Walker Racing's first race of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship season did not provide the results that the team had been hoping for as Tora Takagi brought the ...
Walker Racing's first race of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship season did not provide the results that the team had been hoping for as Tora Takagi brought the #5 Pioneer Denso Toyota home in 14th position, just two positions shy of a point-scoring finish. The Monterrey Grand Prix in Mexico, a 2.104-mile road course in Monterrey, Mexico, saw Takagi benefit from faultless pit stops from the Walker Racing crew as well as good strategy from the pit box. This was the first race with new rules regarding fuel consumption and mandated pit stops. The new format has no fuel limits placed on the team, creating flat-out racing for the entire race as well as placing even more pressure on the pit teams to provide the fastest service possible.
Unlike many of the teams in this season opening race, Walker Racing has kept its driver-engine-car package the same as last year and the consistency of the package is seen as a big advantage for the team.
"We definitely had an advantage over last year, as we had a much better baseline to work with as we started out the weekend," said Al Bodey, Senior Race Engineer for Walker Racing. "With the changes they made to the track from last year, and with the introduction of traction control for this season, it was good to have a solid database to be working with as we tried to set up the car and get our times down"
Changes to the track and the temporary nature of its use, though, had the team struggling to overcome an overall lack of grip during the first qualifying session of the weekend on Friday. Takagi managed to work his times down to take the 15th qualifying position, 10 spots better than last year. Saturday's qualifying session did not provide the team with a chance to improve, as the session was run in the rain.
In last years Monterrey Grand Prix, Takagi was able to move up some 15 spots in his first ever Champcar start to finish 10th. Takagi seemed to repeating history during the early and middle stages of the race as he moved up quickly to the 10th spot and raced as high as 7th, despite fighting a car that was both understeering and oversteering through different stages of his fuel loads. Walker Racing's quick adaptation to the new fuel and pit stop rules helped Takagi gain valuable track position to make up for his cars difficult handling.
Unfortunately the team's hard work was to be thrown away late in the race when Tony Kanaan made an ill-advised passing attempt on Takagi with 10 laps to go, spinning both drivers and causing the second yellow flag of the race.
"I was surprised when I was knocked off the track by Kanaan because he was I think at least two laps down," said Takagi, who was able to spin the car around and get back going without needing a restart. Unfortunately, the contact left Takagi two laps down and back in 14th spot.
The Walker Racing crew will be looking for a better result as they prepare the #5 Pioneer Denso Reynard Toyota for the next race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 14th.