Inaugural Mazda Road to Indy Oval Clinic is success With the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a backdrop, the future stars of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 got advice on racing on ovals from drivers whose history they'd like to emulate one day.
Indianapolis 500 winners Al Unser Jr. and Dan Wheldon, 1998 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Steve Knapp and five-time Indy 500 starter Johnny Unser helped the young drivers broaden their experience at the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy Oval Clinic.
"I couldn't be more pleased with our first Oval Clinic," said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, the promoter of the Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda. "Our drivers were presented with an unparalleled wealth of information, and I can't thank our instructors enough for not only taking the time to share their knowledge but for their enthusiasm for this program. I was equally pleased to see drivers like Stefan Wilson and Tristan Vautier attend, drivers who have previous oval experience and want to hone their skills. For our USF2000 field, this was a great segue into our oval test as many of our drivers prepare for their oval racing debuts this month."
The Oval Clinic, led by USF2000 driver coach Gerardo Bonilla - a Skip Barber National and IMSA Lites champion - covered all aspects of the intricacies of oval racing with the panel of experts presenting topics ranging from the basics of oval racing, physical training, testing, event practice, qualifying, racing, spotters and safety. In addition to racing footage to illustrate key points, drivers participated in pace car rides around the Speedway with Wheldon and Unser Jr.
"I'm always looking to learn more and I believe you never stop learning," said Wilson, who drives for Andretti Autosport. "I want to compete at the highest level, and to do that I need to learn as much as possible in the junior formulas. Even though I raced on ovals last year, I only did three events. It's great to hear from two champions and the other guys as well. All of the experts combined experience was valuable. It's a refresher and there's a lot of things I can take away from today and implement in oval racing."
Among the lessons the willing class of drivers learned:
Dan Wheldon (about racing on ovals): "Michael Andretti told me this, 'On an oval the little things make a big difference.' So concentrate on getting all those little things correct with your car. If you feel something wrong, pit. "
Al Unser Jr. (about racing on ovals): "One of the things my father told me, 'Even if you're Hercules if car not working you're not going to win. Being sensitive on how handling is on the car. If you have loose car, it doesn't matter what kind of shape you're in, you are going to crash or go backwards."
USF2000 drivers were able to apply their skills almost immediately, as they went to Lucas Oil Raceway for a one-day test in advance of their race at the "Night Before the 500."
"It was a busy week but a really good week," said 18-year-old Petri Suvanto, the Finnish driver who leads the USF2000 point standings. "It was great to get back in the car again, and being able to sit down and talk to people like Dan Wheldon, Al Unser Jr., Johnny Unser and Steve Knapp at the Oval Clinic was a really good motivational experience. I learned so much. It's amazing what everybody involved in the Mazda Road to Indy program is doing to make all these sorts of things possible."