INFINITI ENGINE, GREGOIRE RIDING HIGH AT PIKES PEAK FOUNTAIN, Colo., Aug. 16, 1998 - The Nissan Infiniti engine showed renewed life Sunday in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League Radisson 200, and friendly French driver Stephan Gregoire ...
INFINITI ENGINE, GREGOIRE RIDING HIGH AT PIKES PEAK
FOUNTAIN, Colo., Aug. 16, 1998 - The Nissan Infiniti engine showed renewed life Sunday in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League Radisson 200, and friendly French driver Stephan Gregoire continued to show that driving for a small team doesn't always mean small returns.
For nearly two years, the Infiniti engine struggled while the Oldsmobile Aurora matured and dominated the series. Dr. Jack Miller remained the sole full-season user of the Infiniti this year, but this weekend Price Cobb, a new owner this year, chose to switch to the Japanese-designed motor and signed veteran Roberto Guerrero to drive the car.
Guerrero didn't win, nor did the car finish on the 1-mile oval at Pikes Peak International Raceway. But for 106 laps, Guerrero chased the leaders, passed top cars on the track and had climbed to third place when a faulty fuel pump took him out of the race. Still, Nissan Motorsports Manager Frank Honsowetz was smiling because the Infiniti was racy on the racetrack for the first time in many races.
"I think no doubt today proved that the engine is very competitive," said Cobb, who saw Miller finish ninth at Charlotte and decided Nissan was making dramatic improvements.
"We were running fourth (actually third) when we had our difficulty. The point is, it is every bit as competitive as any other engine out there. I've been beaten many times (in IMSA) by Infiniti in previous years by Honsowetz and the boys, so I thought when the time's right I want to be on their ship."
The ship came in for Gregoire once more. Driving for the one-car team of Tom Chastain, Gregoire didn't win, but he brought his car to the checkered flag in fourth. Kenny Brack won, with Team Menard drivers Robbie Buhl and Tony Stewart second and third, respectively.
It was Gregoire's third fourth-place finish in four races on 1-mile tracks this season. Gregoire finished second to Stewart in this event last year.
Gregoire started the season driving his blue No. 77 G Force/Aurora/Goodyear with a big question mark on the side. Since, Blue Star Batteries has become a sponsor.
Gregoire is eighth in the point standings with 174 points. Only drivers from major teams are ahead of him.
"On the 1-mile ovals we can manage to be competitive," said Gregoire, an Indianapolis resident born in Neufchateau, France. "But not quite as fast the leaders. So we need to improve just a little bit. We need to test."
In an effort to get better results on the three 1 ½-mile ovals remaining on the schedule, owner Chastain plans to lease a Dallara from Beck Motorsports. Chastain owns an electrical company in Indianapolis.
Cobb, whose Cobb Brothers Racing is based in Golden, Colo., said he will talk with Guerrero about driving in the remaining races this season.
"I would love to have him on," said Cobb, 43. "It really comes to what we can work out."
Cobb, who won the 24 Hours of LeMans, said that Pep Boys Indy Racing League Founder Tony George gave people like him a chance to race in the highest level of competition in the U.S.
"Granted, this is only our fourth race, but I know what it takes to run at the front, I just wasn't prepared before," Cobb said. "Now I'm studying our own performance in preparation for '99.
"I've won championships, but I never got the opportunity to drive an Indy car, which I'd have loved. I had a great career, and now it's time for me to let someone else have a great career."
Guerrero said he was happy as punch despite the car's early departure.
"The engine has improved a lot," he said about the changes made in the Infiniti since he last drove one in early 1997. "Hopefully, it will keep going and keep getting better. It's good for the series to have another good engine."