Castro-Neves Out in Front The Hogan Racing driver clocks the quickest speed in a not-so-fast special practice session. By John Oreovicz The sun was up, but speeds were down at a special 45-minute practice session at Nazareth Speedway on ...
Castro-Neves Out in Front The Hogan Racing driver clocks the quickest speed in a not-so-fast special practice session. By John Oreovicz
The sun was up, but speeds were down at a special 45-minute practice session at Nazareth Speedway on Thursday. The FedEx Championship Series field, in preparation for this weekend's 225-lap Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix, took advantage of the session after drivers who tested at Nazareth aired concerns about the new low-downforce aero configuration mandated for all oval tracks in 1999.
Helio Castro-Neves paced the action with a 20.521 seconds/165.957 mph lap in Carl Hogan's Mercedes/Lola.
"We actually tested here a long time ago, before Japan, and the team did a really good job," said the rapid Brazilian, who has shown lots of speed on ovals in the much-maligned Lola chassis in '99. "I'd like to stay in the same position for the rest of the weekend, but it's going to be tough. I have a lot of oversteer, but I think everyone is having that problem. It's going to be a fun race."
Second quickest was Mark Blundell in the Motorola-sponsored PacWest Racing Mercedes/Reynard. "We brought two completely different cars here, and luckily we were able to choose the right one in 45 minutes," he said. "We tested the new wings in January at PIR [Phoenix International Raceway], and I was against them then, and I'm still against them now. I don't think it's the right way to go, and I think in traffic it's going to be a real headache."
The sunny skies brought temperatures in the mid-60s F. Many series veterans said it was the nicest weather they had ever seen at Nazareth. At the test sessions in March, conditions were around 20 degrees cooler and drivers had trouble getting tires up to temperature.
"The tires are heating up a lot quicker," observed Dario Franchitti, who was sixth fastest in the Team KOOL Green Honda/Reynard. "When we were testing, it was taking 15 laps to get them up to temperature. Firestone has come here with a new tire that's a good compromise, despite the fact that we gave them very little notice."
After a clean first session, the Champ Car pilots have a new target to shoot for. Given the new wings, Patrick Carpentier's track record of 18.419 sec/184.896 mph is certainly in no jeopardy as the real action kicks off Friday morning.