SIMMONS, SNYDER TEST PACWEST INDY LIGHTS CAR AT SEBRING SEBRING, Fla. (November 19) - Jeff Simmons of East Granby, Conn., the newly-crowned champion of the Barber Dodge Pro Series, and runner-up Todd Snyder of Sheffield, Mass. spent two days...
SIMMONS, SNYDER TEST PACWEST INDY LIGHTS CAR AT SEBRING
SEBRING, Fla. (November 19) - Jeff Simmons of East Granby, Conn., the newly-crowned champion of the Barber Dodge Pro Series, and runner-up Todd Snyder of Sheffield, Mass. spent two days at Sebring International Raceway this week testing a PPG-Dayton Indy Lights car at the invitation of the PacWest Racing team.
"You can feel there's a lot more power, and that you have a lot more downforce than I am used to," Simmons said. "Once we got the car sorted out, I got more comfortable. You can enter the turns a lot faster than you would think possible."
The PPG-Dayton Indy Lights series represents the final step in the Skip Barber Ladder System, which is a scholarship program developed to help aspiring young drivers to reach the top levels of open-wheel racing, the CART FedEx Championship Series and Formula One. As a reward for winning the Barber Dodge Pro Series this year, Simmons received the $300,000 Career Enhancement Award, which consists of a $250,000 cash stipend towards future racing advancement and a $50,000 Indy Lights engine lease package.
The Indy Lights car, which uses a 425 horsepower V6 engine, represents a serious step up in power for the two drivers, who are accustomed to the 260 hp churned out by the 3.2 liter Dodge Intrepid engine in the Barber Dodge cars. The Lights car also uses a great deal more downforce in front and rear aerodynamics to harness the power. Snyder said that the 1998 Reynard chassis of the Barber Dodge prepared him well for the challenge.
"They're definitely different. They're much harder to drive," commented Snyder. "The biggest difference is in the shifting - there's no flywheel, so it's easy to over-blip (rev) the engine on shifts. The power was easy to adapt to. It's similar to the Reynard (in stiffness) and it's real tough across the bumps."
The two drivers spent most of Wednesday morning and afternoon tailoring the car to their own driving styles under the watchful eye of PacWest Indy Lights team manager Paul "Ziggy" Harcus. The team, which fielded a pair of entries in the Indy Lights series, is coming off a successful season which saw driver Didier Andre finish second in the overall series points standings to champion Cristiano DeMatta, who has already signed to drive a Champ Car in 1999.
PacWest also fields a pair of entries in the CART series for drivers Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell, as well as a NASCAR Craftsman Truck team. No drivers have been signed for the 1999 Indy Lights team, so the opportunity to audition for Simmons and Snyder is promising.
"It's a great opportunity for these guys to test with a top-notch organization like PacWest. They have the resources and years of experience to take young drivers to the next level," Barber Dodge driver relations manager Rick Ratajczak said. "They wouldn't be giving our top two guys the chance if they didn't feel there was an opportunity. With the racecraft that they developed in Barber Dodge, they're ready for the next step. Ziggy's been pleased with the feedback of both Jeff and Todd. In the brief time that they have had in the car, they've both shown that they are on the pace."
The drivers completed their 200 track miles of testing Thursday afternoon, and turned lap times within half a second of Conquest Racing Indy Lights veteran driver Felipe Giaffone, who was also testing at Sebring.
"I wish I could have driven a little longer," Simmons said. "It was worth doing and seeing how I stacked up against a veteran like Giaffone. I was right in there time-wise, especially after they put on new tires."