CHAMPCAR/CART: Motegi Thursday track notes

• Good Morning from the high mountains at the top of Japan and exquisite Twin Ring Motegi for the first day of practice for Saturday's Firestone Firehawk 500, Round Five of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season. The weekend and this...

• Good Morning from the high mountains at the top of Japan and exquisite Twin Ring Motegi for the first day of practice for Saturday's Firestone Firehawk 500, Round Five of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season. The weekend and this morning's first practice session on the 1.549-mile; (2.493 km)-track is scheduled for the Green Flag at 9:45 a.m. for a one-hour, 45-minute practice session. At 1:45 p.m., the FedEx Championship Series teams will again take to the track for a 90-minute afternoon practice session. Friday's schedule has the Champ Cars performing in the split group format with Group One on track at 9:30 a.m. for the 45-minute morning practice session, followed by Group Two for the same session length. The groups will be split according to the Championship Points earned thus far in the season with the highest-point-total drivers making up Group Two. CART qualifying will then follow, scheduled from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. This single qualifying session will started by the driver who has the lowest total of Championship Points, moving up to the driver with the highest going out last, (barring any cars qualifying out of order). Brazilian GIL de FERRAN holds the track qualifying record with his 1999 effort of 219.000 mph (352.371 kph; 25.463 seconds. (The 1999 event was run with the superspeedway aero package featuring the Hanford MkI, which was replaced with the MkII for the 2000 and 2001 events. The MkII has helped slow the cars about five miles per hour in overall lap speeds while providing more stability and downforce). Saturday's schedule has the traditional 30-minute warm-up beginning at 9 a.m. followed by the Green Flag for the 201-lap, 311.349-mile, 501.093-kilometer Firestone Firehawk 500 at 1 p.m. The entire race will be shown on tape-delay basis at 1 p.m. Saturday, EST. (All other times are local.)

• The weather here at Motegi, Japan this morning is absolutely perfect; crisp spring-morning temperatures highlighting bright blue skies over the mountains that surround the Twin Ring Motegi racetrack. After yesterday's on and off again rain showers, the warm sunshine this morning is a welcome respite for the members of the FedEx Championship Series. And the good news is that the weather is predicted to hold throughout the weekend.

• Though the track measurement here at Twin Ring Motegi (1.549-mile; 2.493-km) places the ultra-smooth race plant in the Super Speedway category on the FedEx Championship Series season, the track itself contains enough challenge to historically keep overall lap speeds under 220 mph (354 kph). It sports the air of a superspeedway with overall trap speed clockings well over 230 mph (370 kph) at the end of the backstraight but the track maintains a short-oval attitude due to the tight Turns 3 and 4 and the six-degree banking, causing drivers to run the last corners at roughly 200 to 210 mph (310 to 340 kph). The combination of the varying radii and lengths gives the egg-shaped Twin Ring Motegi course a multiple personality. The wide-open Turn 1 speaks of Chicago Motor Speedway in height and radius, allowing drivers to enter the left-hand corner nearly flat-footed on the accelerator. Turn 2 however, presents a tighter radius, causing the Champ Car drivers to apply the brakes thru the corner before entering the half-mile, .81 km backstretch. The Turn 2 portion of the track is also the traditionally slowest part of the Motegi course and is the location of the CART Timing & Scoring Trap #1 speed measurement device. It is not uncommon to see the competitors' trap speeds differ by more than 10-15 mph (15-25 kph) at this point, depending on the particular drivers' chassis setup. (The trap speeds are generated by CART Timing and Scoring exactly like your local Highway Patrol but without the increases in your insurance rates! It's a one-time snapshot of an oncoming car's velocity). After the Champ Cars enter the wide-open backstretch, the drivers confront the fastest part of the track and the site of the Trap #2 speed measurement at the end of the straight, resulting in clockings in excess of 230 mph. (Some drivers have entered this corner at over 250 mph (402 kph) on draft-aided laps in the 1999 event before the Hanford MkII was utilized). But it's a quick slowdown as the drivers will immediately be forced onto the brakes and a quick downshift to negotiate the Turns 3 and 4 part of the racetrack. Both of these corners are built to a tighter radius than the Turns 1 and 2 portion, and therefore, this part of the track emphasizes handling more than brute horsepower, just like a short oval. The final trap measurement is accomplished with the Start/Finish Line laser which basically will tell what team is getting the power and traction to the wheels most efficiently off of Turn 4 as the drivers are again wide-open on the accelerator and shifting back to high gear heading back to Turn 1. Speeds here will top off in the 215-200 mph range (345 kph to 355 kph), closely mirroring the results at the exit of Turn 2.

