April 16, 2000, Long Beach: American driver Memo Gidley capped a week of personal bests by leading his first lap in CART competition today before a bizarre non-fueling pit stop caused him to run out of gas. In his first Champcar start since last...
April 16, 2000, Long Beach: American driver Memo Gidley capped a week of personal bests by leading his first lap in CART competition today before a bizarre non-fueling pit stop caused him to run out of gas. In his first Champcar start since last October 17th in Australia, the California resident qualified a career-best of tenth, just days after schooling his fellow newbies at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by blasting through the Indy 500 rookie test in a mere eighty minutes.
Substituting for injured driver Patrick Carpentier, Gidley was once again asked to perform competitively right out of the box. According to Players Team Manager Neil Mickelwright, "our expectations were reasonably high, and having looked at Memo's progress last year and how he ran in Formula Atlantic in '98, we held him in fairly high esteem. We felt that he would be pretty much the perfect guy to fill in for Patrick on a short-term basis."
For Gidley, the challenge was not unfamiliar territory. "Whether it's the test I did last year with Walker Racing having never driven a Champcar before, to taking my rookie test at Indy on Monday, back to my first Toyota Atlantic test, even way back to my first Formula Ford test, every situation has been similar to the one this weekend. Basically, the deal is get in the car and drive and see what you can do with it. That situation has always opened up further opportunities for me."
After two days of practice and qualifying, Gidley felt a high level of confidence in the performance of the #32 Players Ford-Reynard-Firestone, and began the Long Beach race with a fuel-conservation strategy: "I think the car was capable of running faster than where I qualified. So we knew we were going to be stuck behind some slower cars in the first segment. We just conserved fuel, ran as fast as we could without having to push too hard, and as soon as the leaders ducked into the pits, I was able to rip off a couple of pretty good laps with nobody ahead of me."
In a late-afternoon interview, Gidley described the thrill of staying out longer than the leaders and finding yourself with nothing but open road ahead. "It's very difficult to pass, so you can be a little bit faster than someone and not be able to get around them. All of a sudden you're not waiting for somebody in front of you-it's like letting a horse run wild. As soon as I saw clear track, I thought, it's just me and the track, so drive as fast as you possibly can. I knew there was a long way to go, but the car was exceptional."
After leading a single lap, (#34) Gidley turned onto pit lane for what initially appeared to be a routine pit stop. Upon leaving his pit, Memo radioed to his crew that the dashboard fuel warning indicator was still lit, and moments later he ran out of gas. The crew's post-race inspection identified the culprit as a glitch in the automatic shutoff valve that is designed to prevent spillage from the fueler's nozzle in an accident. The rare malfunction of an off-the-shelf piece of garage equipment cost Gidley what looked to be a podium finish. "Nobody was happy about it, it was definitely a letdown" said they second-year CART competitor. "It's not something anybody forgets. It's like if I make a mistake on the track I try not to let it happen again. The Players crew will do exactly the same."
After pulling his lifeless car off the course, Gidley found himself trapped in a no-man's-land of the temporary street circuit: "I sat on the infield for the entire length of the race. I was alone for the next forty-five laps, stranded in a place where you can't get back to the pits. I spent much of the time in the passenger seat of a tow truck, and I signed some autographs as well."
Notwithstanding the fuel problem, Gidley had nothing but positive things to say about his new car and crew. It's a roller coaster, you know. Running for this team is everything I imagined racing to be: good equipment, good guys, and everybody's dedicated. This is why I'm in it, to be with an organization like Players-it's been great. I've driven with good teams before, like Walker Racing, but as I get better I know more about what I want out of the car, and this team is capable of achieving those things. We worked hard on the setup, and by the end of this morning's practice we had the best car I've ever driven on a street course."
When asked about how he manages the ups and downs of his unpredictable career path, Gidley explains "I try to keep my internal roller coaster as flat as possible. I don't want it to be too high up, and I don't want it to be too low. So I just drive shifter karts all the time, that's the only think I can do, and make sure I'm physically fit, which is a given. I don't count on anything coming up ahead-when I'm actually in the car then I believe it. It's a race-to-race deal with Players, there's no testing. The movie's been playing in my mind for a long time on how it's supposed to happen, and this is how it's supposed to happen. I'm so hungry to get to the level I expect to be at. I've seen this happen before: I've seen myself being at the front of races, I've seen myself winning races, I've seen myself winning the championship. But each step of getting there is a great feeling, I just love being out on a track driving fast."
Gidley's is slated to continue his substitute run in the #32 Players car in Rio on April 30th. The event will be his first start on an oval in CART competition.