INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001 - Helio Castroneves was excited to be back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday, even if was just for a test session. But not quite as excited as he was last May 27 when he won ...
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001 - Helio Castroneves was excited to be back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday, even if was just for a test session. But not quite as excited as he was last May 27 when he won the Indianapolis 500. Castroneves, from Brazil, gleefully scaled the fence at the start-finish line after taking the checkered flag in May. And he said Thursday he can hardly wait to return next May to defend his championship. "I have a fantastic memory of winning, and it's very nice to be back, to be honest," said Castroneves, who joined eight other drivers in a private team test and Firestone tire test on the historic 2.5-mile oval. "It's really, really nice. I enjoy being at the track again. "I will be defending my race victory, of course. I want it more than anything else now. I want to see my face on the ticket." Castroneves drove some early laps, then the Roger Penske-owned team stayed in its garage during the breezy early afternoon. Castroneves returned later to record a hot lap of 221.311 mph in the No. 68 Penske Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Two other Indianapolis 500 champions - 1996 winner Buddy Lazier and 1998 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. - also spent the day running many laps. Other drivers participating were Jaques Lazier, former Formula One regular Johnny Herbert, and rookies Chris Menninga, Rick Treadway, Jon Herb and Brandon Erwin. Jaques Lazier followed up his top lap of 225.006 mph from Wednesday with a 224.070-mph lap today in his No. 2 Johns Manville/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. The team finished its testing shortly after the noon break, and Jaques Lazier then predicted the MBNA Pole average speed next May climbing above Scott Sharp's 226.037 of 2001. "I think from what everybody is telling us that with the Infiniti and the changes they're making and also with the Chevrolet and all the changes they're making, realistically when you look at everything, with a few more horsepower and Dallara and G Force making some changes to the car, I assume we are going to see a little quicker time than the pole was last year," Lazier said. "It was an extremely successful test for us," said Lazier, who suffered clutch failure in the morning but returned to complete the team's test chores by 1:30 p.m. It also was a show of speed from a revamped Team Menard. Lazier replaced Greg Ray as the team's driver three races from the end of the 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series schedule and won both the MBNA Pole and race at Chicagoland Speedway in only his second start with the team. At the end of the season earlier this month, veteran engine guru Louis "Butch" Meyer was promoted by owner John Menard to general manager and Tim Bumps to team manager. Dave Milby, who served as crew chief for A.J. Foyt Racing driver Donnie Beechler in 2001, was hired as chief mechanic. "After the first of the year, we're going to hire some people for the crew," Meyer said. "We've had a ton of applicants." Meyer was quick to praise Lazier for his positive effect on the team. "Jaques showing up the last three races made a big difference," Meyer said. "We're going to try to keep our momentum next year and win some races." Meyer also said the team would take another approach in testing. Before, he noted that team turned as many laps as possible, but this week's session showed that it is going to cut back on that considerably. Meyer expects to have parts delivered for the new Chevrolet engine Nov. 15 and have the engine on the dyno a few days later. Then the team will travel to Phoenix for testing. Herbert, the Englishman who drove in the first Formula One SAP United States Grand Prix at the Speedway in 2000, showed a quick adaptation to the high speeds of the storied track's oval configuration. Testing with the Mitch Davis-run Heritage Motorsports in an Infiniti-powered G Force chassis, Herbert pushed his speed to 221.988 today after only 10 laps Wednesday due to engine failure. "Once I got going, it was interesting to see how the banking was and then how impressive the speed was," Herbert said. "It probably was the first time I've had a real feeling of actual speed when you go through all the turns. It's pretty much stomping on it." Chris Menninga, who made his Indy Racing debut with Hemelgarn Racing in 2001, was pleased with his first drive on the Speedway's fabled asphalt. "It went well," he said. "I came here just to learn and be very patient and focus on gaining a little bit of speed each time to basically simulate our rookie orientation program. We did that. "At the end of the day, the wind was pretty bad, big gusts and everything. So we ran a little bit to get used to that and just decided, 'Hey, we accomplished what we wanted to, let's put it up and come back in April.'" Menninga topped out at 214.453 mph. Castroneves, Erwin and Herbert will test Friday at the Speedway.
INDY RACING NORTHERN LIGHT SERIES TOP TESTING SPEEDS BY DRIVER, INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, OCT. 18 PosCar Driver Car Name C/E/T Time Speed 1. 2 Jaques Lazier Johns Manville/Menards D/O/F 40.1660 224.070 2. 35 Johnny Herbert Heritage Motorsports Firestone Menards G/I/F 40.5296 222.068 3. 68 Helio Castroneves Penske Racing D/O/F 40.6668 221.311 4. 91 Buddy Lazier Tae-Bo/Coors Light/ Delta Faucet D/O/F 40.8367 220.390 5. 99 Brandon Erwin Sam Schmidt Motorsports Racing Special D/O/F 41.1009 218.973 6. 5 Rick Treadway Big Tex Trailers G/O/F 41.4557 217.099 7. 92 Chris Menninga Hemelgarn/Metro Racing/ Planet Hollywood D/O/F 41.9672 214.453 8. 18 Jon Herb Star Registry G/O/F 41.9773 214.402
No speeds available: Eddie Cheever Jr.
RICK TREADWAY: "Just learning the track, really. Trying to figure our way around the track. Yesterday was the first time. The team took a little bit more drag out, so the car handled a little different in the corners." (About the track): "The walls come at you in a hurry here. You really have to be precise with your lines, and you can't really have any errors. I talked to several different drivers, and they all gave me helpful pointers around here. So I really focused and concentrated hard and am just really fortunate to be part of the IRL and Treadway-Hubbard race teams." (About next May): "I can't wait until there's 400,000 people in the stands, and hopefully I can get some sponsors and run here next May. Every time I come out here, I get goose bumps, every time I come inside the track or even drive by it. And to be able to actually drive out here at 225 mph is pretty cool."
JOHNNY HERBERT: "It's pretty impressive, I have to say, to drive on it. It gives me a much bigger sense of speed than I've ever felt before especially the way the wind was blowing going into Turn 3. It was getting pretty quick down into there. It was a good feeling for really what it's all about. What was fortunate about coming here was to just give me a good idea. I've always wanted to do the 500 for one, but obviously trying to get a deal together for the whole of the season. It just gives me a good picture in my mind of what exactly it's like eventually when you come back to race. So it's been very, very useful from that point of view. The wind is probably not what you normally have here especially around the race time. It's just given me a good impression about exactly what it's like. It's good to follow a couple of the guys, as well. What the slipstream is like, what the buffeting is like. Overall, it's been a very useful exercise." (About the Indianapolis 500): "It's one of the races I've always wanted to do since I was a little kid. Formula One was one of the things I wanted to do, and I've done that. I always wanted to do Le Mans, and I've won Le Mans. So it'd be nice to finish this off here as well, but you try to get the whole season, as well. It would be great to get the right experience running up to Indy and then run the rest of the year for the championship. It would be nice to win a championship and the 500, as well. I know it's not that simple, but that would be the plan."
BRANDON ERWIN: "I love it here. It got the best of me in May, I would have to say. With my mom passing away and everything that happened, it was going to be emotional coming back here. Sam and the guys at LP Racing have just made it a warm welcome for me. I'm getting along great with the crew guys. We went out, and I've just been getting faster and faster. We almost ran a 219 today, and I was really comfortable not really having to push the car past its limit, but I'm flat out finally all the way around here. Turn 1 is not so intimidating as much anymore, either. I love it. I can't say enough how much I appreciate them letting me come out here and do this. They've got my confidence back to a new level. I can't wait to come back here and be in the show some day in May."
HELIO CASTRONEVES: (About his confidence level after winning the Indianapolis 500): "It definitely helps your confidence. Experience here is extremely important. I'm very glad that I'm able to come back here with more experience, but - there's always but - I still have a lot to learn. Different situations will happen, and that's why we're here. Last year, we were here early in the season to make sure that we start getting ready for the preparation for the next year, and that's why we do it again." (About Turn 1): "It's still a corner that is very difficult. It's very tricky, very tricky. I'm still trying to figure it out, but that's why it's such a challenging place. Because even though I won this year in May, it doesn't mean that I have this place figured out. No way." (About returning to defend his Indianapolis 500 title in 2002): "Back here? Absolutely. I will be defending the race victory, and, of course, I want it more than anything else now. I want to see my face on the ticket."
BUDDY LAZIER: "We did a bunch of long runs today. Some of the runs were awesome. The tires held up great. I think we made one run where every single lap from full tank to empty tank was over 219. This racetrack is always a pleasure to come to because it's like a billboard. It's so perfectly smooth and perfectly prepared. It's just a racer's dream to run around here. Only running here during the month of May and with the new testing restrictions, this period of year is real important for drivers and teams. We haven't been here for six months, and we won't be here for another four or five months. This was a really, really productive test. To me, the whole season is about the Indy 500 and the IRL championship. If I can get either one or both, I'd be thrilled."
EDDIE CHEEVER JR.: "We were doing a bunch of measurements. We have some new data acquisition on the car, so we spent the last few days trying to figure out some stuff. Why does it do this, is that doing what we thought it was? The engineers will go back and decipher all this data. It's like sending a spaceship up to the moon and back. And then when it comes back, you have to analyze everything for three months." (About Infiniti's performance in 2001): "I think the 35A did very well for itself this year. We did not capitalize on a lot of things. We had some mechanicals. We had some engine failures, but I think it is definitely on par with the best Oldsmobile engines."
JAQUES LAZIER: "It was an extremely successful test for us. Obviously, any time you take the car home with all four corners on it, it's a good test. But we came here with a set goal of what we wanted to do. We accomplished everything, except for one thing. We're real comfortable. We're very excited, as well. We're just trying some stuff for next year, primarily just looking at some different suspension packages, and stuff like that, ride heights. We really didn't try for speed today. I think we had a pretty respectable lap over 224. Today we weren't trying for speed, we were just trying more for consistency. We're real happy with the car right now." (About the MBNA Pole speed at the 2002 Indianapolis 500): "I think from what everybody is telling us, you know, with the Infiniti and the changes they are making and then also with the Chevrolets and the changes they're making, I would assume that realistically, when you look at everything, there's a few more horsepower and Dallara and G Force making some changes to the car, I assume we are going to see a little quicker time than in what the pole was last year."
CHRIS MENNINGA: (About today's testing): "It went well. I came here just to learn, to be very patient and just focus on gaining a little bit speed each time, basically to simulate our rookie orientation program. We did that. At the end of the day, the wind was pretty bad, big gusts and everything, the change from here to there. So we ran a little bit to get used to that and just decided, 'Hey, we accomplished what we wanted to, let's load it up and come back in April.'"