RAY TOPS DISNEY TESTING; UNSER EIGHTH IN FIRST OFFICIAL TEST
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2000 - Greg Ray refuses to slow down. On the same day team owner John Menard and Ray announced a new primary sponsor - Conseco - for Team Menard, Ray dominated day one of the second Indy Racing League open test at Walt Disney World Speedway. Ray, the 1999 Indy Racing League champion, turned a fast lap of 168.445 mph in the Team Menard-Conseco Dallara/Aurora/Firestone, about seven-tenths of a mph slower than his fast lap of 169.165 in the December Open Test on the 1-mile Disney tri-oval. Ray also posted the second-fastest speed of the day, 167.707, in his backup car. "This is such a demanding racetrack, I think it will set the stage for a couple races to come," said Ray. "It's a very compromising track. Once you make the car good for Turn 2, it's struggling in Turn 1. We have new equipment so it's the same challenge for everyone. In relative terms, I think we're doing pretty well right now, but you're going to continue to see the bar continue to move as we approach the first race Jan. 29." Ray was joined in the spotlight today by Al Unser Jr. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Unser made his first appearance at an official Indy Racing League test. Unser, driving the Galles ECR Racing G Force/Aurora/Firestone, took his first laps on the challenging 1-mile tri-oval and posted a ninth-fastest speed of 162.111. "We're getting to know the track and getting to know the car," said Unser. "It feels pretty good. We're trying different things to help the front end of the car and to get it to turn. That's our main concern right now." Scott Sharp was the second-fastest driver at 167.333 in the Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Aurora/Firestone, and Buzz Calkins, the inaugural Indy 200 winner in 1996, was third fastest at 167.069 in the Bradley Motorsports Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. Sharp set the track record of 21.007 seconds, 171.371 while winning the pole for this event last year with a 4.0-liter engine. The league has switched to 3.5-liter engines this year. "It was a real thrash today," said Sharp. "We have a brand-new car, and we just put our first few laps on it right now. We almost didn't make it out today. I did a quick three-lap leak check, then went out and did an initial run, and that was it. We tried a few different things on this car, and tomorrow we'll try a few new things on the car we ran last month. "Greg (Ray) sort of sets the pace out here right now, and we're not too concerned about that. We've got a list of things to do now, and we'll be ready to come back in a couple weeks when it matters." The season-opening Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway is Jan. 29. Testing will continue at 9 a.m. Thursday.
PERFORMANCE HISTORY OF THE DAY FROM ORLANDO OPEN TEST (1-mile tri-oval) Indy Racing League track record, 4-liter engine: 171.371 mph, Scott Sharp, Jan. 23, 1999
Car No. Driver C/E/T Top Speed 1 Greg Ray 2000 Dallara/Aurora/Firestone 168.445 mph 1T Greg Ray 2000 Dallara/Aurora/Firestone 167.707 8 Scott Sharp 2000 Dallara/Aurora/Firestone 167.333 12 Buzz Calkins 2000 Dallara/Aurora/Firestone 167.069 28 Mark Dismore 2000 Dallara/Aurora/Firestone 166.752 55 Robby McGehee 2000 G Force/Aurora/Firestone 166.520 51 Eddie Cheever Jr. 1999 Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone 163.763 5 Sam Schmidt 1999 G Force/Aurora/Firestone 163.347 3 Al Unser Jr. 2000 G Force/Aurora/Firestone 162.111 14 Jeff Ward 2000 G Force/Aurora/Firestone 161.696 18 Sam Hornish Jr. 1999 G Force/Aurora/Firestone 161.681 98T Donnie Beechler 1999 Dallara/Aurora/Firestone 161.276 98 Donnie Beechler 2000 Dallara/Aurora/Firestone 160.392 43 Doug Didero 1999 Dallara/Aurora/Firestone 157.639 10 Jon Herb 1999 G Force/Aurora/Firestone 157.370 11 Jeff Ward 1999 Dallara/Aurora/Firestone 156.121
OPEN TEST QUOTES:
AL UNSER JR. (#3 Galles ECR Racing): "Running the laps here this morning, and getting to know the track, it feels a bit like a roller coaster. It goes up and down a lot, but it's very smooth and a great facility, and it's a tight racetrack. We're just sneaking up on it and trying to get to know the track and get to know the car. It will be a very competitive race. I can see now why they run so close here." (Asked to compare Indy Racing League cars and CART cars): "They're two different machines. They're built differently, and there's totally different rule packages for each car. The CART car feels like its got a little more power to it, but it has less grip to it also. With the Indy Racing League car, we're getting through the corner a lot quicker, but we're not getting down the straightaway as quick. They have different philosophies about short ovals. CART has chosen to free up the cars, so you have less downforce in the corners but you're freed up on the straightaways. As a lap average, I ran quicker at Phoenix in this car than I did in my CART car a year ago. Because the (Indy Racing League) car has less horsepower, I need to keep my momentum up in the corners. That's the first place you get in trouble. So we're just working on getting as many laps as we can and learning how to get through the corners." (Why he chose to stay in open-wheel racing, instead of NASCAR): "It wasn't too difficult to not go to NASCAR. They're running every weekend, basically, and their cars aren't as high performance as the single-seat cars. I've ran one NASCAR race, the 1993 Daytona 500, and IROC, which gives me a good indication of what the cars are like. I like the performance of the single-seat cars and the speeds they run. I think the Indy 500 is stronger than NASCAR put together, and the Indy 500 is where I want to be at and finish my career. So it wasn't too difficult to search for my Indy ride and search for NASCAR. I had opportunities with some good teams. With my family and my daughter's condition, and if I ran NASCAR I'd have to move to North Carolina and be gone every weekend, I chose to spend more time with my family and so on." (About being reunited with Rick Galles): "This is actually my second time being reunited with Rick. He took me to Indianapolis for two years, then went and raced with Dominos Pizza, then I came back for six years, and left for six years to race with the Penske organization, and here I am again. (Galles) knows what it takes to win, so it was an easy decision to go back to him. He's in Albuquerque, so I can walk down to the shop and play with the race car anytime I want and talk to the crew, and that makes quite a difference."
JEFF WARD (#11-14 Harrah's-A.J. Foyt Racing): "The car feels really good. The G Force feels like it has a lot of downforce. We're not going for outright speed right now, just getting the balance of the car and what changes do what. I feel pretty good right now, having not driven since October at Texas. To get out there and get right down to what almost everybody is running is pretty good."
SAM SCHMIDT (#5 Treadway Racing): (About returning to the car after recovering from foot injuries sustained at Texas Motor Speedway in October): "It feels really good. We were out of it going on 10 weeks and in a wheelchair for six of that. It's been a pretty steep physical curve in the last three weeks. I got my pins out of my foot two and a half weeks ago, and that really helped. I feel like we can take it to the next level now. I feel like I will be more than ready when Orlando rolls around. I can get back into jogging and stuff. Getting back into the car was great. It only took me about three or four laps to realize nothing had changed, and the car feels the same as last year. We're still working on the balance. We haven't found the balance of the old car yet. My left foot is still a little sore, but for the most part we're feeling pretty good."
BUZZ CALKINS (#12 Bradley Motorsports): "We figured some stuff out at our test in Phoenix prior to Christmas. Plus the engine was down on horsepower last time we were here. We think we bent a couple valve springs, and that hurt us. Despite the slow speeds at the last test here, we haven't been too concerned. With the new engine, we were quick right out of the box at Phoenix, so we knew we were going to be faster coming back here."
ROBBY McGEHEE (#55 Treadway Racing): "The team has learned a lot. They've been working on the Energizer car quite a bit since the last time we were here. There has been a lot to gain today. Tomorrow we're going to trim the car out and get it ready for qualifying. Hopefully we can put the Energizer car on the front row and do well in the race. That's all that counts."
EDDIE CHEEVER JR. (#51 Team Cheever): "We ran another 220-plus miles today. The engine is strong; it didn't miss a beat. This is the second engine we've run these kind of consistent laps on recently. I am pleased with the way our 'endurance testing' is going with Infiniti. We also ran the tires to the threads today. The Firestones are very consistent. They demand an entirely different setup over the arc of a full tank than the Goodyears we ran last year. With the new tires, we are about 50 percent through the learning curve and should be 70 percent by tomorrow."
DONNIE BEECHLER (#98 Cahill Racing): "We're real happy with the car. The day hasn't gone that great. We missed a lot of our test time. Just little things with a new car. You think you can fix something quickly and it takes a little longer. Tomorrow we'll come out with all our guns and get something accomplished."
SAM HORNISH JR. (#18 PDM Racing): "The car feels really good. We've got a push in Turn 1, and we've been trying to work on that all day. We've gradually taken wing out of the car so we can go a little bit faster. They didn't want to put me in a car that was hard to drive right off. We had to change the gears at the end of the day because we were getting on the rev limiter. We are just gradually trying to pick up time and not get ahead of ourselves. The plan has been to just been to get in two good days of testing and pick away at things gradually, and not try to make drastic strides." *** NOTEBOOK:
Conseco to sponsor Team Menard: Conseco, Inc., announced today that it will be the primary sponsor for the 2000 season for Team Menard's entry driven by 1999 Indy Racing League champion Greg Ray. Conseco, based in Indianapolis, has been a sponsor on Team Menard cars since the early 1990s, but this represents the first primary sponsorship agreement between the two organizations. "Working with two-time Indy Racing champion Team Menard represents a further expansion of our long-term commitment to sports marketing and motorsports," said Stewart Stockdale, Conseco vice president of marketing and strategic planning. "As we expand our motorsports sponsorship, we couldn't have a better Indy Racing partner than Team Menard. Their professional and focused approach mirrors our approach to business." Conseco specializes in insurance, investment and lending products.
Cheever leading links charity effort: Orlando resident and 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. will play host to the "Eddie Cheever and Friends Drive for Children" golf tournament Jan. 24. The tournament, which will take place at Isleworth Country Club in Orlando, will benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Women and Children. The tournament has raised more than $70,000 in sponsorship and tournament donations to date. Persons planning to attend the Delphi Indy 200 on Jan. 29 can support the hospital by calling (800) 822-INDY to order tickets. Give the phrase "Eddie Cheever's #51 Drives for Children," and 50 percent of your ticket fee will be donated directly to the hospital.
Tickets: Tickets for the Delphi Indy 200 are available by calling (800) 822-INDY.