CHAMPCAR/CART: Al Unser, Jr. On the Rebound?

Unser and Team Penske on the Rebound? - by Gordon Kirby Little Al enjoys his first competitive race of the year in Cleveland. Al Unser Jr. enjoyed his first competitive race of the year in Cleveland, finishing fifth. He was close behind...

Unser and Team Penske on the Rebound? - by Gordon Kirby Little Al enjoys his first competitive race of the year in Cleveland. Al Unser Jr. enjoyed his first competitive race of the year in Cleveland, finishing fifth. He was close behind Michael Andretti and Paul Tracy, both of whom have won races this year. This has been a difficult year for Unser, after he broke a leg in an accident with rookie Naoki Hattori in the first turn at the season opener. Al Jr. missed two races while recovering from the accident, and struggled near the rear of the field in his first five races back in the saddle. At St. Louis near the end of May, Unser started racing a Lola while new teammate Tarso Marques persevered with the latest Penske chassis. Cleveland was Unser's fourth race in the Lola, with Marques also switching to a Lola chassis during the weekend. Unser qualified 14th, considerably better than he'd done in the previous five races. After losing a few places at the start of the race, he regained both positions in the opening laps and settled into 14th place amid a long line of cars. "I was a little bit hesitant on the start," Unser Jr. admitted. "A couple of guys got me at the beginning of the race. The last time I started midfield I broke my leg, so I was keeping an eye on everybody in the first couple of turns. But we were right there in line and I was waiting for things to happen, for the first stop to come around and so on, and then it rained." A quick pit stop and fast driving in the wet saw Unser jump into the top six. "I think that really proved Goodyear has done their homework with the rain tire, because the rain tire was great," Unser said. "It was good when it was really wet, and when the track started drying off the tires didn't grain up like the Firestone did, and we were able to just start driving right by those guys when the dry line formed." Unser Jr. says that with four races in the last five weeks, there's been no time to test the Lola chassis. However, he was busy testing tires for two days this week at the Michigan Speedway. "We're getting to know the Lola and how it works with the Goodyear tires, and Goodyear brought a good tire to Cleveland," said Unser. "So it was a combination of things. Myself and my engineer Ian Reed and my crew chief Rick Rinaman are getting to know the Lola, and we were able to unload with a pretty good setup. Generally, the Lola is a good piece, but it's taken us a little bit of time to get to know it and to adapt it the Goodyears. "All in all, it was a pretty good race weekend for Penske Racing. It was really good for the guys to finally see some fruit for the diligent work they've been doing. All we can do is just forge ahead from here." Unser says the Penske team will be trying to find ways to make the Lola quicker down the straightaways for Road America. "The Lola is a good car," he says. "It's got a lot of downforce to it, but it also has a lot of drag, so we suffer a little bit down the straightaways. We've got some plans to try to trim some drag off the car for Elkhart Lake." In the meantime, Penske has ordered a third Lola chassis. Alex Barron has been drafted to test a Penske chassis for the team this week at Michigan, while Unser concentrates entirely on the Lola. "We've got a couple of truckloads of Goodyear tires that we're going to be running the next two days," Unser reports, "and Alex Barron is going to drive a Penske." The Penske team has said only that Barron will test at Michigan this week. A decision has yet to be made about whether Barron or Marques will drive beside Unser Jr. in the next few races.

Source: CART.com

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Tarso Marques , Alex Barron , Al Unser Sr.
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske