MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, [October 18, 2000] -- Bellevue, Washington native Chris Bingham and Minnesota based Indy Racing Northern Light Series team owner Corey Coulson are no strangers to frustration nor to patience the last few weeks.
Just two weeks ago, the team headed to Texas Motor Speedway with the intention of completing an Indy Racing Rookie Test for Bingham and competing with him in the Excite 500 season finale. Unfortunately mechanical problems with the fuel system in the car put an end to Bingham's test before it could get started.
Team Coulson had originally planned, in the event Bingham was unable to complete his Rookie test, to run Roberto Guerrero at the Excite 500. Instead team owner Corey Coulson made the decision to withdraw from the Texas race to insure he could honor his commitment to provide a car to Bingham for his test.
"Since Chris didn't pass his test or have a chance to, I wanted to protect the car," Coulson told Brian Moore from RacingOne.com. "So I withdrew my entry. I'm disappointed because we would have liked to see Chris run the race. It was an expensive decision" said Coulson, who currently has no full-time sponsor.
Despite the additional expense, Coulson arranged for another chance for Bingham to complete his Rookie test, booking the track for Wednesday October 18th, 2000.
Team Coulson, with the generous assistance of Micky Nickos from NAC Engines and from the Mid-America Racing crew, serviced and prepped the car on Monday after the Excite 500 race. Firestone Tire had scheduled tire testing for Monday and Tuesday at the track and graciously allowed Bingham some track time each day to shakedown the car and get a few familiarization and practice laps under his belt.
Bingham gave notice he'd be a quick study, when within his first few laps he was lapping at 200+ mph speeds.
Showing confidence and consistency Bingham, under the watchful eye of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Indy Racing driver coach Johnny Rutherford, made short work of the first three (of four) stages of his Rookie Test Wednesday morning.
The last phase however proved a bit of a challenge.
At Texas, the rookie drivers were required to run 10 consistent laps at each of four speed levels: 190 to195 mph, 195 to 200 mph, 200 to 205 mph and finally 10 laps at 205 mph or faster. For the 2000 chassis these speeds were no problem as the top 2000 cars all ran close to 215 mph leaving plenty of margin at the 205 mph phase 4 speed.
For Bingham, in the No. 40 BigWig.com/Team Coulson Racing G-Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone car, which is a 1999 chassis, there would be no such "cushion". With the fastest 1999 cars at the Excite 500 turning 207 mph maximum laps in practice (and slower in single car qualifying without the draft), Bingham would have to run at nearly 100% of the car's capability to pass his final phase.
Showing experience and maturity, rather than being daunted by the hurdle, Bingham simply focused on the task at hand, working with the team on the setup to get the car trimmed out for that last little bit of speed he'd need to pass his final phase. With little more than 15 additional laps of testing, Bingham and the team managed to squeeze nearly 208 mph out of his aging mount, easily passing his 4th and final phase and impressing both the team and Rutherford in the process.
"I can't state enough how impressive both of them were," Rutherford said. "They both just got right out there and did the test. They had a grasp on it. They had control."
After a celebratory dousing with a water bucket by the crew, a wet but pleased Bingham commented;
"Today was a lot of work but also a lot of fun. I've been racing since I was a kid. In recent years I'd gotten away from my true love - open wheel racing. Today is both the culmination and at the same time rebirth of the dream I've had since my days in the Russell Series, to race an Indy car."
"You know, I was obviously disappointed when we came here a few weeks ago and weren't able to get the test done. But Corey Coulson didn't quit. He got together with Micky and the Mid-America guys to make sure we had every opportunity to get my test completed and I've got to thank these guys 'cause that dedication and commitment clearly paid off."
"Although it was a bit of extra work getting the 1999 car up to speed for the last phase is was actually great experience for me. I got a good chance to work with the team and learn a bit more about what makes these cars fast. It felt a lot like a race weekend where you have limited time and laps to improve the car. It makes the accomplishment feel even better" continued Bingham.
In addition to Texas, Bingham intends to spend more time behind the wheel of the BigWig.com G-Force during the off-season.
"I plan to try and run the full series in 2001" said Bingham. "Brian Barnhart recommended a lot of miles in practice and testing over the winter and I plan to take his advice. With my background and experience I was pretty comfortable right from the start but it's clear there's a lot to be learned about being consistent and fast. I want to do this right and be in the Indy Racing Series for a long time."