IRL: Teams to hone new equipment at second Open Test

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Dec. 30, 1999 -- Scott Sharp won the pole in January 1999 for the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway with a track-record time of 21.007 seconds and speed of 171.371 mph on the 1-mile oval. At least 20...

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Dec. 30, 1999 -- Scott Sharp won the pole in January 1999 for the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway with a track-record time of 21.007 seconds and speed of 171.371 mph on the 1-mile oval. At least 20 Indy Racing League drivers will try to approach those marks Jan. 5-6 at the same racetrack. They will participate in the second Open Test leading up to the new century’s first major open-wheel race - the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 29. The pre-race testing is particularly necessary this time because the Oldsmobile Aurora and Nissan Infiniti engines have been reduced in size from 4.0 to 3.5 liters. Additionally, the teams are working with new Dallara, G Force and Riley & Scott chassis and some teams with Firestone tires for the first time. All teams are working with new sequential gearboxes from Xtrac. The first Open Test in early December at Walt Disney World Speedway provided a starting point for the speeds the new engines will produce. Defending league champion Greg Ray quickly showed that the potential exists to approach Sharp’s record. Ray recorded a best lap of 21.281 for a speed of 169.165 mph in his Glidden-Menards Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. That’s only .274 of a second behind Sharp’s time with many more laps of test time available to shave a few more fractions from that time before the race. “We are pretty comfortable with where the speeds are,” said Brian Barnhart, Indy Racing League director of racing operations. “The cars in general are from 3/10ths to 7/10ths (of a second) slower than what we were running last year. “The first test was absolutely the most successful debut of equipment I’ve ever seen. There were zero engine failures, and the gearbox performed flawlessly. The teams were able to accomplish a lot more because there was no down time.” Barnhart, league technical director Phil Casey and league technical consultant Les Mactaggart all thought it was necessary to slow the cars. Speeds have increased dramatically since the 4.0-engine was introduced at the Disney race in January 1997. For instance, Tony Stewart captured the pole for that race with a speed of 166.013 mph. Of particular concern was the projected jump in speed at the Indianapolis 500 if no changes were initiated. Cars would have sped back into the 230-mph bracket, Barnhart said. The pole speed at Indianapolis has jumped from 218.263 mph in 1997, to 223.503 in 1998 to 225.179 last May. “The engines were getting up to 725 horsepower,” Casey said. “We wanted to slow them down.” The new engine has a shorter stroke that enhances reliability, Casey said. Additionally, teams switched to a 180-degree crank that provides a higher-pitched, more pleasing sound. Teams can update their 4-liter engines with a kit costing approximately $15,000. “Most of the changes we’ve made are safety related,” Barnhart said. Trimming the speed is a primary change made for safety. Another change came to the chassis. “They come from analyzing the car over the last three years,” Mactaggart said. “The changes are to improve the environment for the drivers.” The cockpit area has been widened from 16 to 19 inches to allow for more protective padding around the driver. The side pods have been made stronger to make them more able to absorb the energy of a crash, and the nose has undergone some manicuring. The entire chassis has been put through several rigorous FIA stress tests. And all three league chassis have sleek aerodynamic enhancements for the 2000 season. Firestone, meanwhile, last fall suddenly was put in a position where it had to provide all of the tires after Goodyear decided to withdraw from the Indy Racing League and CART. “Firestone has a very competitive, ample package for the teams at a good price,” Barnhart said. Teams making their first Open Test appearance of the offseason will learn what the 10 teams at the December session picked up, although several of the teams that missed the December tests ran laps at other tracks. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., making his Indy Racing League debut in 2000, falls into that category. He and Galles ECR Racing skipped the early December Open Test, but Unser turned testing laps at Phoenix the week before Christmas along with Buzz Calkins and the Bradley Motorsports team. Unser and Galles ECR will participate in the second Open Test. Teams that already tested at Walt Disney World Speedway in December will return for further refinement of their chassis. And maybe edge closer to Sharp’s record.

Tickets: Tickets for the Delphi Indy 200 are available by calling (800) 822-INDY.

-IRL/IMS-

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