CHAMPCAR/CART: Nazareth Friday Practice Report

CASTRO-NEVES RUNS FASTEST PRACTICE LAP FOR BOSCH SPARK PLUG GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY TOYOTA NAZARETH, Pa. (April 30, 1999) - Helio Castro-Neves of Hogan Racing adjusted quickly to new Championship Auto Racing Teams regulations for reducing...


NAZARETH, Pa. (April 30, 1999) - Helio Castro-Neves of Hogan Racing adjusted quickly to new Championship Auto Racing Teams regulations for reducing speeds at short oval events by posting the fastest lap following Friday's practice for Sunday's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota at Nazareth Speedway.

Castro-Neves (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Mercedes Lola), a second-year driver in his inaugural season with Hogan, averaged 172.357 miles per hour (19.759 seconds) on his fastest lap of the 0.946-mile oval during the second day of practice for Sunday's fourth round of the FedEx Championship Series (12:30 p.m., live, ESPN). His top lap was more than 121/2 miles per hour slower than last year's record-setting pole speed of 184.896 mph established by Patrick Carpentier as a result of the change to superspeedway wings on the 1-mile ovals this season.

This weekend's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota is the first of two short oval events this season in which Champ Cars will utilize the new aerodynamic package aimed at reducing downforce and containing speeds. The package also is scheduled for the Miller Lite 225, June 4-6 at The Milwaukee Mile.

Mark Blundell (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) was second fastest 169.147 miles per hour (20.134 seconds). He was followed by FedEx Championship Series points leader Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard) at 169.080 mph (20.142 seconds).

The top three drivers were all Mercedes-powered. Blundell posted his top speed in the morning practice session while Castro-Neves and Moore posted theirs in the afternoon. Qualifying is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 1:15 p.m. ET.

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES, Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Mercedes Lola: "We've been working so hard and so far it's been very good. When you're running by yourself, it [the new aerodynamic package] is great, but when you're running in traffic, it's tough. I have a pretty good car right now but when I'm behind someone, it's very tough to pass. We just have to keep running and running and be comfortable in the car. Everybody has to be patient and be careful. The Lola is a good car, and Team Hogan has done a great job. Especially in Japan, we found a good setup and we've been going well ever since."

MARK BLUNDELL, Hollywood PacWest Mercedes: "Basically, for me, it's a case of having to adapt immediately to these wings at this track because we only tested them at Phoenix [International Raceway]. I'm a little bit against the [new] wing package. It's O.K. now, but Sunday is another matter. But we're all professionals here and we'll all make the most of what we've got. We haven't had a bad race car underneath us [early in the season], we've just had some bad luck, to be perfectly honest. It's just a case of putting some testing miles under our belts. "We know we're going to go forward and we know we're going to get back to our winning ways. We've got the people and we know we're going to be there."

GREG MOORE, Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard: "We tested here and we went 20.5 [seconds] and I thought we had a pretty good car. But yesterday, we were 25th and this morning we were 14th, so it was obvious we still had a lot of work to do. We made some changes and the weather was good, so we made some gains. We're still not where we want to be, but we're heading in the right direction. Qualifying up front will be important."

J. KIRK RUSSELL, CART Vice President of Competition: "We have a rules committee consisting of owners, team managers, engineers, drivers and CART staff. We debate rules issues, not only with regard to the sporting code, but technical specifications and components as well. Since 1994, there has been considerable concern about the speeds of these cars on short ovals. The speeds have increased as a result of tire development, engine development and chassis development. It hasn't been any one thing. Every time we reduce downforce, we know that the way the race is going to be run and the predictability of the cars is going to change. I think that what the drivers are telling you [the media] is that the comfort level that they are used to and the speeds that they are used to are not what they're experiencing here. We had a meeting [of owners] at Motegi [Japan] and the consensus that came out of that meeting was that where we are in the scheme of things was that we needed to stay with the package that was implemented last November."

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY * Two-time FedEx Championship Series champion Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) returned to the cockpit after missing Rounds 2 and 3 of the FedEx Championship Series due to a broken right ankle sustained in the March 21 season opener at Homestead, Fla. Unser Jr. concluded Friday with a fast lap of 163.849 miles per hour (20.785 seconds) from Thursday's and Friday's combined practice sessions. "We're not where we want to be yet with the Marlboro Mercedes Penske, but we have tomorrow [Saturday] to continue working on the car," Unser Jr. said. "The ankle has not been a problem at all. Driving the Marlboro car is really the best therapy for me. Once the adrenaline gets going, the pain goes away." * EPSON/Bettenhausen Motorsports decided to withdraw rookie Shigeaki Hattori (EPSON/Bettenhausen Motorsports Mercedes Reynard) from Sunday's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota following a minor incident in Turn 4 during the morning practice. "We ran some miles in yesterday's practice session, but I was fighting the car all the way around the track," Hattori explained. "I feel very bad for the team because I know they are working very hard for me. We just need more experience." Said team owner Tony Bettenhausen, "We have been struggling with a lack of testing so far this season and, combined with the new low-downforce aerodynamic package for this event, we feel it is better to be conservative. We need to re-evaluate our program and find a way to build more testing into it, even if it means that we miss some races." * U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater and CART Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Craig announced a joint initiative Friday that will promote safety on the nation's roadways. The initiative will provide public service messages during television and radio race broadcasts, print messages and safety literature at CART FedEx Championship Series race and Fan Fest events. In addition, former series champions Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) and Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) will participate in special events and media activities throughout the year. "This initiative will help improve safety throughout the United States by making safety information about vehicles more accessible, underscoring once again that safety is President [William] Clinton's highest priority," said Secretary Slater. "I am delighted that CART is joining us as a partner in conveying these important messages to the public. It will help prevent injuries and save lives."

Qualifying for the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota airs midnight Saturday/early Sunday on ESPN2.

Source: CART Online

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Shigeaki Hattori , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Patrick Carpentier , Mark Blundell , Al Unser Sr. , Tony Bettenhausen , Greg Moore