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Latest IRL News and Commentary

IRL testing heats up in Florida

January 9, 2003

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2003 – Offseason IRL IndyCar Series testing resembled a race weekend practice session Jan. 9 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with 10 drivers turning more than 700 laps without any major problems under clear, sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70’s.

The 10 drivers who tested have combined for five Indianapolis 500 wins, three IndyCar Series championships and 20 IndyCar Series victories, or 28 percent of the 71 races conducted since the series’ inception in 1996.

Two-time defending IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. tested his 2003 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone for the first time Jan. 8 and did so again on Jan. 9.

“We’re just trying to learn a little bit each time we go out, and there’s a lot of stuff to learn yet,” Hornish said. “This is the first time we’ve got the chassis out there with this engine in it. We had a lot of laps with the (2003) Chevrolet engine in the 2000-2002 car and everything went really good with that, so we’re just learning some more things. A lot of things are being thrown at us at one time, and it’s going to be tough, but we’ve still got a couple of months and a lot of practice to go before we throw it in for the race.”

Hornish has won the only two IndyCar Series events conducted at Homestead-Miami Speedway, winning in 2001 and 2002 and then going on to capture the championship each season.

“This track has treated us pretty good so far,” Hornish said. “It’d be really good to get started on the right foot and be able to go out there and win the third time here. It’d be great momentum to go all year long and win another championship, but it’s tough to win a championship, and it’s tough to win two championships in a row, and I imagine it’s going to be really hard to win three, but we’re going to do our best.”

Helio Castroneves, winner of the last two Indianapolis 500-Mile Races, also tested Jan. 8-9 with his 2003 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone.

“It’s always difficult when you have a brand new car,” Castroneves said. “You start from scratch. So basically you have to start all over again, step by step. Not only that, we also have the new Toyota engine, which has been great for us. It’s hard work, but you have to look at it this way, everyone has the same hard work. We just have to focus on our job and focus on our situation.”

Castroneves is a Miami resident and would love to score a victory at his home track.

“The track is only 30 or 40 minutes from my home, so we don’t have to pack and travel,” Castroneves said. “It’s always nice to have the atmosphere and weather that we’ve had in Miami. So if people miss this race, they are going to miss a good show.”

Brian Barnhart, Indy Racing League senior vice president of racing operations, and members of his technical staff were in Miami Jan. 8-9 to observe the test.

“I’m very pleased with the progress of the Dallara and Panoz G Force chassis, and we are excited about the performance of the Toyota, Chevrolet and Honda engines,” Barnhart said. “All of the engine manufacturers and chassis manufacturers have created extremely competitive packages. XTRAC also has produced a solid new gearbox as evidenced by no mechanical failures or reliability issues. The new chassis-engine package will ensure a competitive environment for the 2003 and future IRL Indy Car Series seasons.”

In addition to continued private team testing, the Indy Racing League will conduct the eighth annual “Test in the West” Feb. 3-7 at California Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway and then conduct an open test Feb. 17-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The season-opening Toyota Indy 300 will take place March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.

For Toyota Indy 300 ticket information, call (305) 230-RACE or log onto www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com.

TEST QUOTES:

MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Andretti Green Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): (About testing Jan. 8): “I was able to run about 50 laps. The car was really fast, the crew at Andretti Green Racing did an awesome job of preparing the Dallara, and the Honda engine was very strong. I like the design changes on the 2003 car; it’s a lot nicer to drive, and it's even nicer with the Honda engine in it. I think this is a really good start for us. Unfortunately, we had a problem with the steering rack, which was installed a little too close for comfort, and I had to get out of the car after a while. But in spite of that, I was very pleased with what we had out there today.” (About his first test as an owner/driver): “It was a little weird knowing that I was driving a car that I actually owned. The bottom line though is that I was just so happy to get back into a race car that I didn’t give it all that much thought. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get back in the car tomorrow (Jan. 9), the steering rack change is a major job.

KENNY BRACK (Miller Lite/Pioneer Dallara/Honda/Firestone): “It has been really a good couple of days for us. We have been testing engine stuff and car stuff, trying to get to know this new car. It has been going very well for us. We are happy. This is a more refined car, both chassis-wise and engine-wise. Every generation of car will be a little better and better and better. That is normal, and so is the engine. So I expect that to continue in the future, too. This car is better than last year’s, I think.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): “It’s always difficult when you have a brand-new car; you start from scratch. So basically you have to start all over again, step by step. Not only that, we also have the new Toyota engine, which has been great for us. It’s hard work, but you have to look at it this way – everyone has the same hard work. We just have to focus on our job and focus on our situation. Hopefully we are going to have two more tests, and when we come back we’ll improve on our time. The Homestead track is always very tough because of no banking, and plus it’s a very challenging track. But when you have a good setup, it’s very nice. We’re already running faster times than the pole position from last year, so that gives you an idea of how competitive it’s going to be and how fast we have to be when we come back March 2.

