MIAMI, FL (12/13/01) - Two days of Indy Car testing concluded late Thursday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway as five Indy Racing League teams began preparations for the 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami, the IRL season-opener set for March 1-2, 2002.
Testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway were Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske, Eddie Cheever Jr. of Red Bull Cheever Indy Racing, Buzz Calkins of Bradley Motorsports and Felipe Giaffone of Mo Nunn Racing.
Castroneves, defending champion of the Indianapolis 500 and de Ferran, CART champion in 2000 and 2001, were participating in their first open Indy car test since the last week's announcement that Marlboro Team Penske will run all Indy Racing League events in 2002. Marlboro Team Penske's 2002 IRL debut will be at the Grand Prix of Miami, March 1-2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Both Castroneves and de Ferran concurred that testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway was critical to their overall success in the Indy Racing League.
"Although the track here isn't new to us. The IRL cars are completely different," said Castroneves. "We have a lot to learn both equipment-wise and with the new circuits. But, I know Marlboro Team Penske will work very hard during the off-season so that we will be as competitive as possible when we kick off next season at the Grand Prix of Miami."
"It's very important for us to test here as it is at all the tracks on the circuit," said de Ferran. "Despite Marlboro Team Penske's successful results at Indy, we have very little experience with these cars. So, we have a lot to learn. We're going to test as much as possible, so we'll be ready in March for the season-opener here in Miami."
Cheever, a veteran of Indy Racing having competed in 55 of 56 IRL events, spoke of the high level of competition in 2002 and the challenging Homestead-Miami Speedway circuit.
"I think the level of preparation is starting earlier this season than it has in the past," said Cheever. "Homestead-Miami Speedway is a very challenging circuit to get the car to work well and consistently for an entire race. So we're here just trying to gather as much information as possible."
Giaffone, the 2001 Indy Racing Rookie of the Year, was testing for the first time since teaming up with lengendary open-wheel engineer and team owner Mo Nunn for the 2002 IRL season.
"Yesterday, in the first laps that I did with them (Mo Nunn), the car was pretty good right out the box," said Giaffone. "I was really surprised."
Calkins, a six-year veteran of the Indy Racing League, commented on the adjustments that the Bradley Motorsports' team is making this year compared to last.
"The idea for us this year is to try a lot of different set-ups," said Calkins. "We'll come up with the one that's going to bring us the most success in the season opener here in Miami."
Tickets are on sale now for the 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami, March 1-2, 2002, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Along with the Indy Racing League's season-opener, the 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami will be the site for the Nextel 250, featuring the Rolex Sports Car Series. To purchase tickets or for more information, call (305) 230-RACE, purchase on-line at www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com or visit Ticketmaster outlets.