Newman/Haas driver Christian Fittipaldi ( ...
Newman/Haas driver Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford/Lola) logged the 5th-fastest lap Thursday, turning a time of 26.305 seconds (211.990 mph). In two previous races here, Fittipaldi finished 3rd in 1999 but did not finish in 1998 due to an engine failure in 1998.
"The car is consistent on long runs, which is good for the race," Fittipaldi said. "I'm optimistic about our competitiveness for the race and have been looking forward to it since last year. I learned some things in the race that I think will help us this weekend.
"There was too much traffic at the end of the session to get in a quicker lap," he added. "The car is definitely better than 5th place so I know we can improve our time. The Ford power was good and it will definitely help us in the race. I know the car has more in it so I am disappointed that I didn't get to show its potential. The forecast is not that great for tomorrow so I hope we have a chance to better our position and start the Big Kmart/Route 66 car in the front."
Fittipaldi's teammate Michael Andretti (# 6 Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford/Lola) was 8th in Thursday practice with a time of 26.479s. (210.645 mph). In the first race here in 1998, Andretti built a large lead before he ran out of fuel while on his in lap due to a miscalculation. He ultimately finished 14th. Last year, Andretti was in 2nd place and was challenging for the lead before second gear broke while leaving the pits on his final stop, and he finished 5th.
"The car was a lot better in the afternoon session," Andretti said. "It is a lot better than the 8th-place lap shows, but I couldn't get a clear lap at the end of the session. I was hoping for better, but we made good progress today. There is more in the car, also, so I hope the weather doesn't hold us back tomorrow.
"We ran full tanks for most of the afternoon session and the car is good," Andretti continued. "We ran well here in both of the previous races. My car was unbelievable in the 1998 race. We could have lapped the field if we had not run out of fuel. The Big Kmart/Texaco/ Havoline team needs to come away with a perfect race weekend and get back on track in the Championship."
Todd Tice, the vent/airjack man for Michael Andretti who was injured in the Rio 200 two weeks ago, will be replaced by John Littlefield in Japan. Littlefield was the refueler for Andretti but will move over to replace Tice for Japan. John Simmonds, shock specialist for the team, will be the refueler. Simmonds joined the team in 1989 and was promoted to chief mechanic for Fittipaldi in 1997 until he left the team for two years at the end of that season. He rejoined Newman/Haas Racing in 2000 as shock specialist and has worked in the capacity of refueler for the team over the years.