FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES HAPPENINGS Notes and Quotes from Championship Auto Racing Teams, March 1, 2000 Target/Chip Ganassi Racing owner Chip Ganassi announced Monday that the team would compete in the 84th running of the Indianapolis 500 on...
FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES HAPPENINGS Notes and Quotes from Championship Auto Racing Teams, March 1, 2000
Target/Chip Ganassi Racing owner Chip Ganassi announced Monday that the team would compete in the 84th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Drivers Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser will campaign Oldsmobile Aurora-powered G-Force chassis in the event, with primary sponsorship from Target - the team's sponsor in the FedEx Championship Series - and associate sponsorship from Budweiser, the official beer of Championship Auto Racing Teams.
"When CART left two weeks open in its May  schedule, we decided the time was right to give our drivers, teams and sponsors the opportunity to become part of the largest one-day sporting event in the world," said Ganassi, whose team has won an unprecedented four consecutive FedEx Championship Series championships. "While we're very proud of our accomplishments in CART over the years, I felt that this was the perfect opportunity to give our team the chance to add another level of excitement."
Vasser has made four career starts at Indianapolis, with a best finish of fourth in 1994. He was leading the 1995 event with 30 laps remaining when he exited due to contact, finishing 22nd.
"I've missed racing in the Indy 500 a great deal, and my teammates and I are looking forward to coming back," Vasser said. "It will be a busy time for us, but I can tell you that we are extremely focused on this program. We're very excited and we're looking forward to it a great deal."
Montoya, the FedEx Championship Series champion who will be making his first appearance in the 500, shares Vasser's excitement.
"I think being at Indy is a great thing," he said. "It's a great challenge, and I think it will be great for CART and the IRL [Indy Racing League, whose drivers have comprised most of the Indianapolis 500 field since 1996]. The object of this whole thing is to try and get the two sides together, and I hope this will help to make that happen."
Ganassi indicated that the team expects to conduct the first test of its Indianapolis 500 equipment package March 29 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
* SEBRING TEST DRAWS TITLE CONTENDERS
A pair of teams and drivers expected to be in the thick of the battle for the FedEx Championship Series championship conducted tests on the road course at Sebring International Raceway last week, as Newman/Haas Racing driver Michael Andretti and Team KOOL Green driver Paul Tracy were among numerous series entrants testing on the 1.65-mile road course. Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) completed two days of testing Wednesday and Thursday, his first out-of-season road course test of the season, completing approximately 325 miles with a top time of 50.7 seconds.
"It was good to run the Ford XF [engine] on a road course for the first time," Andretti said. "Christian [Fittipaldi, Andretti's Newman/Haas teammate] has been talking about how good the engine was since he set the fastest time [during a test] back in December. The team was mostly trying to get me acclimated in the new Lola on a road course. It is a steep learning curve for me, but we are making good progress. As of right now, I think we are only four or five tenths [of a second] off the pace, which is understandable since neither I nor the team has tested at Sebring as much as some of the others." Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), meanwhile, completed nearly 300 miles during the same two days, as Team KOOL Green focused on evaluating an assortment of set-up options. His best lap was unofficially clocked at 51.2 seconds. "The car was pretty good right off the trailer," Tracy said. "We were focusing on different mechanical systems, so we ran a ton of wing to help feel the effects of all the changes we were making. All that wing made us slow on the straights, but we learned a lot about the car, which is the object of going testing." Team KOOL Green's next test session is scheduled for March 19-20 at Nazareth Speedway in preparation for Round 2 of the FedEx Championship Series, the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota, April 9 at Nazareth Speedway. Newman/Haas resumed testing Monday at Phoenix International Raceway, with Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) in the cockpit. He completed 160 trouble-free miles, with a top time of 19.98 seconds. A scheduled second day of testing Tuesday was canceled due to an unforeseen problem with Fittipaldi's car.
