The State of Florida is always a busy place in March, as thousands of college students flock to the beaches throughout the state for a week of fun in the sun during Spring Break. Likewise, most of the competitors in the CART FedEx Championship ...
The State of Florida is always a busy place in March, as thousands of college students flock to the beaches throughout the state for a week of fun in the sun during Spring Break. Likewise, most of the competitors in the CART FedEx Championship Series have been on a Spring Break of their own, as two of the state's race tracks have been bustling with Champ Car activity in recent days.
Homestead-Miami Speedway and Sebring International Raceway have-as usual-been popular locations for the teams to fine tune their machinery for the remaining 19 events on the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series schedule.
While most teams' equipment packages are locked-in for 2002, Team Motorola and driver Michael Andretti-which normally fields a Honda-powered Reynard chassis-put a new Lola chassis through two days of paces on the 1.5-mile Homestead oval earlier this week. Andretti ran a total of 238 laps in the car and logged a best time of 26.53 seconds.
"I think the test went very well," Andretti said. "Team Motorola did an awesome job of preparing the car and we didn't miss a beat all test. Although the aerodynamic configuration wasn't the optimum for this track, we were still quick and were able to gather a lot of information on the Lola."
Added Team Motorola Team Manager Tony Cotman, "It was a pretty tough task, but Team Motorola pulled it off well. This was like having a first test day in the middle of the season. It was a total team effort to get the Lola on track, and the car ran flawlessly for two days so we're pretty pleased at this point. Now we'll take the information from this test and go back to (the team's shop in) Indianapolis to make some decisions about the chassis. We will definitely run the Reynard chassis at Long Beach, but beyond that, we're not 100 percent sure."
While Andretti was busy testing the Lola, Team Motorola's technical partner-Team KOOL Green and driver Dario Franchitti-was also in Homestead testing his #27 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone. Franchitti mustered an unofficial best lap of 27.0 seconds in the car and ran 172 miles without incident.
"The test went real well and I'm happy with where we finished," said Franchitti. "We weren't the fastest car out there, but that wasn't our objective. We were here to work on a race setup and I think we are in good shape. It was good to work with (race engineer) Allen (McDonald) for the first time on an oval. We got a lot of stuff done. Team KOOL Green worked hard and we accomplished so much we were able to finish early."
Another Reynard team, Player's/Forsythe Racing and driver Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) posted the fastest reported time at Homestead as of Thursday morning, running a best lap of 26.28 seconds. "Tag" also spent two days lapping the oval, putting approximately 384 miles on his machine.
"I've come away from these two days very confident about our competitiveness," said Tagliani. "Every track we've been on so far-either for testing or for the race-we've been extremely competitive. We've been in the top five, and that's our goal. The fast pace that we were able to set in the last two days means that we'll be going to (the first 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series oval event in) Japan with lots of confidence. I expect Team Player's will do well there."
Also turning fast laps in Homestead was Fernandez Racing owner/driver Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone), who ran in excess of 550 miles over two days and posted a best lap of 26.8 seconds. Fernandez was joined at the test by his teammate, Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone), who also put in over 500 miles and clocked a best lap of 27.3 seconds.
"The test went well," said Fernandez. "We made a lot of changes and tried a lot of things during these two days. Some things worked and some things didn't, but at least we know where we are with changes to the setup. I feel that we should be good (in the oval races)."
Current CART FedEx Championship Series point leader Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone)-who had just returned from a week's visit to his home in Belo Horizonte, Brazil-also spent two days on the Homestead oval, putting in 500 miles in his first time on an oval since he won the 2001 season finale at California Speedway.
"I haven't been on an oval since winning the Marlboro 500 in Fontana," da Matta said. "We ran a lot of miles and learned about the areas we need to work on. It was the first time to work with (race engineer, Guillaume) "Rocky" (Rocquelin) on an oval, so naturally it was a learning process in terms of getting to know how I like the car on ovals. Since it was our first test on an oval, we were trying a bunch of different things and trying not to put too much emphasis on a fast lap time, but instead making the car feel good. The test ended on a positive note, but it would have been nice to run one more day. Unfortunately, we are limited on test days, but it is the same for everyone."
