JUNE 22, 2005


Festa moves up point standings

By Tim Harms

There aren't many athletes at Florida State University who never play a home game. Chris Festa, race car driver in the Indy Racing League Menards Infiniti Pro SeriesT, is one of a few such athletes.

Festa, 19, recently completed his freshman year as a marketing major at FSU. The school granted Festa, who has raced competitively since he was 12, student-athlete status prior to the school year, enabling Festa access to athletic department facilities, including the weight room and training staff, as well as policies that make it easier to miss classes for travel.

Festa, whose helmet features a Seminole, has proven to be a quick learner on the race track, moving into fourth place in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series point standings after six of 14 races. Festa has finished on the podium three times, including consecutive third-place finishes at Texas Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

===> View Chris Festa Video (RealPlayer  required to view)

At the Liberty Challenge June 18 at Indianapolis, Festa qualified sixth but used an aggressive start to improve two positions in the race's first turn.

"The starts in this country are usually pretty similar, where people go to the inside and brake early. And based on my experience, I decided to go outside and brake late, which paid off for me," the Atlanta native said. "I was able to pick up a couple positions off the start and then just fall in behind Jeff Simmons and Wade Cunningham for the next 10 or 15 laps."

The 25-lap race around the 13-turn, 2.605-mile course at speeds reaching 170 mph was not easy, however, as oil spraying from Simmons' car blinded Festa for most of the race.

"That started happening through about Lap 3," Festa said. "He started spraying oil all over my car and visor, and I ran out of tear-offs at about two laps, and there was oil on my visor the rest of the time we were out there. I really could not see very well, but I had to deal with it a little bit. I cracked my visor open just a little bit and peeked out through there and just dealt with it the rest of the race."

With eight races remaining, Festa must make up a 49-point deficit to points leader Cunningham. He also must pass Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammates Travis Gregg and Jaime Camara, who rank second and third, respectively.

"Off the track, all three of us are really good friends," Festa said of Gregg, 27, and Camara, 24. "After the weekend is over and we want to go out and have some fun, all three of us go out together. We always have a great time. Then once we put our helmets on and get in the car, we want to beat each other as much as we want to beat anybody else. We just want to race each other cleanly."

The tutelage comes from team owner Sam Schmidt, a former IndyCar Series racer who was paralyzed in a testing accident in 2000.

"Every weekend basically before every session we get in the car, Sam sits all three of us down and he goes over things with us, his experience on that track, and if he has not been to that track before, like the road courses, he gives us his perspective," Festa said.

"If he thinks we should be patient or get aggressive early, he gives us that kind of thing, and he tells us to basically just be smart out there and don't do anything stupid."

That kind of teaching has helped put Festa, Gregg and Camara among the top four positions in the series.

Festa's next opportunity to improve in the standings - he trails Camara by three points - comes July 16 in the Cleanevent 100 at Nashville Superspeedway.