CHAMPCAR/CART: FedEx Championship series notes and quotes for February 21

The first demonstration laps were turned last Tuesday on the new road circuit at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico, site of the March 11 Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez, season-opener of the 2001 FedEx Championship ...

The first demonstration laps were turned last Tuesday on the new road circuit at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico, site of the March 11 Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez, season-opener of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series.

Champ Car drivers Jimmy Vasser and Michel Jourdain Jr. joined a group of media, sponsors and VIPs in taking several pace laps around the 2.1-mile, 12-turn road course, then participated in a press conference afterward to offer their impressions of the new circuit.

"The drivers are going to have a lot of fun here," said Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard), the 1996 FedEx Championship Series champion, who begins his career with Patrick Racing this season after spending six successful years at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. "They have done a fantastic job with the circuit. It is very smooth and very wide.

"The circuit is very interesting in its design and it is going to be very technical and very challenging. It has a lot of non-traditional corners, a wide variety of turns, and there are some potentially good passing zones. It is going to be very interesting to see the different lines and styles that the drivers will use to attack this course."

Jourdain (Herdez Ford Lola) concurred with Vasser's assessment.
"The circuit is sensational," said Jourdain, a native Mexican. "It is a very technical track. There are a lot of direction changes with both fast corners and slow corners. This will be a very challenging place for the teams [with regard to] setting up the cars."

Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez promoter U.E. "Pat" Patrick also participated in last Tuesday's program, as did Dayton Indy Lights championship drivers Mario Dominguez and Rudy Junco.

The Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez will be televised live on ABC-TV on Sunday, March 11, beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern.

*LAGUNA LIVELY
While preparations for the season-opening FedEx Championship Series event were moving ahead in Monterrey, Mexico last week, many Champ Car teams were in Monterey, Calif. for four days of off-season testing at Laguna Seca Raceway. Over the four days, teams from reigning FedEx Championship Series champion Marlboro Team Penske, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Team KOOL Green, Patrick Racing, Newman/Haas Racing, Team Rahal, Player's Forsythe Racing, the PacWest Racing Group, Walker Racing, Herdez Bettenhausen Motorsports, Arciero-Brooke Racing and Zakspeed/Forsythe Racing tested on the 2.238-mile permanent road course. Laguna Seca Raceway will play host to Round 19 of the FedEx Championship Series, the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300, the weekend of October 12-14.

FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) completed 125 miles on the opening day of the test last Tuesday in his first action since being mildly shaken up in a Jan. 31 testing accident at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "Laguna Seca is a very physically demanding track, especially the corkscrew, and I'm still not 100 per cent physically, so we decided to only run a partial day," de Ferran said afterward. "We were able to get in some track time and continue our testing program, so I was fairly happy with the results. Right now, I'm just going to try to take it easy and get some rest - my ribs are still sore ... -- so we all agreed it was best to give myself some time to heal." De Ferran's teammate, Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) took over for the final two days of the test last Wednesday and Thursday.

Patrick Racing drivers Roberto Moreno (Visteon Toyota Reynard) and Jimmy Vasser completed two and one day of testing at Laguna, respectively, with Moreno completing a total of 340 miles and Vasser more than 200. "Overall, I am happy with the way things went," Moreno said. "The first day [Tuesday], the conditions at the track were extremely cold. On the second day, it was much warmer and we got a lot of work done. We tried a lot of different things and by mid-day, the car was handling good and I was able to run my fastest time. Even though I wasn't the fastest, we got a lot of work done and we had a good direction for Jimmy to go to improve the car." Said Vasser: "We worked a lot on developing a solid foundation for the road course set-up and made good progress. We made one good leap forward in the morning and then worked on some different things in the afternoon. I think we are definitely moving in the right direction with our road-course setup."

Target Chip Ganassi Racing rookie drivers Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota Lola) and Nicolas Minassian (Target Toyota Lola) combined to complete more than 350 miles last Monday and Tuesday at Laguna Seca. Team Target Managing Director Mike Hull was pleased with the way Junqueira and Minassian held their own against their more established rivals. "We were able to improve our road-course package and give our drivers one more taste of the competition they will face this season," Hull said. "The whole team is excited for the first race in Monterrey, and we're confident Bruno and Nicolas are well prepared."

PacWest Racing Group drivers Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Toyota) and Scott Dixon (PacWest Toyota) ran one day each at the Laguna test, with Gugelmin completing 140 miles on Wednesday and rookie Dixon, the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights champion, 250 miles on Thursday. "We were able to work on some things that we have been trying to sort out for the last few sessions we've run, and I think we've finally turned the corner," Gugelmin said. "My crew and I have done a lot of front-suspension comparison testing, which has been an important part of our program. I really wanted to run on new tires at the end of the day, because I think I would have been able to improve on my time enough to make it comparable to the quickest runners. We would have been right there with lap times, but we just didn't get the chance." Said Dixon: "I'm pleased with the time we put up, considering we only had one day in the car. We worked on several different set-up options, and the work that Mauricio did provided us with a good baseline for the session. The Toyota engine has been fantastic, and the reliability of my car is very pleasing, as well."

Another Toyota-powered driver, Walker Racing rookie Tora Takagi (Pioneer/Denso Toyota Reynard) recorded a fast lap of one minute, 7.97 seconds on Thursday, unofficially the third fastest lap of the day. "The one thing that impresses us most about Tora is that he is very quick to learn each new track that we go to, and he's fast at each of them, too," said Waker Racing Team Manager Rob Edwards. "When we get the car right, he is as quick as anyone out there."

Team Rahal drivers Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Lola) and Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) spent Wednesday and Thursday testing at Laguna Seca, focusing on becoming more familiar with the new Lola chassis which the team will utilize during the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season. "Our drivers, engineers and mechanics are developing a confidence in the new package, a confidence that shows we are making great strides in learning the Lola chassis and what its capabilities are," said team Director of Operations Mark Johnson. Said Papis: "Things are beginning to fall into place for us. The Lola/Ford package is going to be a combination to be reckoned with all season. I really feel like the pieces are here for the team to make a run at the championship."

Player's Forsythe Racing team driver Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard) tested two cars over two days last Wednesday and Thursday, totaling nearly 300 miles with heavy focus on suspension work and differential changes in the gearbox. "What really pleases me about our off-season testing is that everything has functioned so smoothly," Carpentier said. "I think the big difference is that after each of our testing sessions, we've been able to go back to the race shop and build on what we've learned from that session. [Technical Director] Bruce Ashmore is just brilliant. He's been working with [Chief Engineer] Michael Cannon and [Development Engineer] Alex Timmermans and together they have developed a great relationship. You can see the improvement from session to session because they've been able to take what they've learned and make the necessary changes that have led to improvements each time out."

Michel Jourdain Jr. of Herdez Bettenhausen Motorsports completed two test days Wednesday and Thursday, improving his lap time by just over a second to get to the low, 1 minute, 8 seconds range. "Thursday was a good day for evaluation against our competitors and we were happy with the result," said team Managing Director Keith Wiggins. "There are no points awarded for pre-season testing, so the goal was not to go out and set the fastest time, but it's good to be in the right ball park."

Rookie Max Wilson (Redback Phoenix Lola) of Arciero-Brooke Racing completed 98 laps during two days of testing last Wednesday and Thursday. "I am pleased," said team President Barry Brooke afterward. "Max was improving his times consistently despite having limited track time. This was his first text with us; the testing overall went well and the Phoenix engine performed flawlessly." Wilson will undertake his first oval test today and Thursday at Phoenix International Raceway.

*AT HOMESTEAD
While the majority of its FedEx Championship Series rivals were gathered at Laguna Seca Raceway last week, Team KOOL Green and its new technical partner, Team Motorola, tested on the road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway with drivers Dario Franchitti and Michael Andretti, respectively. Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) completed 125 laps over two days of testing last Wednesday and Thursday, with a best time of one minute, 6.7 seconds on the 2.17-mile circuit. "I'm very happy that the car was quick and consistent," Franchitti said afterward. "We did a lot of laps out there and it was a good workout for me. But we still have a lot of work to do before the season starts. We're still learning new things about the car and we need to keep learning as much as we can." Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) nearly doubled Franchitti's output, completing 230 miles over the same two days. His best time of one minute, 7.5 seconds came on Thursday. "We went through a lot of set-ups over the last two days and learned a lot of things," Andretti said. "We're not exactly where we want to be on set-up, but the positive is that at each test, we continue to improve. Dario was pretty quick here and he was trying some very different set-ups, so hopefully, we can learn some things from his test and build on them."

*BRACK FOURTH IN IROC OPENER Kenny Brack of Team Rahal, the 2000 FedEx Championship Series Rookie of the Year, finished fourth Friday in the opening event of the True Value International Race of Champions series at Daytona International Speedway. Brack led one lap in the 40-lap (100-mile) event, which was won by NASCAR's Dale Jarrett. The IROC series matches 12 drivers from different motorsports disciplines competing in identically prepared race cars. This is Brack's second appearance in the IROC series; his first was in 1999.

"At least I was able to bring the car back in one piece," said Brack, whose fourth-place effort matched a career-best IROC result established at Daytona in 1999. "Today was a good warm-up for the CART season opener in Mexico. Running with the level of competition that is here is a great mental and physical preparation for the challenges of the upcoming season." Round Two of the IROC series is scheduled for April 21 at Talladega, Ala.

*TEAM RAHAL EXPANDING RACE SHOP
Team Rahal broke ground recently on a 22,000 square-foot addition to the race shop adjacent to its Hilliard, Ohio offices. The expansion is the first phase of a planned 50,000 square-foot project which will give Team Rahal a home for years to come. "We have experienced phenomenal growth at Team Rahal over the last few seasons and one of the results has been that we have outgrown our current facility," said three-time CART driving champion (1986, '87, '92) and team owner Bobby Rahal. "When we first began discussing the addition to our current shop, it quickly became clear that our needs had grown to the point where we needed to design and build a race shop that will not only meet the needs of the team in 2001 bur for years to come." Team Rahal has entered Ford-powered Lolas for Max Papis and 2000 FedEx Championship Series Rookie of the Year Kenny Brack in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series.

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Nicolas Minassian , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Mauricio Gugelmin , Max Wilson , Tora Takagi , Kenny Brack , Mario Dominguez , Bruce Ashmore , Chip Ganassi , Mike Hull , Rudy Junco , Michel Jourdain , Alex T
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Team Zakspeed