INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2001 -- In Robbie Buhl's mind, bigger isn't necessarily better. Buhl, preparing to make a serious challenge for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship during the 13-race 2001 season,...
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2001 -- In Robbie Buhl's mind, bigger isn't necessarily better. Buhl, preparing to make a serious challenge for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship during the 13-race 2001 season, feels the strength of Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will be its compactness, and closeness among the crew. "We don't want to be a big team," Buhl said. "We feel our strength in competing against the Kelleys and Menards (teams), which are much bigger operations, is we kind of want to have a small, hardcore nucleus of guys." Team Manager Mitch Davis left the team in midseason last year, but the remainder of the crew from 2000 returns to meet the challenge of an increased number of races and even tougher competition. Jim Robinson has been elevated to general manager, while Johnny O'Gara, who was chief mechanic during Greg Ray's 1999 championship season, assumed that same role with Team Purex in 2000 and returns this year. Paul Burgess of G Force has been hired to be the engineer. "That's a really good asset to the team," Buhl said of Burgess. "He is very involved with the design of the car. He's going to work full time for our team as well on race weekends and tests.
"We're still looking to round things out, but the nucleus of guys we finished the (2000) year with are carrying over. The importance of synergy and guys working together, we're just building on that from last year. I'm really excited about that." There is one flywheel in the ointment. The long-awaited 35A 3.5-liter Infiniti engine still is being worked over by its Nissan engineers. Buhl hopes it will be ready by late February, in time to make its debut in the season opener - the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 - on March 18 at Phoenix International Raceway. Meanwhile, Buhl will participate in next week's Test in the West at PIR with last year's Infiniti engine. "First and foremost, you've got to be around at the end, so reliability would be first," Buhl said about his hopes for the new engine. "And then followed closely after that, OK, if we have the reliability, we got to have the speed. In my mind, that's the way I would approach it." Buhl turned in a pulsating, come-from-behind victory in the season-opening race last January at Walt Disney World Speedway. It was the first race for Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, formed just weeks before the opener. Buhl is one of the co-owners of the team. Buhl started the season using an Oldsmobile engine and finished first, seventh and fifth in the first three races. But after a disappointing 26th in the Indianapolis 500, he switched to the Infiniti starting at the next race at Texas. A sixth at Atlanta was Buhl's best finish thereafter. In June at Pikes Peak, Buhl qualified second and led the first 61 laps before an engine failure put him on the sidelines. 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr., the only other Infiniti-powered driver in the field, won the race for the engine's first victory in Indy Racing. Buhl and Cheever again will be the primary Infiniti standard bearers for the 2001. They are teammates, in a way, yet also fierce rivals, Buhl said. "I think when you're talking with Eddie Cheever, whether you're running the same powerplants or not, there's always a race within a race, especially if it's Eddie," Buhl said. "He's a guy who's tough on race weekends and definitely tough in the race. There's as much satisfaction beating him out there as anybody, but with us both being Infiniti teammates, I think we're both in the mind right now of doing what we can to help each other to be competitive and improve that product. "Having said that, we did talk before the last race last year in Texas and agreed to help each other out however we could. But when it comes down to the last 25 laps of that race, that's off." Buhl, whose other Indy Racing win came at New Hampshire in 1997, has set high goals for this season. He wants to not only win races but be a serious contender for the Northern Light Cup. After three races last season, he held a 10-point lead over eventual champion Lazier. But over the final six races, Buhl faded to eighth. "I always like to pick up this year like we did last year," Buhl said. "That's the way you want to do it. But how I'm challenging my energy right now is toward doing that day in, day out and being competitive everywhere we race. "I just want to make sure we do everything we did last year. If we can do that, we're going to be around to make a bid for this championship, and that's the focus of all the guys at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. "If we don't win this championship or put ourselves in position to do it this year, it would be disappointing and a failure to us."