Two other drivers using up test days in Homestead were PWR Championship Racing teammates Scott Dixon (#7 PWR Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) and Oriol Servia (#17 PWR Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone). Both drivers were completing their first test laps on an oval in South Florida, with Servia completing 165 laps and posting a best lap of 27.0 seconds.
"I'm very happy with our test today," said Servia following his test on Wednesday. "We completed a full day of testing without any problems. We concentrated on our setups for Motegi and I think we're really going to have a good car for that race. This was a very important test because it was the first time we tested the Lola on an oval. We tested so many things and gained a lot of knowledge, which will apply to the race in Japan next month."
Dixon's test was hampered by gearbox problems, but the 2001 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year still managed to put in more than 60 laps. His unofficial best lap was clocked at 27.2 seconds.
"Day One of the test was not so good," Dixon said. "We battled with gearbox problems and my on-track time was very limited. I only completed about seven laps in the morning before the gearbox went out, but we were able to fix it and get back out on track in the afternoon. Even with the little amount of laps I completed we were able to gather information, which is always beneficial."
While Homestead was this week's testing hotspot, Sebring International Raceway in Central Florida was the place for Champ Car activity last week. Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) of Team Rahal, Newman/Haas Racing pilot Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Eli Lilly and Company Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), and Player's/Forsythe Racing driver Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) were among the drivers to tour the circuit, which is reconfigured to assist the teams with testing different setups.
While Florida was the popular testing location, Team KOOL Green driver Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) visited Firebird International Raceway in suburban Phoenix on Monday. The Canadian logged 196 miles at the 1.2-mile facility, posting a best lap of 47.9 seconds.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) put in some testing of a different kind last weekend. The 1996 CART FedEx Championship Series champ drove Team Rahal's Miller Lite-sponsored machine to a ninth place finish in the Indy Racing League event on March 24 at California Speedway in Fontana. The team used the event as an opportunity to prepare for its participation in the 2002 Indianapolis 500.
"It was definitely worth the trip out here to California for our team," Vasser said. "We came to learn, and that's what we did. We are loading the car back on the truck in one piece, but most importantly, we learned that there are a few areas that we need to address. It is better to learn that here at Fontana than at Indy. This was definitely a successful 'fact finding' tour for us."
Under CART rules, Champ Car testing will conclude today and teams will not be allowed to test again until the next testing window opens from May 5-17, when teams may use no more than two of its remaining off-season test days per entry.
* MONTREAL TICKETS ON SALE NOW
Tickets for the first CART FedEx Championship Series event in Quebec since 1986 are now on sale. Molson Indy Montreal organizers and French Canadian Player's/Forsythe Racing driver Patrick Carpentier announced Wednesday that tickets for the first-ever Champ Car race on Montreal's Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve-scheduled for August 23-25, 2002-are now on sale. This year's CART event will mark the first time that CART and Formula One will race on the same circuit in the same year. The event is expected to draw 180,000 spectators and bring $50 million in revenue to the Montreal area. "We are sure that motorsport enthusiasts will be pleased by the value they are getting for their money, as well as the ticket packages that can be purchased, enabling people to see the drivers and their teams up close," said Molson Indy Montreal President and Chief Operating Officer Jean-Paul Blais. Added Carpentier: "One of the biggest thrills in my racing career came in Montreal when I won the Atlantic series race in 1996, and I'm going to try to do everything I can for a repeat performance when I'm back there this August. But regardless of the result, I'm sure that racing fans are going to get their money's worth and the show, both from a racing standpoint and in the various activities surrounding the event, will be up to people's expectations."
* SIMPLE GREEN/ACE HARDWARE OFFER UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY
Simple Green, the Official Cleaner and Degreaser of CART and Naming Rights Sponsor of the CART Safety Team, has partnered with Ace Hardware in a promotion that will offer one lucky fan the opportunity to be a "Pit Crew Member for A Day" during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Fox Sports Radio AM 1150 will broadcast live from 4:00 - 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 11 from the Ace Hardware located at 9045 Adams Blvd. in Huntington Beach, Calif. In addition to the opportunity to be a pit crew member for the race, Patrick Racing rookie driver Townsend Bell, members of the Simple Green CART Safety Team and the Simple Green girls will also be on-hand with plenty of giveaways.
