Birmingham: Finlay Motorsports preview

HIGH-SPEED STEAMBATH Several dozen of the world's top drivers are going to be taking a high-speed steambath this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. The occasion for this sweat-fest is round 8 of the 2005...

HIGH-SPEED STEAMBATH

Several dozen of the world's top drivers are going to be taking a high-speed steambath this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. The occasion for this sweat-fest is round 8 of the 2005 Grand American Road Racing Series, the Porsche 250 Presented by Bradley Arant.

Speed, strategy and car setup will all play a large part in the outcome of this race, as they always do, but the hot, humid weather expected for this weekend will add a unique dimension to this particular event.

With temperatures in the cockpit of a Daytona Prototype reaching 105 -- 110 degrees under the best of conditions, expect Sunday's 2 0x00be-hour main event -- with the green flag scheduled to drop at high noon -- to be an endurance contest not only for machines, but also for the men driving them as they race at speeds of up to 180 mph for more than an hour at a time in a space the size of a bathtub heated to 120 + degrees.

"It's going to be brutal inside the car, and driver conditioning is going to be a major factor in the outcome of the race," says McDowell, 19, a Phoenix native who now makes his home near the team headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. "When you get dehydrated and overheated in the race car, you lose concentration, you get dizzy, it gets hard to focus your eyes and you have to slow down just to survive. Memo and I have been preparing for this weekend for the past three weeks with an extra-intense physical conditioning program. We usually spend three and a half hours a day in the gym, but now we're spending an hour and a half several times a week doing a special high-temperature training program. It feels like you've been kicked in the lungs by the time you're done, but we'll be ready to go the full race distance at top speed."

The Finlay Motorsports team conducted two parallel test programs for the team's race cars and drivers two weeks ago. While Rob Finlay was busy shaking down the team's newly-built #60 Air Force Reserve / Make-A-Wish / Commercial Defeasance BMW M3 Grand Am Cup car at Kershaw Raceway, McDowell and Gidley set the fastest time during two days of Grand Am series' testing at Barber Motorsports Park in the #19 Air Force Reserve / Make-A-Wish / Commercial Defeasance Dinan-powered BMW Riley prototype.

The team also took the opportunity to test some technology borrowed from NASCAR, an in-car driver air conditioning system, as well as a system of scoops and ducts designed to pull outside air into the cockpit without disturbing the car's aerodynamic performance.

"We've been running in the top five pretty much every race since the early part of the season, and we took another step forward in understanding how to make the car go fast during the last test," says Gidley. "In addition to working on the car's speed, we've been working on a number of ways to try and get the cockpit temperature of the car down, and to get ourselves conditioned to stand the heat. We've also been working with team sponsor Cytosport to make sure that everyone on the team, especially the guys on the pit crew who have to stand around in the sun for three hours in multi-layer fire suits, know how and when to use the various Cytomax products to keep themselves well-hydrated and ready for the long haul on Sunday."

Adds Gidley, "It's great to finally be racing near the headquarters of the Air Force Reserve at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia. They've been big supporters of mine, and the Finlay Motorsports team, and we're looking forward to having some Air Force Reserve personnel drive down at attend the race this weekend."

McDowell and Gidley are a unique driving combination in the Grand American series; crossover open-wheel racing stars who bring a real 'push it to the limit' mentality to a racing series where the conventional wisdom is 'take it easy and make it to the finish.' Gidley has 38 Champ Car starts under his belt for such teams as Target Chip Ganassi and Player's/Forsythe, while McDowell is a 19 year-old 'phenom' who dominated the 2004 Star Formula Mazda championship with eight wins in ten races.

Additionally, both are real 'by their bootstraps' stories; McDowell wrote his first racing sponsorship proposal at age 9 and got into racing by working in any go-kart shop that would let him race their karts. While instructing at the Bob Bondurant Racing School in Phoenix in 2003, McDowell had Rob Finlay as a student, the two hit it off and Finlay Motorsports was born.

Gidley was raised on a commercial fishing boat in Northern California, raced bicycles and motocross as a kid, and worked in the Mechanic's Training Program at the Jim Russell Racing School during the week (and delivered pizza at night) so they would let him race the school cars on weekends.

The Finlay Motorsports team will also, as they do every race weekend, be hosting a Make-A-Wish child and family during the weekend. And, in addition, the team will host VIP guests flying in from Orlando who contributed $5,000 during a Make-A-Wish fundraiser for a 'backstage pass' to hang out with the team and drivers during the race weekend. Auto enthusiast Ernest McManaway and his wife Tami will join the team in all the weekend's activities, including press conferences, dinner with the drivers, serving as honorary 'grid marshals' and watching the race from the pits. The team will also give McManaway's company, CheckCare (www.checkcare.com), the prime sponsor spot on the hood of the race car for the weekend. CheckCare offers electronic check verification and guarantee services.

On-track activities for the Porsche 250 Presented by Bradley Arant at Barber Motorsports Park begin on Thursday, July 28 with a promoter test day. The Friday schedule is also comprised of practice sessions for the various classes of cars that will be racing this weekend. Grand Am Cup qualifying is scheduled for Saturday, July 30, from 11:35 am to 11:50 am. The 200-mile, 87-lap, 2 0x00bd-hour Grand Am Cup 200 event is scheduled to take the green flag at 2:00 pm Saturday afternoon.

Qualifying for Sunday's Rolex series event takes place from 1:15 pm to 1:30 pm Saturday afternoon, with the 250-mile, 109-lap, 2 0x00be-hour main event taking the green flag at Noon on Sunday, July 31. The race will be televised live on the SPEED Channel.

-fm-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Bob Bondurant , Chip Ganassi , Rob Finlay