RUSTY WALLACE TAKES A SPIN IN INDYCAR SERIES PENSKE RACING CAR ON THE HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY ROAD COURSE
While Rusty Wallace retired from NASCAR competition following last year's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he decided a little "track time" will help him in his new role as commentator on ABC and ESPN's IRL IndyCar Series telecasts which will begin with the March 26 Toyota Indy 300.
Thursday, Wallace slid behind the wheel of Sam Hornish's Penske Racing Honda Dallara, and ran eight laps around the 2.21-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway road circuit.
"I feel like I'm going on my first roller coaster ride," Wallace said before firing up the car. Wallace said that Team Penske teammates Hornish and Helio Castroneves gave him all the information he needed.
"Then Helio said, 'It's not a qualifying lap. Go out and have fun.'"
Wallace did just that -- although he failed to heed Castroneves' final word of advice -- "Don't stall."
Wallace ran a best unofficial time of 1:18 -- an impressive seven seconds slower than Castroneves' best lap of the day of 1:11.01
"I'll tell you, I never could have reported on this sport the way it needs to be reported without getting to drive this car," Wallace said. "I was really impressed with the brakes -- they could stop on a dime. The acceleration was incredible. But the biggest surprise to me was how you go out and get such great speed, and as you turn down off the back straightaway, I can't believe how hard the wheel gets going into turn 10. As you ark off into there, the steering wheel's locked up. It's amazing. That was the only place that was spooky. The slow corners were fun, the upshifts were fun. These are incredible hot rods. I'm glad I did it."
Asked how long it would have taken him to get up to speed, Wallace said, "If I started off in the morning, I think by the end of the day I would have been within a second and a half. I knew in my mind where I gave up stuff. The biggest thing I needed was the car to fit me better, and getting more seat time to build confidence that this car will stick. I don't know the operational envelop of these cars and how far you can take them."
It was Wallace's first time around the 2.21-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.
"I've been coming to Homestead forever and ever, always running the oval, and I've never seen the road course before today," Wallace said.
"It's a great road course. I can't believe how beautiful it is, and I never saw it before. Every time we came here it was covered with motorhomes."
While Wallace joked about talking team owner Roger Penske into running a third car for him in the Indianapolis 500, he was serious about getting more track time in an open-wheel car this year.
"I'm going to do it all year long in the two-seater, run all the tracks and get a good idea of what's going on," Wallace said.
Thrilling race action returns to Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006 with the Grand American Road Racing Series GP of Miami on March 25th and the IRL IndyCar Series TOYOTA Indy 300 on March 26th. To purchase your tickets call the Homestead-Miami Speedway ticket office at 305-230-RACE or 866-409-RACE or visit www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com.