* FULL WEEK FOR PATRICK RACING
Patrick Racing drivers Adrian Fernandez and Roberto Moreno are conducting back-to-back oval tests this week, beginning with a two-day test Monday and Tuesday on the 1-mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway. Moreno (Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) opened the testing Monday with 183 trouble-free miles, recording an unofficial best time of 20.05 seconds. "We made significant progress from our last test," he said afterward. "Ed [Technical Director Ed Nathman] and John [Chief Engineer John Ward] are doing a great job of finding things that improve the performance of the car. Overall, it was a very productive test." Fernandez continued the test at Phoenix Tuesday., completing nearly 200 miles with a best time of 19.75 seconds. "One of the big things today in making the car better was that Roberto gave me a very good car and I was able to go forward," Fernandez said. "We had no mechanical problems and improved the car from where Roberto left off yesterday. Now that we have tested together a couple of times, I think we are understanding each other. We work well together ... that's important." Today, the team is traveling to Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Fernandez will test on the road course Thursday before being joined by Moreno for sessions on the oval on Friday and Saturday. What with five of the first six events on ovals, including the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota, March 26 at Homestead, Patrick Racing General Manager Jim McGee said the week of testing will be crucial as the team prepares to start the FedEx Championship Series season. "At Spring Training [Feb. 9-10 at Homestead], we incorporated some of the things we learned and, overall, had a good test," McGee said. "We have had over two weeks to analyze the results of Spring Training, so we need to get back on the track and test some of the new ideas. Basically, we are doing our final preparation for the start of the season." McGee considered the Phoenix test a good start. "This was a very productive two days of testing for Patrick Racing, " he said. "We were right there as far as speed and competitiveness. The team went through a lot of different things. We made some very positive changes and improvements. We were able to put a lot of things to bed as far as the set-up for the first few races."
* BLUNDELL DELIGHTED FOLLOWING TEST AT PHOENIX
In a test termed by members of the PacWest Racing Group as "one of the most positive of his Champ Car career," Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) completed 166 trouble-free miles at Phoenix International Raceway Monday, recording an unofficial best time of 19.99 seconds. Following on the heels of last week's test at Sebring, which was cut short due to an assortment of problems, Monday's result was especially encouraging to Blundell and the PacWest team.
"Today's test was definitely our best for the season and certainly one of the best in recent times," Blundell said. "Everybody was extremely happy with the progress and we leave the track knowing there is still more to come. Today's test was certainly very pleasing with the season drawing closer and the first couple of races on ovals. We learned a lot and I was quick as well." Team Manager Russell Cameron concurred. "I don't think we could have asked for much more from today's test," Cameron said. "We did a quick time and then put together a long run and all the results indicated we are certainly heading in the right direction." Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Mercedes), Blundell's PacWest teammate, joined him at Phoenix Tuesday as the test continued. The drivers combined to record 270 incident-free miles while turning consistent laps in the 19.7-second range. "We got in a long run and were able to share a lot information between the two cars," Blundell said afterward. "We were faster than we were yesterday, and even in the heat of the day, I still managed a 19.9-second lap, which was pretty encouraging."
* DELLA PENNA MOTORSPORTS TO TEST ARGENTINE DRIVER
Della Penna Motorsports owner John Della Penna announced Monday that Argentine Noberto Fontana will be test the team's Toyota-powered Reynard today and Thursday on the road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "As many are aware, I am very interested in expanding Della Penna Motorsports to a two-car effort in the future," said Della Penna, like Fontana, a native of Argentina. "I have followed Noberto's career for some time now and am excited to see what he can do in a Champ Car. This is just a test, though, with no immediate plans for a second seat." The 26-year old Fontana competed in the Formula 3000 championship last year and also owns recent experience in the Japanese Formula Nippon series. He won the 1995 German Formula 3 championship, defeating current Formula One driver Ralf Schumacher in the process. He also won the 1993 Swiss Formula Ford championship and Argentina's 1991 National Karting Championship. Following Fontana's test, Richie Hearn (Ziff Davis Toyota Reynard), Della Penna's regular driver in the FedEx Championship Series, takes over for two days of testing Friday and Saturday on the Homestead oval.
* FORSYTHE CHAMPIONSHIP RACING TABS BRUNETTI
Jerry Forsythe, chairman of Forsythe Championship Racing, which campaigns Bryan Herta (Panasonic Honda Swift) in the FedEx Championship Series, announced last week that Tony Brunetti had been appointed the team's vice president and general manager. Brunetti will oversee the day-to-day racing operations of Forsythe Championship Racing, following last week's resignation of team president Steve Horne. Brunetti served as team manager of the Player's Forsythe Racing team from 1995 through 1998. Most recently, he served as vice president of Forsythe Racing, the parent company of both Forsythe Championship Racing and Player's Forsythe Racing, which campaigns Canadian drivers Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) and Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) in the FedEx Championship Series. "Once again, Jerry Forsythe has given me a great opportunity, and I appreciate his confidence in me and his belief in this group of people," Brunetti said. "I have a lot of respect for Steve Horne and wish him all the best. He is leaving behind a very talented team and these are certainly big shoes to fill. I'm looking forward to working with Bryan [Herta], and with [Team Manager] Steve Dickson and [Chief Mechanic] Steve Ragan. I've known and raced against these guys for many years. I'm looking forward to having them on my side for a change."