IRL: CHAMPCAR/CART: Memo Gidley gains oval experience at Motegi, heads for Indy500

American driver Memo Gidley was running strong in his 13th career CART event at Motegi Japan today, moving up from 16th to 6th before retiring due to an electrical problem. The race was Gidley's third consecutive event substituting for ...

American driver Memo Gidley was running strong in his 13th career CART event at Motegi Japan today, moving up from 16th to 6th before retiring due to an electrical problem. The race was Gidley's third consecutive event substituting for injured driver Patrick Carpentier in the #32 Players Ford-Reynard-Firestone.

The Firehawk 500 was Gidley's second oval Champ Car event, and his first on an oval with high-speed corners. Gidley started the race from 16th position, and picked up two positions during the opening lap. He ran in 13th place for most of the first stint, and emerged from his initial pitstop in 10th place. The second round of pitstops occurred on Lap 83, and Gidley came out in 6th position, which he maintained for 50 laps.

As the leaders pItted on Laps 131 and 132, Gidley stayed out, moving up to second place. He may indeed have stayed out a bit too long, as tire wear became a major factor in his race. Gidley explains "Just before the last pit stop the car got very loose. We were getting great fuel mileage and I was trying to nurse the tires until we would need to pit. The rear tires were shot and I got big time wide in turns one and two. I lost a few seconds gathering the car up and in effect lost valuable track position. I pitted immediately and wound up in 13th position after the stop. Getting loose on worn tires is just an experience lesson on my part and something I will now understand for the future."

Gidley moved up to 12th position shortly after the pit stop, and yet was lapped by leader Juan Montoya on Lap 155. When the leaders pitted under yellow on Lap 175, Gidley stayed out in a successful gambit to regain the lead lap. Running in ninth position, he experienced an electrical problem that forced him to retire with only 19 laps remaining in the race, finishing 18th.

Although the result was a disappointment, the 182 laps of racing experience were invaluable in Gidley's preparation for this week's practice and qualifying at the biggest oval in open wheel racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On his way from Japan to Indy, Gidley spoke about his experience in Motegi:

Q: Did you learn anything about oval racing at Motegi that you can apply this next week at Indianapolis?

Driving at Motegi gave me more than two hundred laps of experience taking corners at over 200mph. At that speed you really are trusting your instincts to know how fast you can go. I now know the feeling I got when the car was setup just right, so when I race at another speedway it will be a matter of tuning the car to that feeling and then hopefully making it even better.

Q: Last year was the first year CART used the small speedway wings on medium sized ovals like Motegi. How was your first experience with these low-downforce wings, and what was it like racing in traffic?

I thought the speedway wings were very exciting and challenging to drive. I was definitely forced to be very precise in placing the car in the corners. We really don't have a lot of grip in the corners using the small front wings, and the car does not like to make big mid-corner adjustments if you make a mistake. The speedway wings in traffic were difficult but still a lot of fun. You end up taking different lines on the racetrack to have clean air in order to get around people. I thought running in traffic and passing people was actually a lot of fun because of the level of difficulty involved. It really gave me unbelievable experience for the next oval, and I now feel very comfortable racing other cars with the speedway wing configuration. Actually, I think its a total blast!

Q: The Motegi race was your first trip to the Far East. What was your impression of the Japanese fans?

The Motegi fans are unbelievable. To tell you the truth, as much as I can't wait to drive at Indianapolis, I am also very sad to be leaving Japan. The Japanese fans were so interested in talking to me and shaking my hand. They all attempted to converse in English. I have never been around people that are so polite and respectful. Every fan would say thank you for the autograph and picture. Many fans even brought me gifts; I received more presents at the track than I received at Christmas last year! I actually had a bunch of fans tell me that they loved me! (I don't think they really understood the word properly--especially the one male fan who told me that.)

Q: Up until the Rio 200, your Champ Car experience was exclusively on road and street courses. Do you think your performance at Rio and Motegi this month has proved something to the CART paddock about your oval skills?

My recent experience with Team Players has opened many doors for possible full time rides in 2001. Being able to run all types of tracks is very important to team owners. I can now tell you that it is far more difficult to jump into a Champ Car on an oval because you really must have a setup that suits your driving style. At both oval races I was able to get up to speed in time for qualifying, and by race time we were fast enough to contend for a podium result at both events. In Rio and Motegi I passed or ran ahead of many drivers who have the benefit of years of Champ Car experience and hundreds of miles of pre-season testing. So I think the team owners now realize that I can get up to speed quickly and run at the front at all type of tracks. I will only continue to learn and get faster, and I feel my potential is unlimited.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Memo Gidley , Patrick Carpentier