April 30, 2000, Rio de Janeiro: American driver Memo Gidley finished 8th in the Rio 200 , his best result in twelve career Champcar races. Substituting for the injured Patrick Carpentier in the ...
April 30, 2000, Rio de Janeiro: American driver Memo Gidley finished 8th in the Rio 200 , his best result in twelve career Champcar races. Substituting for the injured Patrick Carpentier in the #32 Players Ford-Reynard-Firestone, Gidley made his CART oval debut today, and in fact ran his very first oval laps in a Champcar just two days ago. The weekend gave Gidley an opportunity to display speed, patience, and an ability to learn quickly, and provided valuable oval experience for his upcoming effort to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
Gidley began today's race with confidence in the car and the team, especially since his teammate Alex Tagliani was the fastest qualifier. The slow corners and quick straightaways of the unusual Rio course challenged CART's teams to sacrifice either downforce or drag, and Tagliani's pole made it clear that the Players engineers were on the right track.
Starting 11th and picking up two positions on the first green-flag lap, Gidley put on an early show for the fans, waging an all-out dogfight with Christian Fittipaldi for eighth position. The pair ran side by side for an entire lap, with Gidley taking the high line but unable to get past. Just as Gidley settled into ninth place, he detected a loss of power on the straightaways that was to further deteriorate throughout the race.
"From about a third of the race onward, I was losing power, and it got progressively worse," Gidley explains. "I was pushing as hard I could during the turns, and a couple of times people were just blowing right by me. I was driving harder and deeper as the race went on, yet it was really hard to defend my position. I found out after the race that the reduced power was caused by a problem in the turbocharger waste gate."
The engine problem proved costly late in the race, as Gidley was lapped by leader Kenny Brack. Gidley, Tagliani, and Michael Andretti were the only drivers with enough fuel to finish the race, and stood to benefit when Brack and the other leaders eventually were forced to pit for a splash of fuel. Had Gidley been able to stay on the lead lap, he would have been in contention for the victory at the end.
"I tried to hold off Brack; I blocked him once but he got around me the next time. I went as deep as possible but I simply did not have enough power to compete on the main straightaway. I was running full rich and still significantly slower."
Gidley had a scare in the final minutes, as his teammate Tagliani spun while leading the race, creating a billowing cloud of white tire-smoke at the exit of the final turn. "You couldn't see at all. I was nine cars behind Tag, and I just kind of went straight through the smoke and hoped I didn't hit anything."
A few cars ahead of Gidley, Dario Franchitti took evasive action that resulted in a spin of his own, and Gidley picked up a final position, finishing eighth as the race was completed under a Yellow Flag.
Gidley was in high spirits as he climbed out of the car after a very hot day of racing. "I feel good. I think all my work in the gym paid off today, because it was so hot in the cockpit. The water in the drinking bottle became so warm that you couldn't take a whole mouthful, I mean you could make coffee with that water. I felt strong the entire time, which was great, because you don't want fatigue to impair your judgement."
"I really enjoy racing people," continued Gidley. "The passes I made were great, the restarts were a lot of fun, and trying to get around Christian, although he was making it very difficult, was really exciting. You live to win, but you take what you can get and for now it's trying to get close enough to the front to compete for the win."
Evaluating his two-race experience with the Players team, Gidley raved "I've raced with good teams in the past, but this one is awesome. Everybody's very smart and dedicated, they go to bed at night thinking about how we're going to make up some positions in the race or how we're going to change the car. This is an ideal situation for me, and I look forward to the day when I get a full-time ride with a team of this caliber."
Assuming that the recovering Patrick Carpentier is able to resume his season on May 15th at Motegi, Gidley's next scheduled event is the biggest race in motorsports, the Indianapolis 500.