IRL: Gregoire fastest on first day of Test in the West

PHOENIX, Friday, Feb. 9, 2001 - After a cold morning session on the first day of on-track activity for the Test in the West at Phoenix International Raceway, Indy Racing Northern Light Series driver Stephan Gregoire said his car “can go...

PHOENIX, Friday, Feb. 9, 2001 - After a cold morning session on the first day of on-track activity for the Test in the West at Phoenix International Raceway, Indy Racing Northern Light Series driver Stephan Gregoire said his car “can go much faster.” Gregoire wasn’t lying. Driving a new Dick Simon Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone car, Gregoire turned in the fastest lap of the day at 20.361 seconds, 176.808 mph. His lap was faster than Greg Ray’s 2000 pole-winning speed of 176.566 mph on PIR’s 1-mile oval. “All day long we kept working with the same tires,” said Gregoire. “We were surprised to see how fast we were. We were hoping to get a 20.7 (second lap). I didn’t think we’d get a 20.3 (second lap). It was a pleasing surprise.” Gregoire wasn’t the only driver who improved on his or her posted morning session time. All twelve Indy Racing drivers testing Friday ran faster laps in the afternoon session when the Phoenix sun warmed the track after cool temperatures overnight delayed the day’s activities. The 12 car/driver combinations ran more than 1,345 trouble-free miles. “We’re enthused about today’s activity,” said Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League. “All the teams used their heads in the cool conditions and put in quality laps. “Another point that lets me leave the track upbeat is the fact we had no major mechanical problems on the day. Many of the teams were running new cars or 2000 cars with the update kits for the first time, and there were no mechanical failures.” The Test in the West continues Saturday, Feb. 10. Phoenix International Raceway will open its gates to the public for the test, which begins at 9 a.m. In addition, all of the Indy Racing drivers will participate in an autograph session along the front straightaway beginning at 11:30 a.m. Here are the day’s best laps with time and speed:

<pre> Best Pos Driver Lap Time Speed Laps 1. Stephan Gregoire 20.3611 176.808 mph 72 2. Sam Hornish Jr. 20.3904 176.554 mph 181 3. Buddy Lazier 20.6417 174.404 mph 134 4. Felipe Giaffone 20.7224 173.725 mph 150 5. Helio Castroneves 20.8495 172.666 mph 145 6. Sarah Fisher 21.1316 170.361 mph 178 7. Al Unser Jr. 21.1480 170.229 mph 122 8. Airton Dare 21.1788 169.981 mph 84 9. Stan Wattles 21.2383 169.505 mph 80 10. Greg Ray 21.5471 167.076 mph 82 11. Gil deFerran 21.8827 164.514 mph 63 12. Casey Mears 22.7241 158.422 mph 54

</pre> First Out? Who else?: Dick Simon has a history of putting one of his cars on the track first every May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He started a similar tradition today when Dick Simon Racing pushed Stephan Gregoire out of his pit stall to be the first driver to turn laps during the Test in the West. Gregoire’s laps were the first in a Dallara chassis since he joined Dick Simon Racing. The team will be evaluating the performance of the Dallara chassis and compare it to its G Force chassis. “These are my first laps with this car,” said Gregoire immediately after climbing from the cockpit after his first laps. “It is set up really well, but I was hitting the rev limiter. Now, we have to change gears. We can go much faster than that.”

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Special guests: Despite cooler temperatures, sunshine and race cars brought out a list of racing personalities to watch the Test in the West. Former Indy driver and co-driver on the winning car in this past weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours Chris Kneifel spent the entire day in the Phoenix pits. Driving for the overall winning No. 2 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C5-r, Kneifel was still elated over his win at Daytona. “It was just a huge win for Corvette to be on top,” Kneifel said. “It’s very cool. I’m just kicking tires, seeing some old friends and having a little fun. I’m a Corvette driver; my open-wheel days are over! It’s nice to be around everyone in a more casual atmosphere.” Kneifel drove Indy cars in the late ‘80s for a team he owned called Primus Racing. His cars stood out with their green color and unusually high roll bar to compensate his 6’5” frame. Indy veteran Danny Ongais and 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner Tom Sneva also were casual observers, as well as Indy-winning mechanic George Bignotti and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears.

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Working The Deal: There were several drivers with open-wheel experience watching the Test In The West from pit lane. Most were working on packages that would put them in the seat of an Indy Racing car for the 2001 season. Among the drivers spotted were Townsend Bell (Indy Lights), Billy Boat (Indy Racing League), Tyce Carlson (Indy Racing League), Davey Hamilton (Indy Racing League), Richie Hearn (CART/Indy Racing League), Jaques Lazier (Indy Racing League), Tony Renna (Indy Lights), Buddy Rice (Toyota Atlantics) and Jeff Ward (Indy Racing League).