FELIPE GIAFFONE (Hollywood Mo Nunn G Force/Toyota/Firestone): “Well, we got our first day behind us. I’m really excited about getting back into a race car. It was basically a shakedown day, as this is the very first day we have run the 2003 Panoz G Force. We got in about 50 laps just to get a feel for what the car likes and doesn’t like and to get a feel for the new Toyota engine. Then we ran about 35 laps in the 2002 car just to have a little head-to-head comparison. I really like the engine. The power curve and the drivability are really nice. We got to know all of the people from TRD (Toyota Research and Development) that we will be working with, and it looks like we have a really great team. I have a good feeling about the engine, and that’s a good thing to feel confident about so early in the game. As for the new G Force, it’s very early to know how this chassis compares to last year’s. They tell us that it’s going to be a lot better.

SAM HORNISH JR. (Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): “I’ve never really had to adapt to a new car or a new engine package. When I first came into the league at the beginning of 2000, we didn’t have a new car until halfway through the year, so we got to adapt to the engine package first and the chassis package afterward, so it wasn’t too things at the same time. We’re just trying to learn a little bit each time we go out and there’s a lot of stuff to learn yet. This is the first time we’ve got the chassis out there with this engine in it. We had a lot of laps with the (new) Chevrolet engine in the 2000-2002 car, and everything went really good with that, so we’re just learning some more things. A lot of things are being thrown at us at one time, and it’s going to be tough, but we’ve still got a couple of months and a lot of practice to go before we throw it in for the race.

TONY KANAAN (Andretti Green Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): “Obviously, we expect (the equipment) to be an improvement every year, and it was. It was the first time I’d driven a Dallara, and it’s different than a G Force, but I felt really comfortable. The engine is different, obviously. I think we have more power. The car is producing more downforce, and I was quite happy about that. It’s the first day, so it’s tough to say, ‘Oh, it was really good or really bad.’ I think what’s important is to get used to the car and to get things we want to get done for the race and see what happens. It’s nice to see all the good teams are on this side right now, and we’re making progress as a series. I think we’re going to be the best one. I’m happy. Michael (Andretti) gave me a good car to start off with. I felt really good about the day, and I was pretty comfortable in the car from the start. I thought that I would have more trouble adapting to the Dallara, but it was surprisingly easy. It's my first test with Andretti Green.

JAQUES LAZIER (Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): “It is obviously the first test of the year, and I’m pleasantly surprised with everything. Obviously we’re trying to get a grasp of the Dallara chassis before we can begin to even worry about maximizing it for the engine. All things said and done, I think we came out of the box pretty strong. I like the chassis all together. It’s going to be an awesome chassis to race with. That’s probably its strongest suit. It’s going to be a strong race car. We’re just trying to get it as consistent as possible. Right now I’m very, very happy with it. I’m happy with the Chevrolet motor, as well. I think all things said and done, with a day and half of testing, we’re further along that I thought we’d be in three days. We just need to continue this momentum, and we’ll be were we need to be at the end of the weekend.”

BUDDY RICE (Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): “For the first day of testing, it’s gone really well. We’ve achieved what we wanted to. We’re quite happy right now. The Chevy program is going excellent. It’s seems like they’re on pace for power and reliability. Obviously, we’re on pace right now with our Dallara chassis. We’re really happy with everything that’s going on. So we’re just going to try to keep striding forward and try to get ready for the Test in the West, and we’re just trying to get good data here for when we come back here for the race in Homestead.”

TOMAS SCHECKTER (Target Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Toyota/Firestone): “Everything so far on the G Force/Toyota is going well. It’s gone well for me. We’re just working at it and making changes. We’re just finding what the car does when we do certain changes to it, and I think we’re just going to carry that onto tomorrow so we get a good base for the next time we come here when it’s an official (Open) test.”

SCOTT SHARP (Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): “It’s great to be back in the car. It took a little while to get used to. There’s so much different. It’s the first time I’ve driven the Toyota engine, which was awesome. It was so smooth. From a smoothness standpoint, it was incredible. There was a lot of good response, and I was really impressed. It took a little getting used to that. The new car from Dallara is significantly different. The Kelley team had a great plan to run me at the end for just a little bit time just to get somewhat acclimated so that we can have as much productivity as possible tomorrow.” (About running a 2003 chassis and engine combination): “For us significant, because we’ve got a new car that Dallara has been pretty radical about. We’ve got a new engine, and we’ve got basically a lot of new people with a new set up on the car. So, it’s like a whole new deal. So you really can’t compare.

AL UNSER JR. (Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): “So far, the main difference is the engine – going from the Chevy to the Toyota. The Toyota has great power, and the electronics on it are super. I'm really impressed with the way the Toyota is running. We are looking at the competition for sure. That is what we are racing against. The level has gone up again this year, with the Andretti team coming in, Target running a full season again, Honda and Toyota. The big manufacturers have made it more competitive than it ever has been. So this season, by far, is going to be the closest and most competitive of all.”

BRIAN BARNHART (Senior Vice President of Operations, Indy Racing League): “I’m very pleased with the progress of the Dallara and Panoz G Force chassis, and we are excited about the performance of the Toyota, Chevrolet and Honda engines. All of the engine manufacturers and chassis manufacturers have created extremely competitive packages. XTRAC also has produced a solid new gearbox as evidenced by no mechanical failures or reliability issues. The new chassis-engine package will ensure a competitive environment for the 2003 and future IRL Indy Car Series seasons.”

JOHN BARNES (Co-owner, Pennzoil Panther Racing): “It’s a learning experience. We really didn’t have a lot of time to make changes we wanted to the car when we got it. We just running the car as a basic car and learning what it likes and then will get home with it, and we change the things we’d like to have changed had we had the time to make the changes. The level of competition goes up every year; it has since 1996. We’ll see – it’s out intention to do what we’ve done.”

TIM CINDRIC (President, Penske Racing): “It is quite a bit different for us, so we are just trying to understand what we have. We’ve been running the Toyota engine now for four or five months. So we have a pretty good idea of what that is, but the car itself, we have very limited data. It is good to come out with everyone else and see how you stack up, but it is a little early maybe to understand if you are fast or not fast. The wind was blowing down the backstretch pretty good. Turns 3 and 4 were definitely more difficult than Turns 1 and 2. As more cars ran, more and more grip gets in the track. It will be more like a race weekend when we come back for the Open Test. We love it here. With our two drivers based here, it is an advantage for them, as well. Hopefully the city of Miami will recognize what we do. I think the more people that do come will come back, for sure.”

MIKE HULL (Team manager, Target Chip Ganassi Racing): “We feel like we’re certainly ready to race in 2003 with both Target cars. We had a good test with our G Force car at Texas right before Christmas holiday, so this is our second time out with the car. It’s good, it responds to change, it seems to like the racetrack, so we like the car. I think the way 2003 works is the same way 2002 works. The chassis manufacturers and the race teams take the rules they’re presented and just try to make the most out of it each day. Each day is a new day, and you work hard each day.”

MAX JONES (Team manager, Red Bull Cheever Racing): “For the first day, I think it is going really well. We made a lot of headway. We probably still need another day or so to get it sorted out. I’m impressed with everything so far.” (About new role with Red Bull Cheever Racing): “It is a big adjustment, going from stock cars and road racing. The IRL cars are a lot different, but I’m enjoying it. It is a steep learning curve for me.”

BUTCH MEYER (General Manager, Team Menard): “The ‘03 equipment is a lot better. We are running faster. We are running less rpm in the engine, but we are still running as fast as we did last year. The Chevy engine, even though only it is turning 10,3 (10,300 rpm) we are going to end up making more power than we did turning 10,7 (10,700 rpm). With the new car being slipperier, better aerodynamics and everything, the '03 formula is a good formula.”

TONY COTMAN (Team manager, Andretti Green Racing): "We came down here for Michael’s (Andretti) and Tony’s (Kanaan) first time to be in the new car. Obviously, for the team, it is a pretty new experience. Dallara has made a beautiful new car this year. Basically, we are just down here pounding around to see what we can do. We are happy with how the two days went. We are very, very happy with the Honda engine. For the first test everything is very good. Everything went according to plan.”

STEVE NEWEY (Vice president of racing operations, Kelley Racing): “I think everything is going very well so far. We had a couple of teething problems yesterday, but the afternoon and really all day today we had a good day. We had a couple hundred miles today, and Scott (Sharp) got in the car at the end of the day and is really excited about the car, and the car felt very good to him. The Toyota engine is very, very smooth. He’s very impressed with the engine. So, all in all it’s a very positive day for Kelley Racing. The competition is going to be amazing. I think the level of competition is such that there is any one of a dozen drivers or more that can win the race every weekend. It’s makes our job difficult because the competition is so deep, but that’s what the show is all about, and that’s what this series is all about. I think each team has their work cut out for them to put the best car out on the racetrack every Sunday.

PETER PARROTT (Team manager, Mo Nunn Racing): “The new equipment is certainly a plus over the ‘02 equipment. It is early yet, obviously. We haven’t done many miles. We are still feeling our way with the new car. Until we get it to how we like it, then we can better assess. The season is going to be very exciting. More teams are coming in, a lot of very competitive teams. You can already see that. So I think it will be a very interesting start of the season. It is about who has done the most homework.”

SCOTT ROEMBKE (Chief operating officer, Team Rahal): “We’re really pleased with the way the first test went. It’s a brand-new car and a new motor program for us. Really, our IRL experience last year was pretty limited, so it’s a whole new ballgame for the company, but we’ve got some good guys on the team and having Kenny (Brack) here to sort through it. So, we’re really pleased. We ran two days without any hiccups, and we learned a lot about where we’re going.”

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