Saturday, May 9, 1998 Practice Session ...
Saturday, May 9, 1998 Practice Session #3
Brazilian Castro-Neves Paces Mercedes-Benz in Front of Home Crowd Player's/Forsythe Driver Greg Moore Remains Consistent
Despite taking a conservative approach, Helio Castro-Neves and Team Alumax/Bettenhausen Motorsports turned the seventh quickest lap during the final practice session for tomorrow's Rio 400. Driving a Champ Car for the first time in his home country, the young Brazilian was just .320 seconds behind pace setter Gil de Ferran's quickest time of 38.926 seconds.
The two long straights on the trapezoidal 1.864-mile Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway have left many teams struggling to keep their tires at optimal operating temperatures during practice. The cooling effect of the long straights, coupled with a track surface that is frequently covered with sand, particularly off the racing line, have made finding a fast setup extremely difficult.
Player's/Forsythe driver Greg Moore was eighth, the second Mercedes driver in the top 10, while Marlboro Team Penske veteran Al Unser Jr. claimed the 13th spot. Unser's teammate Andre Ribeiro continued his run of bad luck, leaving the session early after a mechanical failure.
Motorola Reynard/Mercedes-Benz pilot Mark Blundell and Hogan Racing's JJ Lehto claimed the 16th and 17th spots, respectively. Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood/Reynard/Mercedes) and Patrick Carpentier (Player's Reynard/Mercedes) both struggled with handling problems, finishing the session ranked 20th and 23rd.
Qualifying is slated for this afternoon, and Sunday's 133-lap, 248-mile race is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. local time. ABC's tape-delay telecast begins at 3:30 p.m. EDT.
Helio Castro-Neves, No. 16, Team Alumax Reynard/Mercedes/Goodyear - Seventh - 39.246 sec. "The car is really good. The team didn't allow me to try harder, and that was the right thing to do. You don't need to be too quick, or you can get in trouble. We want to qualify in the top 10. That would be great. Everything is improved over yesterday. The sunshine has really helped to warm the tires. There is less sand on the race track today, as well. There are two long straights, which means you have cold tires going into the corners. You have to be careful. In qualifying, if the sun is shining, it will be good. If not, then you'll have to be really careful in the corners."
Greg Moore, No. 99, Player's Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone - Eighth - 39.257 sec. "We're gonna make a couple of changes for this afternoon. I'd say if we're in the top eight, we'll be alright. We were seventh last year and ran at the front until we had our problems. It's a long race, and, as yesterday's session proved, I think there's going to be a lot of attrition. I think the new engine has a little more top end, but it's tough to say because the cars are also better aerodynamically. We've still got a little more work to do, but that's expected with a brand new engine."
Mark Blundell, No. 18, Motorola Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone - 16th - 39.803 sec. "We just put on new tires at the end, and we picked up a little speed. I'm frustrated because we can't achieve a balance. Every lap is a drama. The track is a little bit better today. For qualifying, we don't know if we'll get clean laps or not. When the wind blows, the sand gets on the race track. Plus, the tires are taking a long time to come up to temperature, so if you squeeze on the throttle too soon, you could be feeling something hard (the wall)."
JJ Lehto, No. 9, Hogan Racing Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone - 17th - 39.902 sec. "You would think this track would be pretty simple to get to know. You only have to get two corners right, but it's really tough to get those two corners right. The circuit is less dirty, but we're still looking for grip. We can't get any temperature in the tires and get them working. But other people are making them work, so I guess we're just chasing the setup a little bit right now."
Mauricio Gugelmin, No. 17, Hollywood Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone - 20th - 40.043 sec. "We're just lacking grip basically. We struggled today until we made a change. Then it was a little better. Basically, I can't stop well, and I can't get out of the corners, which means I'm slow down the straights, as well."
Patrick Carpentier, No. 33, Player's Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone - 23rd - 40.355 sec.
"Today was not good. I even had the oversteer problem on my cool-down lap. At least I'm not the only one like that. Other people are having the same problems. I think this engine has a lot of potential. The more you rev it up, the more it wants to go. It's very smooth in acceleration, a lot smoother in the corners. And there's a lot less weight up high (in the car), and you can feel that in the corners, too."