HARRISBURG, N.C., Thursday, April 19, 2001 -- Eddie Cheever Jr., 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion, was the first Indy Racing Northern Light Series driver to win with an Infiniti Indy racing engine (last season at Pikes Peak International Raceway in...
HARRISBURG, N.C., Thursday, April 19, 2001 -- Eddie Cheever Jr., 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion, was the first Indy Racing Northern Light Series driver to win with an Infiniti Indy racing engine (last season at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Fountain, Colo., June 18) since the company entered the series in 1997.
Cheever's success last year gives Infiniti momentum and probably the best chance the manufacturer has had to compete for a victory at the upcoming Indy 500 May 27. With only 400 miles of testing done prior to the season's start in Phoenix in March, Cheever's team focused on further engine development in the weeks since in preparation for Atlanta and Indy.
"I hope that testing will make a huge difference when we get to the Atlanta race," said Cheever, who is owner and driver of the #51 Excite@Home Dallara Infiniti Indy race car. "Our learning curve is so steep that it's mind-boggling.
"The new engine is lighter and has more power up high in the rev band, where we race most of the time. The center of gravity is lower and the electronics are more advanced."
Those features should further close the gap between Infiniti and Oldsmobile, but Cheever knows that with any new component on a race car, development will have to continue to improve to keep pace and even overtake the competition. But it's the support of Infiniti and their commitment to development that drove Cheever to make the switch from the Oldsmobile engine most all the other teams were using.
"I was racing against other team owners that can afford to lose $5 or $6 million dollars a year if they choose," he said. "To compete against those teams is very difficult for me. So having the backing of a manufacturer just made a lot of sense.
"It is like buying a new hunting rifle. It could be a fantastic rifle, but until you've got the site just perfect, and everything just right and you've got the trigger where you want it, you're probably going to miss your first two or three shots.
"Yes, I believe it has an enormous amount of potential. And I think we are going to come into our own when we get to Atlanta."