• GREEN FLAG waves at 9:45 a.m. to start the first practice session of the weekend. Firestone engineers report track temperature of 99 degrees F. (37 C.) and an ambient temperature of 69 degrees F. (20 degrees C.) at the start of the session.

• YELLOW FLAG waves at 9:51 a.m. to allow CART safety workers to conduct a safety inspection after several teams report cut tires on their cars after examination in the teams respective pit stalls.

• GREEN FLAG waves at 9:59 a.m. to resume the session.

• YELLOW FLAG waves at 10:02 a.m. after #27 FRANCHITTI loses power in Turn 2 and coasts to a stop at the bottom of Turn 4. CART safety workers quickly hook the car up and tow it back to the pits.

• GREEN FLAG waves at 10:05 a.m. to resume the session.

• Also at 10:05 a.m., 20 minutes into the session, the fastest driver is now #8X BRACK with a lap of 200.316 mph; 27.820 seconds; seventh lap), followed by #20X MORENO (195.051 mph; 28.571 seconds; sixth lap) and #77X HERTA (194.880 mph; 28.596 seconds; sixth lap).

• At 10:15 a.m., 30 minutes into the session, the fastest driver is now #11X FITTIPALDI with a lap of 208.516 mph (26.726 seconds; 19th lap), followed by #6X ANDRETTI (207.987 mph; 26.794 seconds; 13th lap) and #3 CASTRONEVES (207.052 mph; 26.915 seconds; eighth lap).

• At 10:25 a.m., 40 minutes into the session, the fastest drivers and speeds remain unchanged from the 10:15 a.m. report.

• BLACK FLAG is shown at 10:26 a.m. to #8 BRACK after CART course observers report smoke trailing from the car at speed on track. BRACK subsequently pits the car for an inspection and the crew finds no problems.

• At 10:28 a.m., #6X da MATTA logs the fastest lap of the weekend with a speed of 209.472 mph (26.604 seconds) on his 29th lap of the session.

• YELLOW FLAG waves at 10:29 a.m. after #6X da MATTA loses power off with a transmission problem off of Turn 3 and coasts to a stop at the bottom of Turn 1, trailing fluid from the rear of the car. CART safety workers quickly start an extensive clean up of the front stretch as the crew readies the primary car for use in the remainder of the session.

• At 10:35 a.m., 50 minutes into the session and under a Yellow Flag, the fastest driver is #6 da MATTA with a lap of 209.472 mph (26.604 seconds; 29th lap), followed by #3 CASTRONEVES (208.985 mph; 26.666 seconds; 15th lap) and #11X FITTIPALDI (208.602 mph; 26.666 seconds; 23rd lap).

• GREEN FLAG waves at 10:42 a.m. to resume the session.

• YELLOW FLAG waves at 10:44 a.m. after #22 SERVIA loses power down the front stretch with smoke and fluid trailing from the rear of the car. SERVIA pulls to the bottom of the track and exits the car as CART safety workers again start clean-up of the track.

• At 10:45 a.m., 50 minutes into the session and under a Yellow Flag, the fastest drivers and speeds are unchanged from the 10:35 a.m. report.

• GREEN FLAG waves at 10:48 a.m. to resume the session.

• At 10:54 a.m., #55 KANAAN logs the fastest lap of the session with a speed of 209.970 mph (26.541 seconds; 42nd lap).

• At 10:55 a.m., 70 minutes into the session, #3 CASTRONEVES moves to the fastest spot with a lap of 210.382 mph (26.489 seconds; 31st lap), followed by #55 KANAAN (209.970 mph; 26.541 seconds; 42nd lap) and #6X da MATTA (209.472 mph; 26.684 seconds; 29th lap).

• YELLOW FLAG waves at 11 a.m. after several teams report cut tires on their cars after examination by the crews in the pits. CART safety workers quickly begin a full-track inspection.

• At 11:05 a.m., 80 minutes into the session and under the Yellow Flag, the fastest drivers and speeds are unchanged from the 10:55 a.m. report.

• GREEN FLAG waves at 11:07 a.m. to resume the session.

• At 11:15 a.m., 90 minutes into the session, #3 CASTRONEVES moves to the fastest spot with a lap of 210.382 mph (26.489 seconds; 31st lap), followed by #55 KANAAN (209.970 mph; 26.541 seconds; 42nd lap) and #11 FITTIPALDI (209.811; 26.561 seconds; 24th lap).

• At 11:20 a.m. #55 KANAAN takes the top spot with a speed of 211.950 mph (26.293 seconds) on his 68th lap but is immediately replaced by #3 CASTRONEVES with a faster lap of 212.184 mph (26.264 seconds) on his 38th lap.

• YELLOW FLAG waves at 11:21 a.m. after CART course observers report debris on the backstretch. CART safety workers quickly begin a clean-up operation.

• GREEN FLAG waves at 11:24 a.m. to resume the session.

• At 11:25 a.m., 100 minutes into the session, the fastest drivers and speeds are unchanged from the 11:15 a.m. report.

• At 11:27 a.m., #55 KANAAN goes back to the top spot with a lap of 213.174 mph (26.142 seconds) on his 75th lap of the session.

• CHECKERED FLAG waves at 11:30 a.m. to end the first session of the weekend with #55 KANAAN hanging onto the fastest lap with his earlier speed of 213.174 mph (342.997 kph; 26.142 seconds) on his 75th lap, followed by #3 CASTRONEVES (212.184 mph; 341.404 kph; 26.264 seconds; 38th lap) and #66 ZANARDI (211.475 mph; 340.263 kph; 26.352 seconds; 70th lap). FedEx Championship Series drivers introduced 44 cars to the track in this morning's session with the top 21 cars are separated by less than one second in lap times. Secondary cars were utilized by #6X da MATTA, #11X FITTIPALDI, #32X CARPENTIER, #77X HERTA, #8X BRACK, #5X TAKAGI, #33X TAGLIANI, #20X MORENO, #7X PAPIS, #4X JUNQUEIRA, #3X CASTRONEVES, #16X JOURDAIN Jr., #18 DIXON, #1 de FERRAN, #12X MANASSIAN, #22X SERVIA, #17X GUGELMIN, #52X NAKANO, and #40X VASSER.

• #8 BRACK leads the drivers with the fastest speed at the Start Finish line, registering a 212.515 mph (341.937 kph) recording. #39 ANDRETTI is second fastest here, clocking a 211.964 mph (341.050 kph). At the Turn 2 trap, overall fastest driver #55 KANAAN leads with a 217.352 speed (349.719 kph), followed by #3 CASTRONEVES (216.779 mph; 348.797 kph). The Trap #2 at the Turn 3 entry features #3 CASTRONEVES again, this time with a speed of 226.017 mph (363.661 kph), followed by #8 BRACK at 225.394 mph (362.659 kph).

• As the time for the 1:45 p.m. Green Flag for the afternoon practice session approaches, the heat and humidity have both increased here at Twin Ring Motegi. Under a cloudless sky, the temperatures will undoubtedly continue to climb throughout the 90-minute session, making traction a problem. In addition, a steady 10-15 mph wind has kicked up, blowing into the track from over the Turn 2 wall, creating a headwind at the apex of Turn 1.

