Salo and Trulli fare well in NASCAR debut
Michael Waltrip Racing officials were pleased with the outcome of a two-day test with Formula One drivers Jarno Trulli and Mika Salo behind the wheel of the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna, Florida.
"Both Jarno and Mika have done really well," said Steve Hallam, Executive Vice President of Competition for Michael Waltrip Racing and a 27-year Formula One veteran. “They have both delivered competitive lap times. They bring a different perspective to our ears. We are able to hear about the cars in a different way. Also, Trevor (Bayne) being here is very useful because he is articulate and able to relate their experiences to reality. It has been a really positive test and has brought good value to us."
"They wanted to test our NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota and see what our sport is all about," Waltrip said. "They did an outstanding job and were turning some pretty quick times. We were just as serious about this two-day test as they were. We brought down an entire crew. Toyota, our team and engineers fully supported this effort. We were 100% committed to giving it our all just like we would at any of our tests.”
On Tuesday, Diamond-Waltrip NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Trevor Bayne climbed into the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota seat to shake down the car before Salo took to the wheel for the first time during his one day of testing. For over two years, Salo searched for an opportunity to test a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car. Ironically, Salo knew MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman for a little over a year, but what he did not know was that he co-owned multiple NASCAR teams until recently.
“Thanks to Rob, I was able to test a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car for the first time in my life,” said Salo, who turned 208 laps in the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. “I was very comfortable out there and had a lot of fun. I was quick and I know that if I had today to test, I would be a lot quicker. Now, I want to have 42 other cars around me and see what it is really like.”
“I have never raced on an oval before and New Smyrna is a good place to do my first run,” Salo said. “I would be scared if we were at a high speed circuit. I was just trying to get the feel of the car with the changes they were making. At the beginning, I was running to get comfortable. The car is a lot heavier and has a lot of power. I was comfortable in the car and that’s basically what I wanted. They made different changes. They changed springs, bars and so forth. We tried different things so I could understand what everything does.”
As Salo tested, Trulli observed. Midday the two were surprised when they had a visit from one of the locals - - Mark Martin.
“All of a sudden, Mark Martin was here at New Smyrna,” Salo said. “He sat down in front of me and I listened. I learned some things from him during his time here. I also learned some things from Michael, David (Reutimann) and Marcos (Ambrose) when I attended the race at Phoenix International Raceway.”
Trulli turned his first laps Wednesday morning. Climbing out of the car for the first time he said he was shocked by the differences between Formula One and NASCAR.
"In the beginning, it was a big shock for me," said Trulli, who turned nearly 300 laps today. "It was the first time in my life I was leaving pit road in a closed cockpit. I needed to get used to that feeling of not having my head out. I'm used to being in a stiff car on the ground. The Cup car moves around a lot. It requires skill, feeling and understanding. There are so many different factors and you need to be a smart person to be aware of what is happening around you."
By the one hour lunch break, Trulli had a better feel for the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry.
"Running here at New Smyrna is easy and very exciting, but racing here might be difficult," Trulli said. "It would take a lot of experience. I prefer a high speed circuit, but at least I have a taste and know the feeling. Today, was important for me to understand what I have to do to get better. In driving the car, I must understand the car. I have to trust it. The center and exit of the corner are important. Braking is crucial here."
Trulli is thankful to MWR and Toyota for the opportunity and admitted his interest was sparked when Juan Pablo Montoya made his move to NASCAR.
"I didn't know about NASCAR until Juan Pablo Montoya made his move," Trulli said. "The world has changed and everyone is looking at different Series. I haven't signed with anyone yet and I've talked to teams. My door is open right now."
MWR benefited just as much from the test as did Salo and Trulli.
"We have two enormously talented drivers that showed interest in trying NASCAR," said Ty Norris, Vice President and General Manager for Michael Waltrip Racing. "MWR wanted to participate because we are always interested in recruiting talent and we have a great desire to expand to a fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup team in the near future. We know the talent pool currently racing in NASCAR, so it is of great interest to us to evaluate talent from other racing disciplines. It just adds another international element to our organization.”