IRL: Phoenix Test: Final 2004 pre-season test preview

Teams set sights on final testing session. INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, February 09, 2004,-- The Indy Racing League will wrap up its spring training two days before pitchers and catchers report to open the first Major League Baseball camp. Spring...

Teams set sights on final testing session.

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, February 09, 2004,-- The Indy Racing League will wrap up its spring training two days before pitchers and catchers report to open the first Major League Baseball camp. Spring cannot be far off.

IRL IndyCar Series® teams and drivers have a buffet line of items to address at Phoenix International Raceway on Feb. 11-12 in the final tests before the season opener -- the Toyota Indy 300 -- on Feb. 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Because the IRL has a limited the number of testing dates this year, efficiency is important for teams.

"We just have to take advantage of all of the track time we get, gather as much data as we can and gather as much data about this car configuration," said IRL IndyCar Series rookie Ed Carpenter, who will drive the No. 52 Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone car for Red Bull Cheever Racing. "We have to be as efficient at this test and learn as much as we can about the chassis."

The one-mile Phoenix International Raceway will present a different look than teams saw in testing Jan. 28-29 at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 40-year-old facility was slightly reconfigured in the fall.

Construction crews eliminated the opening in the backstretch wall and widened the exit to Turn 2. In addition, a portion of Turn 4 was torn up to build a tunnel, and asphalt in that area was repaved. Turns 1 and 2 have 11 degrees of banking, while Turns 3 and 4 have 9 degrees of banking.

"It really hasn't changed too much, as far as what the driver feels," 2003 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Dan Wheldon said after testing at the track in early December. "The entry to Turn 1 is still obviously quite tight, so you've still got to get the car through there and through the middle of the corner. You do have a bit more road to play with on the exit."

Nineteen car-driver combinations completed 5,062 laps without incident at Homestead, Fla., and an equal number of cars are expected at Phoenix. The track will host the Indy 200 Copper World Classic on March 21.

"We had a good test there in December, and we really want to keep the momentum on the short tracks," said Dreyer & Reinbold Racing driver Robbie Buhl, who finished 12th in last year's race at Phoenix. "(Engineer) Owen (Snyder III) is putting more of a premium on mechanical parts, shocks and springs, and we'll continue improving with the engine electronics. We'll do some pit stop practice, and then look forward to going racing."

Handling data will be especially important as teams prepare for the race at Phoenix.

"I think when we go to Phoenix, it being a one-mile oval with the new aero package that's put on the car, we'll get a lot of data," said Red Bull Cheever Racing driver Alex Barron, who had the top speed of testing at the reconfigured Homestead-Miami Speedway. "Some of the references that we get we'll analyze when we get back to the shop and try to adjust accordingly."

Kosuke Matsuura turned his debut laps on an oval in an IRL IndyCar Series car on Nov. 12 at Phoenix International Raceway, which led to his ride with Super Aguri Fernandez Racing. The chassis this test will be different from those evaluation laps, but Matsuura said he already feels more comfortable in the car.

"I've tested Dallara in Phoenix last year, so I am looking forward to feel the difference between the Dallara and Panoz G Force chassis," said Matsuura, who ran in the Panoz G Force for the first time at Homestead. "I know my team is working so hard to set up the car. Since PIR is a short track, I want to concentrate on the mechanical side and set up the car differently."

Of the 311 laps by Matsuura, his top speed was 211.8806 mph (25.2401 seconds) on the Homestead-Miami Speedway track that was repaved and revamped to include variable banking of 18 degrees at the bottom, 19 degrees in the middle and 20 degrees at the top of the turns.

"It was my first time driving at Homestead-Miami Speedway and also my first time in the Panoz G Force, so everything was new to me," Matsuura said. "I enjoyed feeling the effects of the different changes to the car, and I was able to learn what I need to do to improve."

The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season begins with the Toyota Indy 300 at 2 p.m. (EST) on Feb. 29, 2004, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ESPN and the IMS Radio Network.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robbie Buhl , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Kosuke Matsuura , Ed Carpenter
Teams Dreyer & Reinbold Racing