 season.

ABC will broadcast the 500-mile race on Sunday (11 a.m. ET), the 40th
consecutive year it has shown the event. All 16 IRL events in 2004
will be televised live on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. The networks, which are owned by The Walt Disney Co., have broadcast IRL races since
the series began competition in 1996.

"The Indy Racing League is poised for tremendous growth, and we look forward to being a part of that," said Mark Shapiro, ESPN executive vice president, Programming and Production. "In addition to having the Indianapolis 500, the IRL is a competitive circuit that continues to add the top drivers and expand their sponsorship base. ESPN and ABC Sports' media platforms provide an unmatched opportunity to grow the national audience."

The new pact includes distribution rights for related IRL programming and content on numerous ESPN outlets, including ESPN Classic, ESPN International and ESPN.com, as well as opportunities involving emerging technologies such as pay-per-view, video on demand, interactive TV, broadband, video game development and wireless applications. ESPN will also acquire rights for high definition distribution on ESPN HD and Spanish-language telecasts on ESPN Deportes.

In addition, ESPN International will retain worldwide rights (excluding Brazil), allowing for the company to distribute race coverage to all seven continents, reaching 120 million households in 11 languages across more than 145 countries and territories.

ESPN and ESPN2 will receive several programming opportunities as part of the agreement, including exclusive coverage of the Indy Pro Series and Indy Racing League Banquet, an annual ESPN Original Entertainment special, Season Preview show and three one-hour Indy Racing League-related specials a year.

Helping hands
Bruno Junqueira is going to have some familiar
faces in his pit during the Indy 500.

Junqueira, the only driver from the rival Champ Car series
entered in the IRL's showcase, will be pitted by most of his
regular crew Sunday.

The Brazilian is very happy with the decision to bring them in
for the race.

"They already know the way I come in the pits," said
Junqueira, who will start from the inside of the second row.

Junqueira raced here in 2001 and 2002 with Chip Ganassi Racing,
but switched last year to Newman/Haas Racing, which is making its
first appearance in the Indy 500 since 1995.

The team finished 1-2 last weekend in a Champ Car race in
Monterrey, Mexico, with Sebastien Bourdais holding off Junqueira
for the win.

The team, co-owned by actor-racer Paul Newman and Chicago
businessman Carl Haas, decided to return to Indy this year with a
one-car effort.

There are a number of differences between the IRL and Champ
cars. One of the biggest for the crew is that the airjack is on the
left side of the IRL car instead of the rear, like the Champ car.

Since returning from Mexico on Monday, Junqueira's crew has been
practicing pit stops daily at its Lincolnshire, Ill., race shop
with an updated 2003 IRL car.

Star dad
Parnelli Jones won the Indianapolis 500 in 1963 and
had a Hall of Fame racing career. Now, his oldest son will be
making his first Indy start at age 35.

"He's been really great throughout my career," P.J. Jones said
of his father.

The younger Jones referred to a recent conversation with Brian Stewart, one of his team owners in the now-defunct Indy Lights

"Brian said, 'I've had some young kids in my cars, and I tell
all the fathers that the best father I've had is Parnelli Jones. He
never interfered. He was there for support. He never got in the
middle of it.'

"I know he's always looking after my best interests and he's
taught me everything I know about racing."