"Driving on the straightaways was like running 55 on the highway," remarked Russ Gamester, one of three USAC drivers who participated in the Indy Racing rookie tests March 24 at Texas Motor Speedway. Gamester and Jerry Coons, Jr.
"Driving on the straightaways was like running 55 on the highway," remarked Russ Gamester, one of three USAC drivers who participated in the Indy Racing rookie tests March 24 at Texas Motor Speedway. Gamester and Jerry Coons, Jr. completed all four phases of the tests offered by the Pennzoil Panther Racing Team, while Dave Darland's test was interrupted be an overheating right rear brake. The three USAC veterans drove the car Scott Goodyear drove to victory at TMS last year, a 1999 G-Force Aurora with a new, 3.5-liter Oldsmobile engine. The tests were delayed from late-December, when high winds and cold weather precluded any activity at the 1.5-mile high-banked oval. Gamester, who finished as the runner-up to Ryan Newman in last year's Coors Light Silver Bullet Series, said his USAC experience paid off in the 69 laps he completed at speeds of up to 204 mph. "Being smooth and patient with that weight is a key to driving these cars," he said. "It's 'seat of your pants' driving, really awesome. I felt really comfortable in the car. The only big difference was the corner speeds, with all the g-forces, etc. I never used the brakes, though. You really don't notice the straightaway speeds so much, because you don't sit up as much in these cars." Supervising the tests were Pennzoil Panther team driver Scott Goodyear, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford and Indy Racing League Director of Racing Operations Brian Barnhart. "Johnny and I were very impressed with the professionalism of all three guys," Barnhart said. "It's only natural for drivers to be competitive, but these guys did not get caught up in trying to out-do each other. They did exactly what was asked of them by the team." Last year Pennzoil and Panther Racing provided Indy Racing rookie tests for USAC drivers Tony Elliott, Ryan Newman and Jay Drake. Coons, who was third behind Jason Leffler and Ryan Newman in the 1999 MCI WorldCom National Midget Car standings, completed 74 laps and said: "It was pretty much what I expected. I never lifted and just got used to the speed. It really didn't feel much different than running a Midget Car at Phoenix. Crew chief Kevin Blanch and the rest of the team were a great help. Being first out gave me an opportunity to share my experience with Russ and Dave. There's a good reason why they do the test at TMS. The car didn't jump around much at all." Barnhart also commended Darland on his 20 laps before the mechanical problem. "Dave was doing a very nice job and progressing as expected. There was no indication he wouldn't have continued smoothly through the last three phases." Darland expressed disappointment with his abbreviated test but added "It was fun while it lasted. Hopefully an opportunity will arise when I can finish the test in the near future."