CHAMPCAR/CART: Michigan Friday practice report

By Tom Haapanen - motorsport.com CART interim CEO Bobby Rahal has stated that it's time to reduce the horsepower of the FedEx Championship cars, and the Friday practice times at the Michigan Speedway certainly reinforce his reasoning. Paul...

By Tom Haapanen - motorsport.com

CART interim CEO Bobby Rahal has stated that it's time to reduce the horsepower of the FedEx Championship cars, and the Friday practice times at the Michigan Speedway certainly reinforce his reasoning.

Paul Tracy put his KOOL Green Reynard-Honda at the top of the timesheets - no qualifying times are set in Friday practice at CART's oval events - with a stunning lap time of 30.412 seconds, translating to an average speed over that lap of 236.749 mph (over 380 km/h).

Tracy did have some help during that lap, as he was able to take advantage of Adrian Fernandez and Roberto Moreno driving nose-to-tail to draft up to a higher speed. With this help Tracy to slingshot his car to top speed, he succeeded in eclipsing Michael Andretti's performance by 0.164s and over 1 mph.

"It's time for another change," said Tracy after his performance. "But if the engines change, the other parts will have to change, too."

Like at the season-ending Marlboro 500 at Fontana, California, the teams are running a spec rear wing, developed by Mark Handford at Swift during the 1998 season, and commonly known as the Handford device. This wing is designed to generate significant increased drag, both slowing the cars and, by creating a larger aerodynamic "hole" behind the car, enabling more effective drafting.

"Teams have continued to develop their cars since the Handford wing," Tracy pointed out. And, indeed, the aerodynamics have continued to be refined since the introduction of the wings, and each year the wing's impact is less.

"It could get out of control," agreed Andretti, who set his 235+ mph lap speed in the morning session. "They definitely need to take horsepower away, but if you take horsepower away, then you'll need to take away some downforce as well.

Helio Castroneves, third in a Reynard-Honda at 235.356 mph, and 1999 CART champion Juan Montoya (235.110, Lola-Toyota) also broke the 235 mph mark. Championship points leader Roberto Moreno, though, was well down in 15th, with a best lap of 230.278 mph.

But, for now, Tracy holds down the top spot, and is looking forward to claiming his first pole position since Milwaukee in 1997. The pole position is less critical, though, with a 500-mile race on a superspeedway with a number of lines around the track. It will be a test of not only speed but also of endurance: to finish first, you must first finish.

It may not be a fun event for the drivers - just ask Andretti: "Am I looking forward to this? No, I'm not. It's a long 500 miles …" Fortunately it does hold the promise of some spectacular racing for the fans, both those in attendance at the speedway, and those watching the live broadcast on ABC-TV.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy