LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. (Jan. 29, 2000) -- The cloudy skies cleared for the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway and the Northern Light Indy Racing League kicked off its season opener with another thrilling race, this time with Infiniti...
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. (Jan. 29, 2000) -- The cloudy skies cleared for the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway and the Northern Light Indy Racing League kicked off its season opener with another thrilling race, this time with Infiniti Indy driver Eddie Cheever Jr. challenging for the victory. Racing in the top five for the last 100 laps of the race, Cheever led the final laps of the race but dropped back to third place after being slowed by traffic on the penultimate lap of the race.
"I had my hands on Infiniti's first win today and I failed them," Cheever said. "Julius Caesar once said, 'to trust is good, to not trust is better.' I should have followed that advice today and not trusted the slower car to give way. I wanted so badly to give them (Infiniti) their first win today. Nissan has a wonderful racing heritage and I want to be the one who carries that torch for them."
Driving the No. 51 Infiniti-powered Riley & Scott/Firestone car, Cheever started from sixth position (determined by the '99 point standings since qualifying was rained out) and was running in second place with fifty laps remaining in the race. He took the lead with an inside pass on Buddy Lazier on lap 191. Seven laps later, while maneuvering through slower traffic, Cheever momentarily lost momentum and race winner Robbie Buhl and Buddy Lazier slipped by him.
"It was a race down to the last lap, and our third place finish shows once again that Eddie is the right guy for us," said Steve Kight, director, Infiniti Marketing. "The fantastic competition we saw in this race is one of the reasons why Infiniti is more excited about Indy racing than we have ever been. We're telling the story about Infiniti's performance and technology. Eddie proved that on the track today. In the future, we expect that to be proven again and again."
Team Cheever's third-place finish marks the third time Infiniti has finished on the podium since the Infiniti Indy V8 made its debut in 1997. The first top-three finish came at the engine manufacturer's debut at Walt Disney World Speedway in 1997 when Mike Groff finished second. Infiniti also finished third at the 1999 Phoenix race with Robbie Buhl.
"This track has been good to us," said Frank Honsowetz, manager, Infiniti Motorsports. "What happened in 1997 was that this was an all-new formula. We have a group working on this project that has the ability to get the job done. It showed up in '97 when we finished second in our first race and it showed today with the introduction of the 3.5- liter formula. What we are going to do different this time is that we now have the structure, the organization, and a front-running team. We have everything we need to race against Oldsmobile competitively from here on out."
Although the next Northern Light Indy Racing League event is not until March 19th at Phoenix International Raceway, the Infiniti Indy team has a busy schedule ahead of them. Partnered with Team Cheever, Infiniti will spend the next few months testing. The focus of this testing program will be on the new Infiniti Indy "35A" engine which could debut as early as the Las Vegas Motor Speedway event in April.
"Our all-new engine is the sister engine to the 5-liter engine used by Nissan in last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans," said Frank Honsowetz. "A lot of development and effort from Nissan Japan and the U.S.-based Infiniti Indy design team has gone into this new engine. We are about to start running the Infiniti Indy 35A and we are confident that it will make a big difference."
Eddie Cheever agrees that the future of the program will be the new Infiniti Indy 35A powerplant.
"I have my ace in the hole, which I believe is going to be the new Nissan Infiniti 35A," said Cheever. "If you don't have one of those than you are in trouble come this year's Indianapolis 500."