Phoenix - Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian are quickly making up for their lack of oval racing experience. With an impressive test at Nazareth Speedway already under their belt (Nov. 15), Team Target headed west for a two-day test at the one-mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR).
The drivers picked up where they left off in Nazareth, successfully logging more than 600 miles while sharing Team Target's problem-free 2001 Toyota-Lola. The Dec. 19-20 test gave Junqueira and Minassian experience driving on an oval with varying fuel loads, simulating racing and qualifying situations. According to team manager Mike Hull, both drivers quickly looked like oval racing veterans.
"Thanks to the support of Firestone, the Toyota engine department and our mechanics, Bruno and Nicolas had a great car that ran well the entire time, and that's important when you have two guys looking for oval experience," Hull said. "They gained confidence with every lap and by the end of the session, their quickest laps were separated by a tenth of a second. These guys are very quick learners, and they both enjoy driving on an oval, which is a plus."
Junqueira, the 2000 FIA International F3000 champion, enjoys driving just about anywhere, including PIR.
"These oval tests have helped me understand how technical this kind of racing is compared to road racing," Junqueira said. "To make the quickest lap possible, you have to look at it as four individual corners, not just one oval. I have a lot to learn, but I now have a better understanding and respect for the mechanics and aerodynamics of a Champ Car."
Minassian also enjoyed his first experience racing in Phoenix, where conditions included a slight breeze, and mid-70-degree temperatures.
"Compared to the Nazareth oval, PIR is like a four-lane American highway," said Minassian, runner-up to his new teammate in the 2000 F3000 Series. "I enjoyed the wide track and was very impressed with the Toyota-Lola. Whenever I sit in that cockpit, a smile comes to my face. I'm really looking forward to the start of the season."
Junqueira and Minassian take a break for the holidays, and a break from ovals, as they prepare for a Jan. 3-4 test at the 2.238-mile permanent road course at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif.