PHOENIX, Friday, Jan. 24, 2003 -- Preparations for the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series continued Jan. 23 at Phoenix International Raceway with IndyCar Series drivers Gil de Ferran, Robbie Buhl and Al Unser Jr. testing on the 1-mile oval, concentrating on...
PHOENIX, Friday, Jan. 24, 2003 -- Preparations for the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series continued Jan. 23 at Phoenix International Raceway with IndyCar Series drivers Gil de Ferran, Robbie Buhl and Al Unser Jr. testing on the 1-mile oval, concentrating on short oval setups.
de Ferran, a two-time CART champion, completed more than 175 laps in his Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone during two days of testing.
"Our two-day test at Phoenix was the first time we ran on a 1-mile oval with the 2003 race car," de Ferran said. "The test was a good opportunity for us to work on our short oval setup, which is important, because it sets the tone for the season on this type of track. I believe it was a good test given we tried a number of different things and learned a lot over the last two days.
"Our preseason preparation at this stage is going according to plan. It's still early days to gauge our competitiveness. We'll get a much better read on where we stand when we come back to Phoenix for Test in the West in early February."
Penske Racing President Tim Cindric was pleased with the test at Phoenix and hopes the team can score a second consecutive victory at PIR when the IndyCar Series returns for the Copper World Indy 200 on March 23. de Ferran's teammate, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, won the event in 2002.
"It was a productive two days at Phoenix for Marlboro Team Penske," Cindric said. "We had our first opportunity to run the short oval package. We're hoping to pick up where we left off here last year, but we're not ready to go racing yet. We still need a bit more time."
IndyCar Series veteran Robbie Buhl, who struggled through the 2002 season and was running at the finish of only four of 15 races, was happy with the two-day test.
"We did 200 miles as expected, and all trouble-free -- which is a novel concept for us, given our bad luck last season," Buhl said. "We went faster (than Jan. 22), and everything was good. We learned stuff about the car. Some stuff worked, some didn't, but that's why we're testing. We're continuing to build our database on the car."
The team continues to learn about the Team Purex/Aventis/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone after competing with a Panoz G Force/Infiniti combination since June 2000.
"(Robbie) is extremely happy with the car," Team Manager John O'Gara said. "The car was absolutely flawless. We did several 10-lap runs, and Robbie did a couple of 20.9's (seconds), which we were happy with."
Said Buhl: "The biggest thing is that we did 200 miles. All in all, I'd say it was better than expected for first day and a half of running. You always have some anxiety about getting out and going fast the first time out -- how fast can I go and can I do it now? But the important thing is that everything's going smoothly with all of our guys. We'd go out and run some miles, put it on the pad, go back out, bring it back to the pad. It was definitely a productive session."
Kelley Racing also wrapped up a two-day test that saw 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion Scott Sharp test Jan. 22, and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. drive his Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Toyota/Firestone on Jan. 23.
"The last two days went pretty well," Team Manager Steve Newey said. "We still need to pick up the pace, but all in all, I'm pleased with the progress that we are making. We had a few problems on Thursday morning that kept us from getting on track until almost noon, but once we got started, Al ran about 119 miles. We got quite a bit done on our test plan, and now we will plan to pick up where we left off today when we come back out for Test in the West."
The Indy Racing League's eighth annual "Test in the West" will take place Feb. 3-4 at California Speedway and Feb. 6-8 at Phoenix.
The IndyCar Series season starts with the Toyota Indy 300 on March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Copper World Indy 200 will be March 23 at Phoenix International Raceway. Both races will be broadcast live on ABC and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.
For ticket information for the season opener at Homestead, call (305) 230-RACE or visit www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com. For tickets to the Phoenix event, call (602) 252-2227 or visit www.phoenixintlraceway.com.