(This is the fifth in a series of daily reports on Indy Racing League testing at the new one-mile Walt Disney World Speedway oval. The reports will continue through Friday.)
GREGOIRE RETURNS; RUTHERFORD SIZES UP IRL ROOKIES
ORLANDO, Dec. 5, 1995 -- For Stephan Gregoire, the past two days near Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom have been, well...magic.
Gregoire was a 24-year-old road racer from Vittel, France in 1993 when he boarded a plane for his first visit to the U.S., first look in person at an Indianapolis car, first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and first Indianapolis 500.
He looked at the Dick Simon Racing-prepared machine, sat in it, drove it, qualified it for 15th starting spot and led the 18th lap of the world's greatest auto race.
Since then, there's been no ride for him. Now 26, he's signed with Hemelgarn Racing for an Indy Racing League program and he has participated in IRL tests the past two days at the one-mile Walt Disney World Speedway oval.
"It was like a dream for me," Gregoire said of his 1993 month of May. "Everything was good. I had enough time to get comfortable because Indy is three weeks. I had a very good team, very good car. I did it step-by-step." He's taking it step-by-step here as he rekindles his Indianapolis desires with a veteran team.
"I like the track," Gregoire said. "Of course, it's the first time I've driven on a short oval. So it's difficult for me to compare. This is only familiarization to make me comfortable. We begin testing to try to go fast in Phoenix. Then we come back here.
"I need to drive, drive, drive for myself because I didn't drive for two years. I just want to take my time...no mistakes in my first test. It'll be okay."
On his first day in the area, he visited Cape Canaveral. On Wednesday, he plans to take a closer look at Disney World.
"Here, it's magic," Gregoire said. "It's so big. I didn't know it was so big. Now I understand why everybody is talking about Disney. I haven't gone to Disney in Paris. It's good to have a track here...very good."
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, now special projects coordinator for the IRL, got his first look Monday and Tuesday at the new crop of drivers who will be competing in the IRL's inaugural season.
"There's one word that sums them up," said Lone Star J.R. "Impressive. They have all listened well. They are all experienced in their own right. They're drivers who have dreams and desires to run Indianapolis cars. They're finally getting the opportunity, and it's apparent that they're appreciative. Some are able to go faster than others. I haven't seen anyone careless or reckless."
Here's what he had to say about them individually:
ABOUT RICHIE HEARN: "He's the quickest of the new drivers. Richie's been impressive in anything he's driven. He has equally impressed us with the Indianapolis car. He was champion of the Atlantic series this year and earned it in the last race of the season. He said it's easier to drive the Indianapolis car than the Atlantic because you have the power. He shows aptitude and attitude."
ABOUT BUZZ CALKINS: "Buzz is another one of those guys who's paid his dues and shown great desire and aptitude. Like Richie, he said the power of the Indianapolis car makes it easier to accomplish what he's trying to do. He's come here to a demanding new race track and shown very well."
ABOUT STAN WATTLES: "He's a driver of what we would consider having limited experience. He's taken to the Indianapolis car and this race track with a reserved vigor. Yesterday, another car -- driven by a veteran -- passed him and pulled away and he didn't stick it in the fence trying to keep up. He stayed with the mission of learning the trade of driving an Indianapolis car."
ABOUT GREGOIRE: "He's had a limited run so far. It's been methodical and he's getting accustomed to the track and his car. He's about where he should be. His past exploits with making the Indianapolis 500 the first time he saw one of these cars proves he's plenty capable. He just needs some time."
ABOUT MICHELE ALBORETO: "He's impressive. The guy's got plenty of credentials. It's just a matter of adjusting to the Indianapolis car. He's adapted well and he's proven himself in Formula One and other series. He seems to be excited about Indianapolis cars and learning this type of circuit."
TUESDAY'S TOP UNOFFICIAL SPEEDS FROM USAC TIMING AND SCORING:
NUM BEST BEST DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME SPEED Richie Hearn DellaPenna Motorsports 112 19.933 180.605 Scott Brayton Team Menard 129 20.014 179.874 Eliseo Salazar Scandia/Simon Racing 86 20.170 178.874 Buzz Calkins Bradley Motorsports 117 20.431 176.203 Michele Alboreto Scandia/Simon Racing 46 20.664 174.216 Stefan Gregoire Hemelgarn Racing 68 20.818 172.927 Stan Wattles Leigh Miller Racing 125 20.904 172.216 Bill Tempero Tempero Racing 17 23.065 156.081 Roberto Guerrero Pagan Racing 8 28.436 126.600 John Paul Jr. Brickell Racing 11 29.247 123.090