INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, April 22, 2001 - Penske Racing returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday, staging its first spring private test for drivers Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran in preparation for the 85th running of the ...
INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, April 22, 2001 - Penske Racing returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday, staging its first spring private test for drivers Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran in preparation for the 85th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. On pit lane with the drivers and three Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone machines, headset on, was four-time "500" winner Rick Mears, an advisor for the team which has won the race a record 10 times.
"We're just really getting started," Mears said. "Every time you come out, it's a new day. We're learning about the cars and the track, getting the drivers comfortable, getting our engineers familiar with the equipment. It's the same object in testing - drag vs. downforce, the balance of the car, cambers, toe-ins, ride heights, tires. It's just finding the sweet spot for everything."
Mears said he's completed most of his "advising" with the drivers.
"I was working with Helio quite a bit in ROP, watching his line, but I'm not doing too much now," he said. "They picked it up real fast and they're pretty much up to speed."
Other than a test day last October, Sunday marked de Ferran's first laps at the Speedway since 1995, when his first "500" was cut short by a first-turn, first-lap, accident that eliminated five cars from the field.
"It's just as difficult as I remember it," de Ferran said. "This is a tricky place, certainly not an easy track to go around.
"It's almost like being a rookie in the race. I didn't complete a lap (in 1995) other than going across the line into the pits, so I have no experience in the race whatsoever. I'm a lot more experienced these days than in '95, so hopefully that'll help me a little bit. But I'm not taking anything for granted."
Castroneves talked about track conditions at the challenging 2.5-mile Speedway oval.
"This track changes every day," he said. "That's why we're here, learning every time. I'm sure it'll be totally different when we come back. Here, you try to trim it out as much as you can to find speed. You have to keep working and always respect the place. Every corner looks the same but they're not. It's very difficult when the wind blows one way one time, then another way the next time."
Private testing ends Tuesday at the Speedway. The track opens for official practice on Sunday, May 6, with three days of qualifying over the following two weekends. MBNA Pole Day is May 12, second-day qualifying is May 13 and Bump Day is May 20.
The 85th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. (EST) May 27.