CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach notes 96-04-12

1996 PPG INDY CAR WORLD SERIES Race No. 4 TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH Long Beach, California April 12-14, 1996 FRIDAY NOTES by Robert Heathcote, for SpeedNet Friday came and went so fast I'm already worried the weekend will be over too ...

1996 PPG INDY CAR WORLD SERIES Race No. 4 TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH Long Beach, California April 12-14, 1996

FRIDAY NOTES by Robert Heathcote, for SpeedNet

Friday came and went so fast I'm already worried the weekend will be over too fast. Bright sunshine sliced through the overcast most of the day and there was never a chance of rain. Typical Long Beach GP weather.

I was disappointed a couple times today by the lack of coordination of the Long Beach GP staff. Places shown on the circuit map no longer existed or were closed for no reason. Though I walked the course several times the previous week, I guess I was not thorough enough in checking the grandstands, photo towers and media access. I think it is time for organizers to update the site map and I'm sure more than a few fans agree.

The good news is none of this affected the on-track action which was clean most of the day and no one was hurt that I am aware of (I admit I didn't count casualties from the Celebrity practice sessions).

I spent most of the day with the Indy cars, in the pits, paddock, and various locations around the circuit. (Note: Rick Hanson, AUTOSPORTS BBS regular, is scheduled to bring you his views of the Trans-Am series and I will try to update other support series as I can).

Looking closer at the different Indy car chassis today, I must correct something I said yesterday, and perhaps clarify (I should probably leave well enough alone but here goes): The Lola chassis has the "square" exhaust pipes, and they measure about one-inch by one-inch. There are a pair on each side of the diffuser. The pipes of the Reynard's are in the same location, but instead of using two "squares" on each side there is an oval pipe.

I don't know why, but this year I find myself looking under the back of the car more than I do anywhere else. The variety of front-wing designs are pretty interesting to spy, too. Half the the fun is finding something on the car you cannot identify. It makes you say, "What the hell is that?". You know, you really must be careful because these team members can be pretty tough: One said he could tell me what it is I was looking at but then he would have to kill me. I was lucky because he told me and I live to tell you that it was just another of about 100 telemetry sensors on the car. If it is black, small, has wires plugged in and located in the middle of nowhere, it's a sensor.

Like I said yesterday, most of the cars appear bigger than last year -- all except for the Toyota Eagle, which I think is probably the best looking car in the paddock. It's tidy; and pretty in Castrol green and red-on white (the new Lolas and Reynards look big and heavy -- though they are not... at least not in the hands of Vasser and Pruett). Unfortunately, upon close inspection in the pitlane today before qualifying, I noticed the car driven by Juan Manuel Fangio II, is not so crisp and clean and there are quite a few places where things do not fit together as well as they should. But this is probably what I should expect of a team developing an Indy car chassis on the run, so to speak.

I didn't notice in previous events from watching on television, but Dan Gurney's Eagle has the eyes and face of a bald eagle painted on the nose (and I've spent already nearly 20 shots of print film trying to get a good shot of it at speed!) It looks better than I can explain and I hope you will be able to see it on tv Sunday.

As for the performance of the Eagle, well, they still have a way to go. Although the AAR team was able to beat two cars in the provisional qualifying session today, it was the two who came out of nowhere they beat: 19-year-old Michel Jourdain Jr., in really his first serious Indy car race (has one start with IRL), and Dennis Vitolo (do I really need to explain Vitolo?).

Add Jourdain: Young Mr. Jourdain was thrown into the deep-end when the first practice session started today. Oh boy. He had the thing hanging out everywhere. I guess I should say he did pretty darn good: He didn't crash the car (while Vitolo did find a tire barrier). I was watching at Turns Two and Three and it was all Michel could do to keep the car pointed in the right direction. He really seemed to have a tough time getting on and off the power smoothly. And though he tried about 20 different lines through 2-3, I don't think he ever found one that was comfortable. Really, all one could say was at the end of the day the car was garaged in one piece; and Michel Jourdain Jr., had learned a whole hell of a lot.

As for the qualifying show today, it was a show to see, but even better if you are sitting in front of tv and scoring monitor and in view of the pitlane. I feel for the fans in the grandstands who are at the mercy of the track announcer who, when he does have something informative to say, cannot be heard over the wonderful noise.

Gil de Ferran, as you probably already know, set fastest time in provisional qualifying Friday -- a new track record of 52.283 seconds for turning one lap around the 1.59-mile Grand Prix of Long Beach circuit. What you probably didn't know is that Gil de Ferran held the top spot almost the entire session with a 53.005-second lap that he did early in the 30-minute period. Then, with just about 7 minutes remaining, when the field began to close in on his time, he knocked about three-quarters of a second off his own time. He was pure gold (okay, Pennzoil-yellow). BTW, Gil's pole (provisional) was the first for Goodyear this year.

The Ganassi/Firestone/Honda boys, Vasser and Zanardi, were very close; and so was Scott Pruett (who had everything good to say about Lola and Firestone but wouldn't say anything more about Ford/Cosworth other than they are doing what they can).

Tires, indeed, are the biggest reason for improved lap times this year, so said the three top drivers at the post-qualifying press conference today. De Ferran especially commented that it was tires that make the difference of how well he can compete against the Firestone-shod Ganassi cars, which I thought was both a nod to Goodyear for today and also a well-aimed shot of concern that in the race it might be different.

Other noticeables from the press conference were Thank You's to IndyCar and the Long Beach Grand Prix for "finally" moving the corner back at Turn Four. Both Vasser and Pruett remember crashing at Four, where they say it was just too dangerous. They also said they were surprised the corner had been changed, because when they had a drivers meeting at Surfers Paradise, Australia, they were told it was too late to make a change for this year.

Other parts of the circuit were also discussed (probably for too long already) but nothing about Turn Six, which also underwent a big change this year. So I asked Jimmy (yes, we are on first name basis now:-) and he said it wasn't any different to him, really, and that you can't run across the curbing at Six; and the improvement is just a little better sight line. Of course, I'm a big race fan so I know exactly what he is talking about and I say, "Oh, so it's real a late apex, right?" And Vasser says to me, "Hey... They're all as late as you want to make them. The later the better."

I know this isn't very long (considering everything I did today, it is pitiful) but I've been at it for well over three hours, using a laptop for the first time in exactly one year after returning from drinks and dinner and it is now almost 2:00am Saturday morning. Phew. I want to give a special thanks: Thank You, Jeff Angell, a serious contributor to AUTOSPORTS BBS and without him these on-location reports would not be possible.

-Robert

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Scott Pruett , Juan Manuel Fangio , Michel Jourdain