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Quotes from the day

Buddy Lazier: “This race track still haunts me. The test is going well. It’s all about learning things, but you have to go fast to learn something. We’ve learned a lot. We’re logging a lot of information for the race and qualifying. Obviously, Sam Hornish looks impressive with his new team. Panther looked good last year, and they’ll be tough again this year. There’s a lot of guys looking good.”

Stan Wattles: “In the past, this track hasn’t been very nice to me. I’m just going with the flow. Things are going in a forward, progressive motion. Everybody (on the team) wants to be doing 20.5s, but I keep telling them to take it one step at a time. We plan on changing things that will take some time, but we’ll resume testing tomorrow. The goal is to have a good comfortable balance to the car and know what it’s going to do when the temperature changes.”

Felipe Giaffone: “I ran here in ’95 in Formula Atlantic. It’s a pretty tricky track. There are three corners that are completely different. It’s a nice track. Everything goes fast. We’ve done pretty good so far. The car is running good. Before, it was pretty windy and it was upsetting the car a lot. But today, it’s just nice.”

Airton Dare: “I’m just getting back in the car. The last time I was in the car was the last race (Texas). This was the longest time I’ve been out of a race car since I started racing. I had to get use to the speed again. Today, we are trying two different set-ups and then we’re going to try another. Tonight, we’ll decide what set-up to run all day tomorrow. We’re trying crazy stuff to see if it works. Turn one is very critical. It is hard to set up the car for both corners here.”

Sarah Fisher: “Today was a good start for the communication with my new engineer, Gilbert (Lage). It’s difficult because Gilbert goes by driver feel instead of data. So, there has been a bit of adjusting. I used to look at the data and then discuss. Now, I’m just discussing. We’re just working on a baseline setup. We want a good, solid race car that is stable.”

Helio Castoneves: “That’s the third time I’ve been here with a big car. It’s tough to understand. The track is a little tricky. Once we get going and get some momentum we learn a few things. There is still work to be done. We’ll keep working on the suspension and the aero package. We have a new package. I think that everyone is on the same page. We’re going to keep working and hope the weather helps. (The other drivers) are very competitive. There is no doubt about it. You always have to work hard, and I respect all of them.”

Greg Ray: “Having the (knee) brace on (in) the car is a little difficult. I don’t fit in the seat just right.”

Stephan Gregoire: “It feels very good. This was a brand-new car. We’ve never used it until today. We got fast at the end because we tried new tires. All day long we kept working with the same tires. We were surprised to see how fast we were. We were hoping to get a 20.7 (second lap). I didn’t think we’d get a 20.3 (second lap). It was a pleasing surprise. Last year we were in a G Force, which was a very good car. This year we are running a Dallara - at least for this test. There is not a big difference. With a new car, I thought it would take much more time to get used to it. This is fast enough actually. Maybe tomorrow we will work on the race now. It doesn’t matter where you start.”

Gil deFerran: “We just didn’t run very much. We had a couple of problems here and there -- nothing unexpected. It’s a learning curve understanding systems in the car. We’re going through the motions learning how to drive. I’m not 100 percent physically from a couple of accidents.”

Sam Hornish Jr.: “It feels pretty good. That’s what we came out here to do - be the fastest. The car has been comfortable today. The biggest thing we did is try to do a long run - a race-length run. We want to be consistent. It is the biggest confidence builder knowing we work well together as a new team.”

Al Unser Jr.: “So far, so good for the first day, and actually the last two days. Didier did a good job on Wednesday with his rookie test, and Casey’s been running a bit today. And so far, I’m pleased with our team’s efforts in the process of running a three-car team. We’ll be back at it for day two of the open test.”

Casey Mears: “For what we did today I feel really comfortable. We won’t really work on increasing speed until my time in the car on Sunday. But having the opportunity to get in the car today and tomorrow when Al’s not running is a huge benefit.”

-IRNLS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Chris Kneifel , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Casey Mears , Buddy Lazier , Stephan Gregoire , Jeff Ward , Billy Boat , Airton Daré , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Richie Hearn , Townsend Bell , Rick Mears , Tyce Carlson , Buddy Rice , Danny Ongais , Tony Renna , Stan Wattles , Dick Simon , Brian Barnhart , Sam Hornish Jr. , Jaques Lazier , Sam Hornis
Teams Corvette Racing