Menards Infiniti Pro Series Test of Female Drivers Concludes
FORT WORTH, Texas, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2004 -- Kathryn Nunn has some difficult decisions ahead.
The Nunn Motorsports owner in the Indy Racing League Menards Infiniti Pro Series will spend the next several weeks evaluating results from a three-day test to determine which of the seven female drivers that tested at Texas Motor Speedway Nov. 8-10 should be offered a full-time ride for 2005. She plans to have a decision by the second week of December.
"The test has so exceeded my expectations," said Nunn, the only female owner in the IRL. "I had hoped that it would be a good test. I was probably a little more nervous than I needed to be. These women were so much more capable than I expected. I knew that they would be good, but some of them just amazed me. There were so many surprises. To narrow the field down will be so, so difficult. I'll need a lot of help with that."
Each driver completed approximately 90 laps in two sessions on the 1.5-mile, high-banked oval. The top speeds were within half a second of 2004 series champion Thiago Medeiros' record pole time of 27.6277 seconds set in October.
"The first day out was kind of just take my time to get up to speed and make sure I was comfortable," Becca Anderson said. "We turned some pretty good laps the first day and got comfortable. Today when we went out, they made a lot of different changes. They took the flats off the car to take some downforce away and that really picked the speed up on the car and made it a little bit easier to drive, a little bit freer. I think it's kind of closer to the feel of what it's going to be if you get a chance to race them."
Anderson, who races sprint cars in the United Racing Club series, was driving on pavement for one of the few times in her career.
"It was a little bit of an adjustment, the g-forces and how stuck the cars are is the big difference, but you still drive a sprint car the same way," she said. "You're trying to be as straight as possible even though they do get sideways, so as far as trying to be smooth and straight, it didn't really change a whole lot, but the feel is completely different. These cars are just so locked down they don't budge."
The diversity in driver backgrounds also included three racers who had never driven on ovals before -- Juliana Chiovitti, a World Karting Association national champion; Rossella Manfrinato, a driver of various sports car classes; and Katherine Legge, a Formula Renault racer from Silverstone, England.
"First when I went out there, I felt like I had to muscle the car around, and then I just learned to relax and drive it like a couch, like I was sitting on the couch," said Chiovitti, a 23-year-old Canadian. "Basically after that, it was take your time and let it all come to you."
Sarah McCune was the only driver with previous experience in a Menards Infiniti Pro Series car. She tested with Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Kentucky Speedway in June 2003.
"I think it helped knowing how the g-forces are going to feel, and other things you don't really feel in other open-wheel cars," said McCune, who has been featured on CMT's "The Drive." "These are really the only open-wheel cars that go fast enough to feel the g-forces on your body. I think I knew what to expect, but I was real nervous because it's still a competition."
Nunn will evaluate the results from the competition to determine who moves forward with the team.
"I'll sit down with the engineers and our crew chief, with some input from (Menards Infiniti Pro Series executive director) Roger Bailey and (Menards Infiniti Pro Series technical director) Butch Meyer, and we'll talk about their car control, how good they were in the car, how competent. That'll be the main criteria," Nunn said. "After that will be marketability. We need to be concerned about how good they'll be with the sponsors, how well they'll interact with our sponsors, and with the team."
Nunn is working hard on finding sponsorship which will allow her to run two of the women next season.
"I'd really like to have a two-car women's team, so that's what I'm headed toward. Hopefully we'll have one who is predominantly a road racer and maybe one who is better on ovals so they'll cover each other and they'll learn from each other."
The 2005 season will feature a series-high 14 races, including four road courses.
BECCA ANDERSON: (About her future in the Indy Racing League): "I'd love to be the girl who gets chosen, but this is just a big step and a great opportunity. The experience itself is great."
JULIANA CHIOVITTI: "It was really, really cool. I'm used to road courses. It has a lot to do with having a comfort level with the race car and the team. You had to be able to trust it. That was really the thing. I need to try and get some more oval experience and see what comes up."
SONDI EDEN: "It was exciting. To have the opportunity to be able to test one of these cars is a lot of fun. I was a little nervous going into it, so just started out slow to build up my confidence. The car was well-balanced. It was really just a lot of fun. They really stuck to the track. There's a confidence knowing that it was going to stick, and you could stay in the throttle, so I just progressed slowly, took my time and got comfortable in it, got up to speed and started hitting the rev limiter so I felt good about that. It was real smooth. The second time, you could start off where you left off the first time. You knew what to expect and felt a lot more comfortable right away and got up to speed a lot quicker. You knew what was going to happen and what was going on. It was a lot better the second time. I just wish we could add a third time and a fourth time. The crew is really knowledgeable. They do what you ask. They're just fun to be around. I felt like I did really well performance wise. I gave them feedback and they made changes that made things it feel better and went faster." (About her future): "I'd love to be running with Nunn Motorsports. That would be the ultimate, and to be running at (the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) twice. That would be the ultimate. It doesn't matter if you're racing a tricycle around there, it would just be awesome. To be with this type of team would be really good. Hopefully, I'll land a ride and be able to drive the whole series next season."
KATHERINE LEGGE: "It's been amazing. It's been such a fantastic opportunity. I'm really grateful to Kathryn (Nunn) to get in the car at all, because I was number seven, not one of the six originally chosen. So when I got the chance to get in the car yesterday, I just tried to do a really good, solid, professional job. I got another go today which was fantastic. I got longer today as well. We made a few changes to the car and made it better. I'm just so happy. When I first went out it was a bit awe inspiring, because I've never felt anything like it. You're feeling the g-forces pushing you into the seat and pushing you backwards. I'm used to having to brake and turn and all sorts where this is really about being as smooth as you can. It's made me a better driver in a way, because it makes you think about things slightly differently." (About the testing opportunity): "My goals have changed. I started in Europe and thought very narrow-mindedly about Europe. I thought Formula One, Formula One, Formula One that's where you need to go. That's been hindered a lot by money and budgets. Then I came over here this year. I had never been to the U.S. before. Everyone said there's more opportunity out there, they're more open minded, they're more media orientated, the marketing is much better. I came out here and I was like, 'Wow. I love it. This is where I want to be.' And then when I heard about this, I thought, 'Wow. What an opportunity.' And I didn't get in, so I was 'please let me come.'" (About the Menards Infiniti Pro Series): "It's where you want to go. It's one of the best series over here. You've got a direct step to the IndyCar Series. You're with the best team, or what was seemingly the best team for the latter half of the season. You just don't pass up an opportunity like this. If there was any chance whatsoever I could get in the car, even meeting people is good. Meeting somebody like Kathryn who has done such a fantastic job of giving women the opportunity at racing was enough in itself to come over here. Anyt hing I can possibly do to help progress my career, I'm going to do it." (About driving on an oval): "After about 10 laps, if you can drive a car and if you can drive a circuit, then you just settle into it. It's really peaceful out there compared to road racing. You don't have to worry about brakes or anything like that."
ROSSELLA MANFRINATO: "It was very good, really fun. The car had plenty of downforce and was pretty safe and stuck everywhere, a little lower line, a little higher line. I really had a lot of fun. It was very good. It was my first time in one of these cars, and first time ever been on an oval. The car was comfortable. I felt really good in it. I could be flat pretty early." (About the future): "I want to continue racing. Running at this speed would be really something. The first Italian woman to do something there would be great. I would love that."
WENDY MATHIS: "It was definitely overwhelming the first couple of times out. It was so different than anything we've ever done in Florida, certainly different types of race cars. The feel is totally different especially with the rear engine, but it was absolutely amazing. I was just so nervous the first time out more than anything. It's just more getting out there, starting to feel comfortable and trusting the equipment that you're in. I calmed down a bit just knowing that I'm going to get out there and do what I do best, which is drive race cars."
SARAH MCCUNE: "It's been great. I'm so excited to be able to participate in the test. I've been really happy to be a part of it. (About the future): "I definitely hope that I can run in the Pro Series next year. If that doesn't work out, I think that all of us have received some attention and maybe we'll get something.
The Menards Infiniti Pro Series 2005 season will begin March 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 2005 IRL IndyCar® Series season will begin with the Toyota Indy 300 March 6 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.