IRL: WDW Thursday practice notes

DAY 1 - Jan. 23, 1997 Welcome to Walt Disney World Speedway and the second running of the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Presented by Aurora, the third race of the 1996-97 Indy Racing League season. Mai Lindstrom, director of public...

DAY 1 - Jan. 23, 1997

Welcome to Walt Disney World Speedway and the second running of the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Presented by Aurora, the third race of the 1996-97 Indy Racing League season.

Mai Lindstrom, director of public relations for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Bill York, media center manager; Greg Rubinstein and Eric Prill of the Sports Car Club of America; Dick Jordan of the United States Auto Club and their staffs are on hand to assist you this weekend.

Please direct any questions or requests to anyone at the front table in the media staff trailer.

***

FIRST FORMULA FORD 2000 PRACTICE:

--At 9:20 a.m. #19 Buddy Rice of Phoenix, Ariz., was first on the race track in the Lynx F2 Van Diemen Formula Ford 2000 car to start Indy 200 weekend. He was followed on to the track by #5 Michael Fitzgerald of Newton Square, Pa., and #4 Duncan Dayton of North Salem, N.Y.

--Both #83 Greg LeMond and #84 John Miller of the Miller Brothers Racing team were back on the track this morning in Formula Ford 2000 cars after accidents during open testing Wednesday.

--At 9:25 a.m., #33 Jeff Smith and the Wabash Valley Motorsports Citation Formula Ford 2000 car came off the exit of Turn 1 high, brushed the wall and slid 170 feet to a stop in the middle of the track. The car sustained heavy right rear and moderate right front damage. Smith was examined and released from the track emergency center and cleared to drive.

--At 9:56 a.m., #5 Michael Fitzgerald came off Turn 3 and did one complete spin 200 feet to hit the outside wall with the right side and continued along the wall an additional 260 feet down the front straightaway.

The car sustained minimal damage.

***

Stan Wattles, who led the Indy 200 a year ago in his first race in Indianapolis-style cars, announced plans today to become an owner/driver for the 1998 Indy Racing League season.

"The opportunity to get in on the ground floor of what is, in essence, a brand-new series, is really hard to pass up," Wattles said. "This solidifies my commitment to Tony George and his vision for the IRL."

Wattles has been an owner/driver through most of his 11-year racing career, fielding cars under the Metro Racing Systems banner in SCCA national Atlantic competition, the pro Player's/Toyota Atlantic Championship and the IMSA World SportsCar championship.

Metro Racing Systems will now become an IRL team. Wattles will be available to drive for other teams during 1997 and Metro may enter the final race(s) of 1997, according to the news release issued today. The release said Metro will announce its selection of chassis, engine and tires after meeting with manufacturers in February.

***

Mike Groff, the current Indy Racing League point leader, will give quarter-midget racing a boost at next weekend's Skoal Bandit Copper World Classic at Phoenix International Raceway.

Groff and his family will sponsor the Mike Groff Quarter-Midget Invitational, a three-day competition that will take place behind the Richard Petty Grandstand on a specially constructed "mini-mile" oval. Quarter- midget racing made its Copper World Classic debut last year.

Over 100 youngsters, ages 5-15, are expected to compete in seven different classes.

"I was happy that Phoenix International raceway approached me with the idea, because much of the success I've had in this sport started with my involvement in quarter-midget racing," Groff said. "Our whole family competed in quarter-midgets. My litte brother Robbie started with me and even my sister Debbie had a car for a few years."

***

Robbie Buhl, who finished third in the 1996 IRL championship points race, visited with 35 young patients Wednesday at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Women and Children.

Buhl is national spokesperson for Racing for Kids, an international charity designed to use the popularity of motorsports to bring public attention and funding to the health-care needs of children.

In eight years with the program, Buhl has visited over 6,500 patients and nearly 80 children's hospitals in the United States, Canada and Australia. Wednesday's visit was his third to the Arnold Palmer facility.

***

FIRST INDY 200 PRACTICE:

--At 10:37 a.m., #4 Davy Jones in the Monsoon-Galles Racing G Force/Oldsmobile Aurora was the first to take a new Indy Racing League car on the track for a race-weekend practice.

--At 10:39 a.m., #4 Davy Jones turned a lap at 164.121 miles an hour, fastest of session.

--At 10:46 a.m., #2T Tony Stewart turned a lap at 166.590 miles an hour, fastest of session.

--At 10:50 a.m., #12 Buzz Calkins turned a lap at 163.014 miles an hour, third fastest of session.

--At 11:12 a.m., #4 Davy Jones turned a lap at 164.556 miles an hour, second fastest of session.

--At 11:14 a.m., #2 Ton y Stewart turned a lap at 163.837 miles an hour, third fastest of session.

--At 11:20 a.m., #2 Tony Stewart turned a lap at 164.459 miles an hour, third fastest of session.

--At 11:35 a.m., #6 Scott Goodyear turned a lap at 163.770 miles an hour, third fastest of session.

--At 11:38 a.m., Goodyear tire engineers reported a track temperature of 98 degrees.

--At 11:40 a.m., #2 Tony Stewart turned a lap at 165.153 miles an hour, second fastest of session and giving Team Menard's two cars the top two spots on the speed chart.

--At 11:45 a.m., #4 Davy Jones and the Monsoon -Galles Racing G Force/Oldsmobile Aurora got sideways in the third turn, slid 160 feet into the dirt in the middle of the turn, continued sideways 220 feet to hit the outside wall with the rear, did a half-spin 200 feet to hit the inside wall with the rear and continued 60 feet to a stop in the infield grass near the starting line. The car sustained heavy rear and right side damage. Jones suffered a head injury and was transported by helicopter to Orlando Regional Medical Center in critical condition.

***

At 1:30 p.m., Dr. Henry Bock, track medical director, issued the following statement on the condition of race driver Davy Jones:

"Davy Jones remains in critical but stable condition at ORMC (Orlando Regional Medical Center). The attending trauma surgeon, Dr. Ernest Block, has reported preliminary X-ray studies are negative. He remains in the trauma center for further tests and evaluation."

***

Buzz Calkins was asked this morning to reflect on being the defending champion of the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Presented by Aurora.

"The biggest thing about this weekend is the excitement of being down here again," Calkins said. "With the new equipment, you really have to concentrate on what's going on, so being defending champ really hasn't entered my mind much. Having won here before can be beneficial from a confidence standpoint but it can also get in the way. You have to keep it on a fine line. If it's a case that I am near the top in a couple practice sessions or have a good qualifying run, then I will have to work to keep it out of my mind."

***

Trivia question: Who was the first to drive one of the IRL's new Dallara cars.

Answer: Luke Wethington, team manager for Team Scandia, who drove it in a 10-minute systems check at a small Indianapolis airport before the team brought the car to Walt Disney World for testing in November.

"It's really kind of funny because the only reason I got to be the guy is I'm about the same size as Eliseo Salazar," Wethington said today. "I guess that makes me pretty lucky. We just wanted to shake the car down and test all the systems before we came down here so we took the car out to Speedway Airport. We cut about four or five laps and probably got it up to 75 or 80 miles per hour. We actually wanted to do more but it got dark on us. It was really good for us and was definitely good for me. It's actually not the first time I've driven a (Indianapolis-style) car. Back in 1986, I got to drive a Lola/Cosworth with Simon Racing for an STP commercial. But they wouldn't let us get over 50 miles per hour, so that was different. In fact they told us if we got it over 5,000 RPM and lit the turbocharger that we would get fired. It was tempting, but I stayed at 4,800."

***

Stan Wattles confirmed his plans at a press conference today in the Trackside Conference Room. "I feel I am jumping on board in the right series because they have new cars, new engines and I'm just looking to do this a lot earlier than expected," Wattles said about becoming a car owner/driver. "I believe in the package at hand but I haven't decided on a complete package on what chassis or engine I'll be going with. I'm walking around this weekend like I'm Christmas shopping...just so I can make the right decision for the team. I hope to be owning a chassis by February and testing by July, so my first race will probably be Orlando in '98. If not, it will be Vegas just as a warmup for the car. I'm working on some sponsor packages now...nothing to announce, but I have some private investors who are going to start the project. They're always teething problems with anything new and we'll be ready for anything. I 've been training hard and driving my Atlantic cars to stay in shape."

***

IRL PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES:

TONY GEORGE: "It's great to be back at Walt Disney World. We have an exciting weekend. I'm happy to hear that things are sounding positive with Davy. A lot of things have happened since we were here last year. There has been a lot of hard work. I'm excited about getting the weekend kicked off. The biggest surprise, almost without exception, is everyone was pleased with what we've ended up with (in cars and engines). Performance and handling of the car have been lauded by all the people driving the cars. The cars are very, very comfortable. The level of speed, power and performance is right on target and you can't help but be pleased with that." (About the field): "Anything we start will be successful. We can start 15- 21 cars, feel confident that we will have a good number to start the race. The teams will do whatever is necessary to stay with their commitment to the IRL. We feel we'll have a representative field out there at the start of the race."

LEO MEHL: "We want to thank the media for all the positive stuff written about us. J.R. (Johnny Rutherford) has been the pace car driver for us, participating in the IRL. Al Unser is going to be the coach and mentor for the IRL. He will be working with the drivers for the new season. It's going to be a great season. We have a very special event here Saturday...all brand- new engines, gearboxes, cars. It's a very special event for me and the IRL and we'd like to thank everyone who has worked to make this happen."

PHIL CASEY: "We keep all the data (from accidents). A lot of research has been done on the accidents. We research anything that is different. We have 5,000 miles of testing and it's been very positive." (About safety): "We're looking at what injuries they have. GM is looking to the head area specifically, impact and seats. A lot of stuff is being worked on right now."

FRANK HONSOWETZ (Nissan): "It's been less than a year. It's been a difficult program to take on. We started six to seven weeks behind GM. We are here because we said we'd be here. We are going to do the best job we possibly can. Our current plan is to run three cars, possibly four. We don't have many engines here. We have people at home working hard to bring more engines down here." (About Pagan Racing):: "They (Nissan) ha(s) another engine in L.A. being prepared and another one for them (Pagan). We are doing everything we can." (About teams going to alternate engines): "If anyone can use another powerplant to be in the race, they should. It has no negative effect on us. Everyone who is here should race."

AFTERNOON IRL PRACTICE: --At 2:36 p.m., #91 Buzzy Lazier turned a lap at 162.918 miles an hour, fastest of session.

--At 2:54 p.m., #6 Scott Goodyear turned a lap at 162.506 miles an hour, second fastest of session.

--At 3:01 p.m., the track went yellow for a track inspection.

--At 3:10 p.m., #12 Buzz Calkins turned a lap at 163.258 miles an hour, fastest of session.

--At 3:22 p.m., #2 Tony Stewart turned a lap at 165.738 miles an hour, fastest of the day.

***

Michel Jourdain Jr., second-place finisher in the Las Vegas 500k, the last IRL race of 1996, was in a testing accident Wednesday at Sebring. Fermin Velez, a former teammate of Jourdain's at Team Scandia, talked to Jourdain last night.

"He's fine," Velez said today. "He doesn't have any injuries. He did have a pretty heavy accident. (He said) he lost the brakes in one of the turns and went face-on into the barrier. He's just sore. He's going to fly home to Mexico today."

***

INDY 200 POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

PAGE MADER (Firestone senior project engineer): "It all looks good so far. Based on testing and the limited work we've had with the IRL cars, the Firestone cars have worked well on all the chassis/engine combinations we're running. We're pleased with the performance. We just hope all the teams get more time to run tomorrow."

DAVEY HAMILTON: "I can't believe I'm in the top 10. We ran a total of 19 laps, 10 of them up to speed. I'm happy. That's it. The laps you see is all I've run today. I'm in pretty good shape."

EDDIE CHEEVER: "This is the first time in the heat. In testing, it was cooler, so our setups were south of where they should be. The oil pump and gearbox were problems today that we have to work with. The engine (Aurora) ran impeccably. Brayton Engineering has us ready to race, and race well."

ARIE LUYENDYK: "We were a lot slower than we tested. The track has changed. We're conserving equipment for the race. The car is a little loose but now we have an idea of what to do about that. We want to make sure we qualify reasonably well and if we get on the pole, that's great, but if not, that's okay because we have to conserve what we have. We have no backup."

JOHN PAUL JR.: "It's gratifying to improve. It was a lot hotter than in testing. We did what we could do to make the car respond. We're not setting the world on fire with our speeds but we want to be steady. We want to finish the race. Finishing is important because we're 10th in the points, so we want to concentrate on improving that."

MARCO GRECO: "I'm still learning the track. I've not had too many laps here. With warmup and all, I've got 100 laps total. I've never been here before and I had to learn the car and keep the momentum going. I feel I have a good chance to make good points and race well. We're sixth in the points right now but without Michele Alboreto and Richie Hearn here, we're fourth (of those here). We're going to look for consistency. I feel the car can be good to the end of the race and we're hoping to do well."

SCOTT GOODYEAR: "We are struggling a little bit right now. Both Arie and I are feeling the same things in the car. We have a good game plan for tomorrow, though, so that should help. We're just not going as quick as we were and we're not as comfortable. Obviously the weather is pretty wamr right now and when we tested, they were having a cold snap and I think we're paying for that a little bit."

BUDDY LAZIER: "The bottom line, and I mean, the bottom line is this: We're 16 days behind on testing. The reality is, as a driver, you have to have more time. I refuse to overextend myself in the car. I don't know where the barriers are with this combination and it's in testing that you have to sneak up on those barriers. If you combine all the laps we have, we probably have one good day of testing. But we'll keep working it out tomorrow and see where we're at. I can definitely say this: Once we are a well-tested team, we will be in great shape."

SCOTT SHARP: "I guess we had a pretty good day today. It's just that we had such a great test here in December. Since then, Goodyear has come out with a new tire and there have been some changes in our chassis and I think those two things combined are what's affecting us. But when you work with A.J. Foyt, you don't have to be too concerned. I tend to be pretty impatient and want to be at the top of the leader board right now. But with A.J., you just keep making changes until it's right."

***

4 p.m. update on driver Davy Jones from Dr. Henry Bock, track medical director:

"The news from ORMC (Orlando Regional Medical Center) is encouraging where Davy Jones remains hospitalized. His condition has been upgraded to serious. He has been admitted to the critical care unit where his vital signs are stable."

The Lola/Buick used for USAC driver's tests for Dr. Jack Miller and Jeret Schroeder here at Walt Disney World has been a workhorse for new drivers for the past year. It's been prepared by PDM Racing and more than 20 drivers have practiced in it and completed the 40-lap test.

"We have graduated something like 21 or 22 drivers out of that car and it's not parked yet," said Paul Diatlovich, co-owner of PDM. "I guess you could say 'rookies 'R us.' There are a couple of new teams that we will probably test with before the Phoenix race. We spent a considerable amount of time in September with John Paul Jr. detuning the car in Phoenix. That way, it is comparable to the horsepower output of these new cars. It makes logical sense to keep using this Lola since our other equipment is still in the development stage. I'm sure six months from now, we'll be able to put it away for good and move on with this equipment but it's really a great car for now."

Miller said the car was fun to drive.

"The car was a dream to drive," Miller said, "especially compared to what I'm used to in Indy Lights. It was a really smooth ride and did not take long to get used to. The power was incredible. I'm really looking forward to the IRL."

***

U.S. FORMULA FORD 2000 POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES:

LUCIANO ZANGIROLAMI: "Everything's going good. I had some problems this morning with too many cars on the track. I've got the '95 car. It's two years old but I hope for a good race tomorrow."

DAVID BESNARD: "Way too much downforce. It's the only way I can make this car go. It's a '96."

SAM HORNISH JR.: "It was pretty good...a little tight. I hope that we can make it into the race without running the 'Last Chance.'"

LARRY FOYT: (A.J. asked him how it went): "Pretty good, pretty hairy." (About the run): "I went ahead flat-out on Lap 1 into Turn 2. It felt real good. It wasn't too bad. It's just that it's my first time to go out qualifying and to go out on cold tires and get up to speed that fast. It's scary. A.J. put a good setup on the car. Without him, we wouldn't be doing nearly as well. It's been great for me to have the best teacher. This being my first race, he gets in my head and tries to see what I'm thinking to make the car better."

ANDY LALLY: "The track ain't too bad. I'm surprised actually that some of the quicker guys from this morning didn't go faster. The car's good. The guys set up an awesome car. We were shooting for top 10 and I guess we have a shot at that now."

ROBBY McGEHEE: "I guess I should be happy with that...got a little loose coming out of (Turn) 1 and lost a lot of speed down the backstretch." (About the track): "It's my favorite track. I like these big ovals. They're fast."

URUBATAN HELOU JR.: "The run was good. It was my first time on an oval. With only two laps, it's hard to get speed. I wish we had more time. I just wanted to make points. The track is perfect. Congratulations to Disney."

BUDDY RICE: "The car was excellent. I was able to run flat-out all the way around. I just had to rub the brake in Turn 1 was all. The car was in a groove and I was hooked up."

SETH TAYLOR: "It went good, really. It's slick out there because of the cold tires. We had been having some oversteer problems. We changed both shocks in the rear and that made it a lot smoother. It went surprisingly well. The team is really good at setting up the car for cutthroat qualifying."

DAVID RUTLEDGE: "I was flat-out all the way around. We made some changes before qualifying and the car stuck all the way. We're going to change it a little bit for the race tomorrow, but since it't this quick, we're probably not going to change it much for the race."

JOHN HOLLANSWORTH JR.: "This is my first oval, my first Formula Ford 2000, my first open wheel and first two-lap qualifying. We've got a lot to learn yet. I'm used to the road racing and the one-half hour routine. We'll be better next time out."

GREG LeMOND: "The first lap, it was loose in the first turn and apparently I was bottoming out. And I went around again and was going faster since it was the second lap and it bottomed out in the same place and came around. I couldn;t catch it that time. It's not the same car I drove in December. We rebuilt the car and it was supposed to be the same as it was then but it's not. A lot of the riders went 122 on their first lap and that's what we should've been able to do. We'll work on it."

POST-IRL PRACTICE QUOTES (continued):

TONY STEWART: (about the car's handling): "The biggest difference is they're a little more forgiving. When these cars get a push, you can turn the steering wheel and get the car back on line in the groove. Last year, you got a push, you couldn't get it into the groove and you'd go into the wall." (About traffic): "The only traffic I've been in was in testing with Arie (Luyendyk). The turbulence was a little more than I expected. The characteristics of the car are about the same as last year. You have to work harder to get up to speed. Quote-unquote, you are going to see NASCAR racing. You are going to see closer racing than last year." (About his driving in '97): "I'm still involved with NASCAR. They are gracious to let me run as many Busch races as I can. It's the same as last year."

LARRY CURRY (director of racing, Team Menard): (about advantage of having team engine shop): "Team Menard is a deep team. We know a little bit more about the product. We do not underestimate the competition. The package we bring forward, we are able to keep in house." (About practice): "The last test that we had, we are glad to see the warmer temperature. We did 190 miles and ran 63- and 64-lap runs, which is pretty close to a full tank run. We are pretty doggone comfortable where we're at. We are going to be able to anticipate what's going to happen. What a monumental project this has been. In 13 months, engines ready, car manufacturers to get the cars out and tire manufacturers to get tires for these chassis. It's monumental. They pulled it off very, very well."

BUZZ CALKINS: "The practice went pretty well. We're fighting a little understeer. They got new tires and we're trying to dial the car around that a little. We need more time to figure all that out."

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