Ken Plotkin - motorsport.com Nazareth, PA, April 7, 2000. On a day that varied from cold and blustery to bright sunshine, twenty-four CART FedEx Championship cars began their practice sessions for Sunday's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix. 24...
Ken Plotkin - motorsport.com
Nazareth, PA, April 7, 2000. On a day that varied from cold and blustery to bright sunshine, twenty-four CART FedEx Championship cars began their practice sessions for Sunday's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix. 24 Barber Pro Dodge and 36 USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet cars were also on hand.
1999 CART champion, and last year's pole sitter and race winner, Juan Montoya was fastest of the day at 177.477 mph, 19.189 seconds, in his Target/Chip Ganassi Toyota powered Lola.
Commenting on the new package, Montoya said "It's a new experience for everyone. The car doesn't work the same way. This morning the car wasn't great, we were very loose."
Montoya's fast lap came in the afternoon. "We did a couple of changes for the afternoon and the car got just much better. We did a long run and the car was right there every lap. At the end, everyone is trying to get a fast lap because of what's going on with the weather for tomorrow. Every lap I had traffic. I had only one clear lap, and that was it. The car has very good potential right now."
Team Penske driver Helio Castro-Neves was second fastest of the day with a speed of 176.200 mph, 19.328 mph, in his Honda powered Reynard. After being fastest in the morning, he switched to his backup car for the afternoon session.
"This morning we were going very fast and working hard to keep the balance of the car. We jumped to the spare car. We don't know what happened," explained Castro-Neves. "The car is running very solid this morning. This afternoon we tried a race setup. We did a lot of laps and it was very good. I was trying high lines and low lines. It feels very nice. I'm sure the fans are going to be very excite because it's going to be a great race."
Third fastest, also in the afternoon was former "super-sub" Roberto Moreno. Moreno, now with a full season ride in the Patrick Racing Ford Cosworth powered Reynard, attained a speed of 175.519 mph, 19.403 seconds.
Moreno reflected on his prior two times at Nazareth, which were less than successful. "I was a little unsure before I came here, but it's all water under the bridge. The car is very good that the team gave me straight out of the box, so that built my confidence up very easily. It's a place that if you have a good car it's very easy, because the car does everything here. If you have a car that doesn't handle, like I had in the past, it's a long day." Enjoying his experience today, he commented "I was surprised how quick you can go around here with a good car.
The afternoon session was interrupted by two incidents. In separate incidents, Gualter Salles and Kenny Brack contacted the wall. Both cars sustained heavy damage. Neither driver was injured.
Today's CART practice speeds were well below Patrick Carpentier's 1998 qualifying speed of 184.419 mph, thanks to the use of the new Handford MkII device. This high drag, high downforce rear wing slows the cars but improves maneuverability. Sunday's race is expected to have more wheel-to-wheel racing and passing, much as the MkI device yielded exciting races at CART's high speed events at Michigan and Fontana.
Missing from the CART regulars were Walker Racing and driver Shinji Nakano, who is recovering from injuries sustained in a testing accident in Milwaukee. Nakano is expected to miss three races. "There is really nothing we can do to speed the healing process", said neurologist Dr. Terry Horner. This type of injury just takes time to heal itself."
In Barber Dodge practice, Dutchman Sepp Koster was fastest in a session which saw 18 of 24 cars exceed the Nazareth track record. Koster's time of 0:26.906 (126.574 mph) was four tenths of a second below last year's pole time. "We worked quite a bit on the set-up," said Koster. "It was a very easy car to go quick with. This is more of a 'set-up' track, so you have to use your head and figure out what is happening (with the car) and then adapt yourself."
The entire Barber Dodge field was within 1.1 seconds of each other. Second fastest Nilton Rossoni (0:26.981, 126.222 mph) commented "After every session, if you look at the time sheets, everyone is closer. I think the race is going to be really, really competitive."
Joe Fogarty, with third fastest practice time of 0:26.004 (126.115 mph), agreed about set-up, and credits much of his recent success to working with engineer Mike Zemicki. "Working with Slide Rule Motorsports ad all the off season has given us a good start and I attribute much of my success to working with Mike as well as to just being more comfortable with the car."
Single car qualifying for the Barber Dodge Pro cars is scheduled for 4:45 pm tomorrow.
USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet cars took morning and afternoon practice sessions, with speeds picking up later in the day. Fifteen drivers were in the 26 second bracket, with 10 bettering the record of 26.630 seconds set by Jimmy Sills last year. Series point leader runner-up Brad Noffsinger and leader Brian Tyler claimed the two fastest times.
"We didn't really change much," said Noffsinger. "We tried several things, some different shocks, and went back to what we had. We also worked a lot with gears, changing them three times. There really wasn't much difference with the race track between the two sessions.
"The car feels really good," said Tyler. We're working on the stagger and tires but the only real change from the first session was my driving."