LAS VEGAS/PHOENIX, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2000 - At the end of next week, the picture of the title contenders in the Northern Light Indy Racing Series could be much clearer. That's because more than 20 drivers and teams will ...
LAS VEGAS/PHOENIX, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2000 - At the end of next week, the picture of the title contenders in the Northern Light Indy Racing Series could be much clearer. That's because more than 20 drivers and teams will participate in the annual "Test in the West" test sessions Feb. 21-22 and Feb. 25-26. This year 's test will provide an even better barometer of future success for Indy Racing teams because it takes place at Phoenix International Raceway, the traditional site, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Testing starts Feb. 21-22 at Las Vegas and continues Feb. 25-26 at Phoenix. Each of the top 10 drivers in the Northern Light Indy Racing Series point standings, including leader Robbie Buhl, plan to test at both venues. Other top drivers expected to test are two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., 1999 series champion Greg Ray, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr., 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier, defending Phoenix champion Scott Goodyear, 1998 Indianapolis 500 pole winner Billy Boat, Kelley Racing teammates Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore, and A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Jeff Ward and Eliseo Salazar. The tracks at Las Vegas and Phoenix provide a unique and distinct set of challenges for Indy Racing teams. Phoenix is a relatively flat, tight 1-mile oval featuring a unique dogleg configuration. Speeds for Indy Racing cars reach 175 mph, but downforce and handling are more crucial to success than brute horsepower on the Desert Mile, site of the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 on March 19. Las Vegas is a banked, wide 1.5-mile tri-oval featuring a symmetrical turn configuration. Speeds will exceed 200 mph, putting a premium on reliable power. Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the site of the Las Vegas 500 on April 22, the last Northern Light Indy Racing Series event before the Indianapolis 500 on May 28. So the combination of challenges posed by testing at Phoenix and Las Vegas will allow teams to work out nearly every kink in their programs. Testing at Phoenix will help teams hone their chassis packages, while laps at Las Vegas will provide a good look at the reliability and sheer power of their engines. Teams with a firm grip on both their chassis and engines after the "Test in the West" must be favored for success in the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix, the Las Vegas 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the rest of the season. While many of the drivers participating in the test have experience at both tracks, the "Test in the West" will provide valuable learning for a handful of talented rookies, including Sarah Fisher, Jeret Schroeder, Doug Didero, Sam Hornish Jr. and Airton Dare. Fisher, 19, will make her Walker Racing debut at the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix. Unser, another first-year Indy Racing driver, isn't classified as a rookie due to the vast experience he accumulated during his 17-year CART career. He raced many times at Phoenix between 1983 and 1995 while in CART, but he has never raced at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. So the test at Vegas will be crucial for Unser.
Schedule: Testing will take place from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. (local time) each of the days of the "Test in the West" at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
Gates open: The grandstands at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be open to the public, free of charge, Feb. 21-22 during the "Test in the West." The stands at Phoenix International Raceway will be open during testing, free of charge, Feb. 26.