* TKG RENEWS PARTNERSHIP WITH 100 BLACK MEN OF AMERICA
Officials from Team KOOL Green and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation announced recently that they will once again partner to raise funds for the 100 Black Men of America in the 2002 season. The program-which was successfully launched in 2001-raises funds for the 100 Black Men of America in the organization's efforts to increase access to computers, technology, and training in urban communities. "We value Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation as an important partner," said 100 Black Men of America National President Bill Simms. "Last year, through our association with the company, a total of $224,470.31 was contributed to the 100 Black Men's urban technology program. The amount was based on performances by Team KOOL Green and through the KOOL All-Access Hip Hop Tour. With the funding, we were able to initiate cyber centers that offer computer and technology training. Additionally, we placed computers in homes across the country. We also established the 100 Black Men University, an online, affordable learning center that provides low cost courses to adults in urban communities." Team KOOL Green's performance in CART FedEx Championship Series events at Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, and Fontana, Calif. will determine the financial donations to the 100 Black Men of America's urban community technology program. The team is offering $14,000 per race for pit stop performances (if the team completes a maximum of three pit stops in fewer than 12 seconds), $10,000 if either of the team's drivers-Dario Franchitti or Paul Tracy-win one of the specified races, $20,000 if the drivers finish first and second, and $100,000 if either one of the drivers wins the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series title. "We are pleased to be extending our partnership with the 100 Black Men of America," said Team KOOL Green Owner Barry Green. "As an organization that is built on a high-technology platform, we fully appreciate the need for access to computers and technology. Seeing the work we do on track benefit urban communities is very rewarding."
* GOO GOO DOLLS TO PLAY AT TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH
Popular rock group, the Goo Goo Dolls, will perform a concert at the site of the 28th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Saturday, April 13. The concert is part of the Pioneer Rock-N-Roar Concert Series and will be held at the conclusion of on-track activities at the Pioneer Rock-N-Roar Concert Stage, located in front of the Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center. The concert is free to all Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Saturday ticketholders. "We are delighted to have Pioneer-a Long Beach-based company-back to sponsor the Rock-N-Roar weekend, and look forward to hosting the Goo Goo Dolls on stage after the race activities on Saturday," said Grand Prix Association of Long Beach President and CEO Jim Michaelian. "Entertainment is a major factor in the success of the Toyota Grand Prix, and the addition of the Goo Goo Dolls assures that this year's event will set another milestone in this regard." The band, which will release its eighth album, "Gutterflower," on April 9, features John Rezenik on guitar, Robby Takac on bass, and Mike Malinin on drums. This event will not be the band's first exposure to the CART FedEx Championship Series, however, as they performed a private concert at the CART All-Star Extravaganza in Anaheim, Calif. in January, 2001.
* RANDOM NOTES
Two-time CART FedEx Championship Series champion Alex Zanardi, who lost both of his legs in a crash during The American Memorial at EuroSpeedway in 2001 will return to the track in Lausitz, Germany in 2002. Zanardi, who has learned to walk on artificial legs, will be the honorary starter of the German 500, scheduled for September 21... The legendary Mario Andretti will appear at the Borders Books and Music at 2110 Bellflower Rd. in Long Beach beginning at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 11. The 52-time Champ Car race winner will sign copies of his best-selling biography, Mario Andretti: A Driving Passion, which was written by long-time motorsports journalist Gordon Kirby, who will also be on-hand to sign copies of the book... The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend will feature an all-Champ Car driver autograph session in the Lagoon Park South section of the race track on Friday, April 12 at 3:45 p.m. Drivers Kenny Brack and Scott Dixon will not be in attendance for the session as they will be participating in the first CART Winners Circle Fan Club Meeting of the season taking place at 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, April 13.