Monday – If the 2003 Indy Racing League Test in the West had a
theme song, “Getting to Know You” might be appropriate.
The annual preseason Open Test always features new teams, drivers and highlights, but the eighth annual Test in the West at California Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway has many exciting new aspects in the first glimpse at most of the major teams in both the IRL IndyCar Series and IRL Infiniti Pro Series running at the same track since the end of the 2002 season.
Infiniti Pro Series drivers and teams – which will participate for the first time – will start the Test in the West on Monday, Feb. 3 at the 2-mile California Speedway oval. IRL IndyCar Series teams and drivers will take over Tuesday, Feb. 4, with Wednesday, Feb. 5 a travel day for the journey to Phoenix.
The test will resume Thursday, Feb. 6 with Infiniti Pro Series testing on the tricky, 1-mile desert oval at Phoenix, with the IRL IndyCar Series finishing the Phoenix portion of the test Friday, Feb. 7 and Saturday, Feb. 8.
A nice variety of testing – combining the challenge of California’s fast, high-banked oval and Phoenix’s short, tight oval – will help teams prepare for the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It also will give them the first chance to compare their times and speeds to many of the other teams in their respective series.
The IndyCar Series probably has the most changes of both IRL series.
Every team has new equipment, as the 2003-2005 era of chassis and engines starts this season.
Toyota and Honda engines will make their debut at an IRL-sanctioned event, joining defending Manufacturers Champion Chevrolet. The battle for engine supremacy will be tight and fascinating, as 2003 is the first season in history that the IndyCar Series has enjoyed three engine suppliers, further illustrating the growth and momentum of the series.
A handful of new teams and drivers will take place in their first IRL-sanctioned Open Test during the Test in the West.
Michael Andretti, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon will drive Dallara/Honda/Firestone cars for Andretti Green Racing, a new team to the series. Andretti, Kanaan and Franchitti will make their debut as full-time IndyCar Series drivers this season.
Scott Dixon, another driver making his IndyCar Series debut in 2003, will join 2002 Indianapolis 500 Bank One co-Rookie of the Year in a pair of Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone cars for Target Chip Ganassi Racing during the Test in the West.
Kenny Brack, 1998 IndyCar Series champion and 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner, will make his full-time return to IRL competition in a Dallara/Honda/Firestone with Team Rahal, which is entering a team in the IndyCar Series for the first time.
Rookie Roger Yasukawa also will drive a Dallara/Honda/Firestone at both legs of the test for Super Aguri Fernandez Racing, another new team to the series.
But perhaps one of the most intriguing new drivers at the Test in the West will be A.J. Foyt IV. Foyt, 18, won the inaugural Infiniti Pro Series title in 2002 in a car owned by his grandfather, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.
Foyt will drive a Panoz G Force chassis for his grandfather’s team, which had used Dallara chassis exclusively since the 2000 season.
While many new IndyCar Series faces and teams will test at California and Phoenix, all of the series’ powerhouses will test, too.
Defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr., the 2002 winner at California, will drive his Pennzoil Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. His closest challengers during the thrilling, competitive 2002 season, Marlboro Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran, also will participate in the Test in the West.
But there will be a new wrinkle for two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves and two-time CART champion de Ferran, as Penske Racing switched to Toyota engines from Chevrolet during the offseason.
Penske isn’t the only prominent team which did the offseason engine dance that will participate in the Test in the West.
Kelley Racing switched to Toyota from Chevy for 1998 Phoenix winner Scott Sharp and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. Mo Nunn Racing switched to Toyota from Chevy for 2001 IndyCar Series Bombardier Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone and his new teammate, Tora Takagi.
Meanwhile, former Infiniti stalwarts Red Bull Cheever Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing have switched to Chevrolet for 2003, as Infiniti is supplying engines exclusively to the Infiniti Pro Series in 2003. 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. and Buddy Rice will drive Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone cars for Red Bull Cheever Racing at the Test in the West, while Robbie Buhl and Sarah Fisher will test the same combination for Dreyer & Reinbold.
Other top IndyCar Series teams and drivers testing are Hemelgarn Racing and Buddy Lazier, who won the 1996 Indianapolis 500, 2000 series championship and the 2000 race at Phoenix, and two-time series champion Team Menard and driver Jaques Lazier, a Southern California resident who finished a close second to Hornish in 2002 at California.
The top returning Infiniti Pro Series drivers participating in the Test in the West are Hemelgarn 91/Johnson Motorsports teammates Aaron Fike and Cory Witherill, each of whom won a race last season.
Mark Taylor will test the first Infiniti Pro Series entry for two-time IndyCar Series champion Panther Racing. Lloyd Mack, the younger brother of rising IndyCar Series star George Mack, is scheduled to drive a Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
TEST IN THE WEST NOTEBOOK
·Schedule: The daily on-track schedule for the eighth annual Indy Racing League Test in the West (times local):
Monday, Feb. 3, California (Infiniti Pro Series): 9-11:30 a.m., 1:30-4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 4, California (IndyCar Series): 9 a.m.-noon, 1-4:30 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 6, Phoenix (Infiniti Pro Series): 9 a.m.-noon, 1-4:30 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 7, Phoenix (IndyCar Series): 9 a.m.-noon, 1-4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 8, Phoenix (IndyCar Series): 9-11:30 a.m., 1-4 p.m.
Fans welcome: Fans are welcome to attend the Test in the West at both California Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway, free of charge.
Spectators will be admitted to watch testing Feb. 4 at California from the track’s terrace suite rooftops overlooking pit lane. King Taco, the Official Mexican Food Sponsor of California Speedway, will sell tacos for $1 as part of the track’s Fan Day during the Test in the West.
At Phoenix, the Jimmy Bryan Grandstand (main stand on front straightaway) will be open for spectators Feb. 6-8.
Sign here, please: A free autograph session will take place at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 4 at California Speedway, with another free autograph session scheduled for noon-12:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Phoenix International Raceway.”
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