IRL: Giaffone quickest - Homestead-Miami testing wrap up

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Friday, Dec. 14, 2001 - The pace quickened considerably during Indy Racing League testing Dec. 13 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but 2001 Chevy Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone remained on top. Giaffone's best time was 27.22 ...

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Friday, Dec. 14, 2001 - The pace quickened considerably during Indy Racing League testing Dec. 13 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but 2001 Chevy Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone remained on top.

Giaffone's best time was 27.22 seconds on the 1.5-mile oval, site of the season-opening 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami on March 2, 2002. He also led Dec. 12 at 27.87 in an entry prepared by Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing, competing in the Indy Racing League for the first time in 2002.

"My team is learning about IRL," Giaffone said. "At the same time, they are a great team. They have had a lot of success on ovals. Yesterday, in the first laps that I did with them the car was pretty good right out the box. I was really surprised. "We still have to improve our car with the long runs. But this is typical for this track. It's hard to go a lot of laps consistently here."

Four of the five drivers participating in the two-day test at Homestead-Miami dipped under the 28-second mark Dec. 13. Only Giaffone was in the 27-second range on the first day of the test.

2001 Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves was second quickest Dec. 13 at 27.25 in his Marlboro Team Penske entry, with teammate Gil de Ferran right behind at 27.28. 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. recovered from a tough first day to record a quick lap of 27.48 in his Red Bull Cheever Indy Racing entry, while 1996 Indy Racing League co-champion Buzz Calkins was fifth at 28.31 in his Bradley Motorsports entry.

Castroneves and de Ferran plan to test as much as possible this offseason as Marlboro Team Penske learns the nuances of Indy Racing cars in preparation for its first full Indy Racing League season in 2002.

"The IRL cars are completely different," Castroneves said. "We have a lot to learn both equipment-wise and with the new circuits."

Said 2001 Indianapolis 500 runner-up 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. It's like we are stepping into someone else's backyard."

Cheever has started 55 of the 56 events in Indy Racing League history, but he also thinks offseason testing will be an important component of any title run in 2002.

"There's going to be a lot changes in the IRL championship next year, and I think the level of preparation is starting earlier this season than it has on the past," Cheever said.

-IRL-

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