Indianapolis (December 13, 1998) - Team KOOL Green began its testing program for the 1999 FedEx and PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championships with productive outings at Sebring International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, December 10-13. Team KOOL Green brought its new Reynard 99I-Honda-Firestone to the Sebring test for Dario Franchitti, while the team's newest member, Jonny Kane, drove the Indy Lights Lola 97/20-Buick at Sebring and Homestead.
Franchitti completed more than 200 miles during the test, which was interrupted by rain showers on Friday morning. Team KOOL Green focused on comparative tests of the '98 and '99 aerodynamic packages on the new Reynard, with Franchitti turning a best lap of 51.8s on both Thursday and Friday.
"We were more concerned with learning about the new car than going fast," said Franchitti. "There's not a big difference between the '98 and the '99 cars, but Reynard have made some evolutionary changes and we needed to run back-to-back tests to begin to understand how the new chassis works and establish new baseline settings. We accomplished that and, from now on, we'll focus on making the '99 car faster."
The test also marked Franchitti's first outing with the new Honda HRS engine.
"The performance is similar to what we had at the end of last year (with the HRK engine)," he said, "but if you compare it to where we were with the engine at this time last year, there've been massive gains. If Honda make the same kind of gains over the course of the coming season that they made last year it'll be awesome."
Initially, the Honda's current performance was more than enough for Franchitti.
"It's been about six weeks since I last drove a Champ Car and it was a big shock," he said. "I forgot just how quick these cars are. But after a few laps I got settled in again and it was business as usual. And that's good news because it was great to be back working with [engineers] Don Halliday, Scott Graves, team manager Kyle Moyer and the rest of the guys."
Kane also spent a portion of the Sebring test readjusting to the rigors of driving a race car at speed; understandable given the fact that the 1997 British Formula 3 champion hasn't raced regularly since the middle of the '98 season. Kane ran with high downforce settings in order to physically acclimate himself to the cornering forces generated by the Indy Lights car. His best lap of 58.1s was among the fastest of a number of Indy Lights cars testing at Sebring last week.
"Everything went quite well," said Kane. "There were several other cars out there and we were pretty much as quick as any of them. The Team KOOL Green crew are all very good at what they do and they know exactly what they're doing."
Following the Sebring test, Kane got his introduction to oval track driving at Homestead-Miami over the weekend. Unfortunately, it proved to be a rude introduction as he crashed in Turn Three on Sunday afternoon after running more than 200 trouble-free miles.
"I think I just turned a little bit too late," said Kane, who escaped injury in the crash. "I tried to put too much steering input into the car and lost the rear end. It's a shame, because everything had felt really good and comfortable up until then."
Prior to his accident, Kane recorded a fast lap of 31.4s (pole for the '98 Indy Lights race was 30.1s) and had made good progress in experimenting with different chassis settings.
"For my first actual go on an oval, the times were coming down pretty well," he said. "The track hadn't been used in awhile, so there wasn't quite the grip there will be on race weekend, but we were pretty consistently in the mid-31s and the boys seemed quite pleased with how things had been going."
Team KOOL Green resumed its Champ Car testing program at Homestead on Monday with Paul Tracy giving the '99 Reynard-Honda-Firestone its oval track baptism. Tracy is slated to test through Tuesday while Kane will return home to Ireland to be married next week. After his honeymoon he will resume his Indy Lights testing program at Laguna Seca in early January.