• GREEN FLAG waves at 1:45 p.m. to start the final test session of the day. Firestone engineers report a track temperature of 121 degrees F. (49 C.) and an ambient temperature of 75 degrees F. (24 C.) at the start of the session.

• At 1:55 p.m., ten minutes into the session, the fastest driver is #8 BRACK with a lap of 209.622 mph (26.585 seconds; seventh lap), followed by #66 ZANARDI (208.829 mph; 26.686 seconds; seventh lap) and #51 NAKANO (208.704 mph; 26.702 seconds; ninth lap).

• At 1:59 p.m., #3 CASTRONEVES logs the fastest lap of the session with a speed of 212.767 mph (26.192 seconds; 11th lap).

• YELLOW FLAG waves at 2:03 p.m. after CART course observers report debris on course. CART safety workers quickly start a full-track inspection.

• At 2:05 p.m., 20 minutes into the session and under the Yellow Flag, the fastest driver is still #3 CASTRONEVES with his earlier lap of 212.767 mph (26.192 seconds), followed by #39 ANDRETTI (211.323 mph; 26.371 seconds; 19th lap) and #8 BRACK (210.350 mph; 26.493 seconds; 13th lap). This morning's fastest driver; #55 KANAAN, is currently 17th best with a lap of 204.702 mph (27.224 seconds; ninth lap).

• GREEN FLAG waves at 2:13 p.m. to resume the session.

• At 2:15 p.m., 30 minutes into the session, the fastest drivers and speeds are unchanged from the 2:05 p.m. report.

• YELLOW FLAG waves at 2:17 p.m. after CART course observers report debris on the backstraight. CART safety workers start a clean-up of the track.

• GREEN FLAG waves at 2:21 p.m. to resume the session.

• BLACK FLAG is shown at 2:24 p.m. to #22 SERVIA for a Pit Road speed violation incurred at Pit In at 2:17 p.m. SERVIA subsequently pits the car to comply with the Black Flag drive-thru penalty.

• At 2:25 p.m., 40 minutes into the session, the fastest driver is still #3 CASTRONEVES with his earlier lap of 212.767 mph (26.192 seconds), now followed by #55 KANAAN (212.313; 26.248 seconds; 27th lap) and #39 ANDRETTI (211.323 mph; 26.371 seconds; 19th lap).

• YELLOW FLAG waves at 2:31 p.m. after several teams report cut tires on their cars after examination in the Pit Boxes. CART safety workers again circle the track for a full inspection.

• At 2:35 p.m., 50 minutes into the session and under the Yellow Flag, the top three drivers and speeds are unchanged from the 2:25 p.m. report.

• GREEN FLAG waves at 2:40 p.m. to resume the session.

• At 2:45 p.m., one hour into the session, the fastest driver is still #3 CASTRONEVES with his earlier lap of 212.767 mph (26.192 seconds; 11th lap), followed by #55 KANAAN (212.313 mph; 26.248 seconds; 27th lap) and #6 da MATTA (212.257 mph; 26.255 seconds; 37th lap).

• BLACK FLAG is shown at 2:48 p.m. to #26 TRACY for a Pit Road speed violation. TRACY subsequently pits his car to comply with the Black Flag drive-thru penalty.

• YELLOW FLAG is waved at 2:49 p.m. after several teams again report cut tires on their cars after examination in their respective pit box.

• At 2:55 p.m., 70 minutes into the session and under the Yellow Flag, the fastest three drivers and speeds are unchanged from the 2:45 p.m. report.

• GREEN FLAG waves at 3:01 p.m. to resume the session.

• At 3:05 p.m., 80 minutes into the session, the fastest drivers and speeds are unchanged from the 2:55 p.m. report.

