Simmons Shines in Oval Test at Phoenix International Raceway PHOENIX, Ariz. (April 13-15) - The Barber Dodge Pro Series concluded a highly-competitive and successful three-day test session on the one-mile banked oval at Phoenix International ...
Simmons Shines in Oval Test at Phoenix International Raceway
PHOENIX, Ariz. (April 13-15) - The Barber Dodge Pro Series concluded a highly-competitive and successful three-day test session on the one-mile banked oval at Phoenix International Raceway Thursday afternoon. Defending series champion Jeff Simmons notched the fastest time of 29 drivers in the stretch, with a blistering best lap of 27.898 seconds averaging 129.042 mph recorded Thursday morning. Townsend Bell of Newport Beach, Calif. recorded the quickest lap Monday, while Memo Rojas Jr. of Mexico City, Mexico earned the top honors Tuesday.
The test marked the return of the Barber Dodge Pro Series to oval racing for the first time since 1996 and served as a tune-up for 60-lap race at Nazareth Speedway in Nazareth, Penn. May 22 with the NASCAR Busch Grand National series and the NASCAR Featherlite Modified series. Nazareth is Round 2 of the 12-race Barber Dodge Pro Series championship.
The Phoenix test marked the oval debut of the Pro Series' state-of-the-art Reynard Dodge 98E. The oval-specific Michelin Pilot SX tires used on the cars are the first circle-track application for Michelin North America, and were developed through an extensive testing program with Barber Dodge coach and Indy Racing League driver Robbie Buhl.
Phoenix was also the first trip to an oval for the 23-year old Simmons since he outgrew quarter-midgets almost 10 years ago. Simmons found that the sun-baked banking rewards a methodical driver.
"I like the oval. It's nice to know when a setup change works right away," Simmons said. "We were working on the car slowly every day and building up the speed because we knew we had a lot of time. I was pretty comfortable straight-off."
The majority of the series' drivers had never raced or tested on an oval before, and the unique demands of the circuit demanded concentration and patience from the drivers, who found themselves breaking barriers rather than equipment.
"What I liked most was going further than my personal limit every time," said Pro Series driver Sepp Koster of the Netherlands, who laid down a best lap of 28.227 seconds at 127.537 mph. "I've never raced on an oval before or taken corners this fast. It was good to go out and push myself past my limits every lap; to find a little extra speed on each corner."
Rojas, who had a strong, consistent performance throughout the three-day period, agreed that patience played a key role in his success. "It's a good start for having no experience as an oval driver. I had no trouble acclimating to the walls, but at first it's a little bit intimidating," said Rojas, who lowered his Tuesday-best time of 28.241/127.474 mph to 28.163/127.827 on the final day. "There are times when you have to be relaxed and there are some times when you really have to get a firm grip on the wheel and take a deep breath. But with an intelligence - you can't go out there with a kamikaze attitude."
Thursday's session was the fastest of the three days. A one-second margin separated 17 of the 18 drivers topped by Simmons. Bell also broke through the 27-second barrier with a lap of 27.984 seconds at 128.645 mph, which was good for the second best time of the entire test.
"It was pretty good. It seemed comfortable right away," Bell said. "I wasn't sure what to expect before the test. I definitely tried to give it as much respect as it needed without getting over the limits."
Eric Tresslar of Chicago, Ill. recorded the third-fastest time of the entire session with a 28.038 second lap at 128.397 mph, followed by John McCaig of Victoria, B.C. with a 28.053/128.329 mph run. McCaig is the only driver to have raced in the Pro Series on an oval, having made the trip to Nazareth back in 1996.
For complete day-by-day oval test results and photos, please visit the Barber Dodge Pro Series website: www.skipbarber.com