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Latest IRL News and Commentary

Castroneves fastest in Phoenix
Test in West photos by by Ron McQueeney
February 7, 2003

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AVONDALE, Ariz., Friday, Feb. 7, 2003 – Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves hit his stride Feb. 7 at Phoenix International Raceway, turning the top speed at the IRL IndyCar Series Test in the West session at the 1-mile desert oval.

Castroneves, the defending champion of the Purex Dial Indy 200 at Phoenix, turned a top lap of 20.4654 seconds, 175.907 mph in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone.

“This was the first time to run this car at this track,” Castroneves said. “We started the day with (teammate) Gil’s (de Ferran) setup. His setup does not always work for me, so I had to go through a testing stage to get the car comfortable. From that point, everything worked well.

“This track is not about power; it’s about handling. Obviously, as we get closer to the race, all the teams will be even more prepared and the times will be even closer.

“The cars are quicker this year. If you compare times from last season, we are about four-tenths quicker. We were at Homestead, as well. Of course, it depends on the circuit and the setup of the car, but this is a very good start for us.”

1998 IndyCar Series champion Kenny Brack was second at 20.4964, 175.641 in the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone, the best lap of the morning session. 2001 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone, fastest Tuesday in the California Speedway portion of the Test in the West, was third at 20.5236, 175.408 in the No. 21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone.

Toyota-powered drivers have led both testing days so far, but Brack doesn’t think any engine manufacturer has an edge.

“We had a very successful day,” 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner Brack said. “I don’t think you can look at the speeds and say that one engine is dominant. It’s way too early for that. We were within four-tenths of a second, and I don’t think you can blame the engine for that. This track is so dependent on your chassis setup. Power isn’t as important here.”

Tomas Scheckter was fourth at 20.6029, 174.733 in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, while Tony Kanaan rounded out the top five at 20.6348, 174.463 in the No. 11 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

Two-time defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. was ninth at 20.7512, 173.484 in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. Hornish was the fastest Chevrolet-powered driver.

“We worked on aerodynamics,” said Hornish, who won in 2001 at Phoenix. “We have a lot of stuff to figure out with the new cars. It’s the first time we’ve been on the short ovals with the new cars, and it’s kind of back and forth.

“I think we pretty happy with where we’re at right now. We’re one of the only teams that hasn’t been on a short oval. We’re just working from behind a little bit. We’ll figure it out. It’s a long season and a long time until the first race.”

It was a good day for the Dallara chassis, which occupied seven of the top 10 spots on the speed chart. Dallara and Panoz G Force split the top 10 spots Tuesday on the high-speed, 2-mile oval at California.

Nineteen drivers combined to turn 2,284 incident-free laps.

The final day of the Test in the West starts at 11 a.m. (EST) Saturday.

The Purex Dial Indy 200, the second race of the IRL IndyCar Series season, is scheduled for March 23 at Phoenix. The season-opening Toyota Indy 300 is March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

IRL INDYCAR SERIES POST-TEST QUOTES

SARAH FISHER (No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): “This is my first time back on the Phoenix track in two years. I wasn’t able to run with my old team in 2002. It took a while to start to get up to speed. This morning, there was quite a lot of traffic out all at once. Once the traffic thinned out, we were able to work on our game plan, and we accomplished a fair amount. But we still have work to do tomorrow.”

ROGER YASUKAWA (No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone): “The track is difficult. It is probably the toughest track on the schedule. It is a lot different from Fontana, the track we just came from. It was a bit of getting used to. We had some mechanical failure this morning. So we started running in the afternoon. It was just playing catch-up. I think we have some data now, and we know what to do with the car tomorrow. So I think it was a pretty good, productive test day.”

A.J. FOYT IV (No. 14 Conseco G Force/Toyota/Firestone): “After I got out of the car at the end of the session, me and my grandpa went down to Turns 3 and 4 and watched some of the cars. Some were running my line, which looked way high, even to me. I didn’t think I was up that high. I watched the cars where he wanted me to go. You could tell the difference. I think that is where I was losing some of my speed. Tomorrow we will come out here and run that line. I think we will pick up speed. It is better when you get out of the car and look at the lines than when you talk about it over the radio in the car. It is easier to get out of the car and get on the golf cart right down there in the corner where you can see where those guys are running, and then you can adjust to it in the car.”

JAQUES LAZIER (No. 2 Johns Manville/Menards Dallara/Chevrolet/ Firestone): "It went pretty good. We’re a little frustrated right now, but not bad. We're just trying to learn everything right now: The new chassis, what it wants; that's what these tests are all about. The more we learn, the better off we'll be the rest of the year. We're just throwing springs at it left and right and trying as many things as we possibly can. I'm happy with the progress we've made and the knowledge we've gained. Tomorrow's another day, so we'll get real comfortable with our numbers and go back and crunch some numbers tonight. I'm not worried. I've got a good engineer, and it's an awesome team. We'll be all right."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "We worked on aerodynamics. We have a lot of stuff to figure out with the new cars. It's the first time we've been on the short ovals with the new cars, and it's kind of back and fourth. I think we pretty happy with where we're at right now. We are one of the only teams that hasn't been on a short oval. We're just working from behind a little bit. We'll figure it out. It's a long season and a long time until the first race."

SCOTT SHARP (No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): “We had a pretty good day. The team worked pretty hard since the last time we were here. I think that showed this morning. We never tried to go real fast, yet we were real competitive. I was pretty happy with the car. We made some good changes. Then this afternoon we tried a big change that didn’t really pan out. So it gives us good direction for tomorrow.”

FELIPE GIAFFONE (No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "It was very good. We're just trying different things. It was our first time with the 1-mile package with the 1-mile wings. I was surprised at how good the car was out of the box. We kept working the whole afternoon, and the good thing is we had a fast car with different combinations. Now we're going to pick the best one for tomorrow and see what we've got."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "This was the first time to run this car at this track. We started the day with Gil’s (de Ferran) setup. His setup does not always work for me, so I had to go through a testing stage to get the car comfortable. From that point, everything worked well. This track is not about power; it’s about handling. That’s what it’s all about. Obviously, as we get closer to the race, all the teams will be even more prepared, and the times will be even closer. The cars are quicker this year. If you compare times from last season, we are about four-tenths quicker. We were at Homestead, as well. Of course, it depends on the circuit and the setup of the car, but this is a very good start for us. This is the first time I've run the 2003 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at Phoenix International Raceway. My teammate, Gil (de Ferran), tested here a couple of weeks ago so I started with his setup, but it doesn't always fit my driving style. The car was loos
KENNY BRACK (No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "We had a very successful day. I don’t think you can look at the speeds and say that one engine is dominant. It’s way too early for that. We were within four-tenths of a second, and I don’t think you can blame the engine for that. This track is so dependent on your chassis setup; power isn’t as important here. We didn’t have a very good test at California. We started awfully fast for the first session, then we went backward, and by the time we quit, we were one-and-a-half mile an hour slower than the first lap we turned. So although it’s early in the test, to be this competitive says a lot about our team and the engineers. They have really done a lot of preparation in a very short amount of time. Especially when you compare that to the teams that were running here last year.”

BUDDY RICE (No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): “We're just going through the testing procedure. We had a bunch of stuff we wanted to run through. It's our first time here at Phoenix with the car and the first time for me. We're just trying to get through the teething process; trying to figure out where we want the car to be. I think we did a lot of good things, and it's an excellent test for us. We'll come out tomorrow and make sure we've got all the equipment on the car we want and hopefully have a strong day.”

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "We started off pretty well this morning, but then we kind of lost our way a bit in the afternoon. Toward the end of the session we had worked our way back, but we're still learning. Today was a bit of a struggle for us. The car feels a lot different from when we tested here last month. At our previous test here in Phoenix, I was able to go flat all the way around the track, and we weren't able to do that today."

MICHAEL ANDRETTI (No. 7 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone): “We had an OK day. We didn't get through everything we wanted to, but we learned a few things, and that's important. We're getting close. We've got to get more speed out of the car. It's the team's second time here and my first (in the IndyCar Series). And all things considered, I think we're doing pretty well. We'll get back into it tomorrow and see if we can't apply some of the things we learned today and post some quicker times.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone): “We had our share of problems, but thankfully we've been here before, and we know that we can be fast. I was actually the one who tested the 7-Eleven car here a few weeks ago, and I'm not concerned. Obviously, we'll have to sort out the problems we had today and get ready for tomorrow.”

TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Toyota/Firestone): “I’m happy with how the day turned out for us. We really learned a lot. The Team Target crew brought a good setup here this weekend, and I think that we have room to improve even more. We’ll try a few more things tomorrow and see if find a few more tenths to put us at the top of the speed chart. It was a real positive day for everyone involved.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Toyota/Firestone): “We struggled a little bit in the morning today. We had trouble finding the right balance on the car. This afternoon we started to get the balance dialed in, and the car was better. All in all, it was a good day for us. This is a tough place to find the right balance on the car. There is no other track like it on the schedule.”

GIL DE FERRAN (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "Unfortunately we had mechanical problems early in the morning session, which kept us off of the track most of the day. The No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota unloaded off the truck handling well, but we just weren't able to run a lot of laps. We tried to go back out at the end of the day, but there wasn't enough time. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a more productive day."

TORA TAKAGI (No. 12 Pioneer/Denso Mo Nunn G Force/Toyota/Firestone): “I think it was a successful day for me and the Pioneer-Toyota team. I have not driven this track in more than two years, and I have never driven this track in this type of car. We took our time getting comfortable in the car and with the short-oval package, and we were able to turn our fastest lap by the end of the day. We still have much work to do, but I think to be in the top 10 on a track like this is good for your first day. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

ROBBIE BUHL (No. 24 Purex Aventis Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "We spent most of the day working on different aspects of the car. The balance was not as good as it was before, but we're learning more about our range of options and capabilities. Unfortunately, we didn't get to try as many things this afternoon as we had hoped. League officials called us in off the track, after they heard something in the engine coming through Turn 1. Our day ended a little earlier than we might have wanted, but we're out here to learn and take home what we can in terms of data and practical experience. We'll have one more chance to test at Homestead in a couple of weeks before the race, and we'll continue to work in the shop on the things we can impact in between our time on the track. We've got a lot of data to review and learn from. Overall, it's been a productive week to show us where we are and where we need to be.”    

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