• YELLOW FLAG waves at 3:12 p.m. after #18 DIXON loses power off of Turn 3 and coasts to a stop at the bottom of Turn 1. The driver exits the car as safety inspects the frontstretch for debris and fluid.

• CHECKERED FLAG waves at 3:13 p.m. after CART Race Control determines that there will not be enough time to clean the track before the scheduled end of the session. #3 CASTRONEVES hangs on to the top spot with his early speed of 212.767 mph (342.406 kph; 11th lap), followed by #55 KANAAN (212.313 mph; 341.676 kph; 27th lap) and #6 da MATTA (212.657; 341.585 kph; 26.255 seconds; 37th lap). The top 26 cars in this afternoon's session are separated by less than one second in lap times. Secondary cars were utilized by #11X FITTIPALDI, #5X TAKAGI, #33X TAGLIANI, #77X HERTA, #20X MORENO, #40X VASSER, and #7X PAPIS.

• TONY KANAAN is the day's fastest driver in his Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Honda Reynard with his morning speed of 213.174 mph (343.061 kph; 26.142 seconds). If KANAAN is the fastest after qualifying tomorrow, he will have earned his second Pole of his CART career.

• HELIO CASTRONEVES sits second in the Friday test times with his afternoon speed of 212.767 mph (342.406 kph; 26.192 seconds) in his Marlboro Team Penske Honda Reynard. If CASTRONEVES can keep his same position after qualifying tomorrow, he will have earned his second front-row start of the season. CASTRONEVES previously started on the Pole at Long Beach.

• CRISTIANO da MATTA is third on the speedboard with his afternoon clocking of 212.257 mph (341.585 kph; 26.255 seconds) in his Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola. If the Brazilian pilot can maintain his position after tomorrow's qualifying, he will logged his third top-four start of the season. Da MATTA started second at Mexico and fourth at Long Beach.

• Trap speeds feature basically the same line-up as this morning but with curious results. The speeds at the Start/Finish line dropped 2-3 mph for most all drivers. #32 CARPENTIER led the drivers here with a 211.417 mph effort (340.170 kph), followed by a exact tie between #3 CASTRONEVES and #8 BRACK at 209.254 mph (336.690 kph). The Turn 2/ Trap #1 speeds were nearly the same as this morning with #32 CARPENTIER leading all with a speed of 217.929 mph (350.647 kph), followed by #3 CASTRONEVES (217.352 mph; 349.719 kph). As a contrast, the Turn 3/Trap 2 speeds are up: #8 BRACK leading here with a 230.474 mph rank (370.833 kph), followed by #55 KANAAN's 228.542 mph speed (367.724 kph). BRACK's speed at Trap #2 is a full 5.08 mph (8.174 kph) faster than his second-best clocking of this morning's run.

• Quotes from today's top three drivers follow:

• TONY KANAAN: "I got a good car here last year, and the setup hasn't really changed, so I knew we'd be quick out of the box with some small aero changes. Every single driver that drives for Honda wants to win this race for them. It's a lot of pressure. Honda gave us a good engine for here, and there's nine guys with the Honda, so all of us are trying hard to win this race for them."

• HELIO CASTRONEVES: "The car was very good right off the bat. The car was feeling very strong, and Honda really wants to win this race. They did a fantastic job in preparing this engine. But I'm sure tomorrow is going to be faster, and the other drivers are going to come after us. They definitely made a significant change to the engine. But again, the drivers always whine, and are always going to ask for more. Tomorrow is going to be the real day and, of course, the race. I don't think it's a lot of pressure, but if we have the opportunity, I think we can make it happen."

• CRISTIANO da MATTA: "The track felt very different from the morning to the afternoon. We tried a lot of things, and it wasn't an easy day for us. We had to bring the balance back to us. For me it was a little bit different at the beginning of the afternoon session. We came back with a few question marks at the beginning of the session, and it took us about 30 minutes in the session to get the balance back from the morning. The wind affected us quite a bit to be honest."

-CART

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske