IRL: Daytona Open Test may get racy

Panther Racing's Vitor Meira and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's Mike Hull hosted Wednesday's Indy Racing League conference call and suggested that the upcoming open test at Daytona International Speedway on January 31st and February 1st might offer...

Panther Racing's Vitor Meira and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's Mike Hull hosted Wednesday's Indy Racing League conference call and suggested that the upcoming open test at Daytona International Speedway on January 31st and February 1st might offer more than just the routine.

In a surprisingly candid admission Meira and Hull hinted that a little competitive dice at the end of the second day of testing would be a welcome opportunity to shake out the cobwebs from the winter lay-off and get the sporting juices of fans and drivers flowing again.

In response to questions about whether they would favor a simulated "Race- Day" sprint at the conclusion of the testing period both remarked positively about their teams.

Speaking of a chance for TCGR drivers Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon to let out the reigns a bit on the same Daytona track which they will compete together the Rolex 24 Hours this weekend, Hull said, "We work all winter getting ready for racing. Next Thursday we will have people there in the stands that hopefully would watch us race on TV. If we did a sprint race on the second day (of the test) it would be fine for us."

To which a perky Meira quickly replied, "Same here. They (Daytona officials) work really hard, most of all on cleaning the track to allow each category. We may get to race there in the future or we wouldn't be going there, in my opinion. That (a sprint) would be a great tryout as long as everybody knows that it is not part of the championship and if everybody takes care of each other."

Both teams spent the winter preparing their drivers and racecars for the upcoming season, the first "event" of which is the two-day Daytona open test. Hull emphasized the importance to TCGR of being in an ever-ready stance with regard to their motorsports endeavors regardless of series.

"Everything is the same for us," said Hull. "At TCGR the racing never stops. We carried on just the same as during the regular season. The Target/Chip Ganassi team was working, painting, doing all the things you have to do--because if you don't people will catch up."

Meira's off-season preparation took him south to his native country of Brazil where he competed on-track with 1995 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Christian Fittipaldi and Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan. Meira also logged over a thousand miles in Formula 3 Brazil testing for the upcoming season, striving to maintain his considerable driving skills and concentration. It also gave him a chance to enjoy the companionship of his countrymen and fellow drivers in professional racing.

"It's always good to get back in the car," he said. "Most of all, it was a long off-season; but being honest with you we spent a lot of time (at Panther) working on the car. We're looking forward to the new season, and with everybody getting back together it is going to be exciting."

"Last year we had financial difficulties," Meira continued. "We had to cut back a lot on improvements we could have made because of it. Basically, we're trying to put all the pieces back in place now so we can have a successful 2007 season."

Both Panther and TCGR will be trying to gain advantage in car setups and fine-tuning their running gear while on the super speedway's road course. "We try to understand tuning changes and parameters that affect our car the greatest," said Hull. "It's very important to us. Everybody works hard during the winter and this is the first opportunity to come out and test in the field."

"You want to be at Daytona to find out how much improvement you have to make. And then too perhaps to see where we can race with IndyCars. Running at Daytona with IndyCars is a big statement and we're very excited for that reason."

It is indeed that time of the year when hopes are high and spirits soar. It's also a time when the teams can allow themselves a little levity before the racing gets hot and heavy.

When asked about whether his 24 Hour drivers (Scott and Dixon) had ambitions to overtake and pass Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss Tony George in the endurance race this weekend, Hull said, "I hope we're lucky enough to pass him on the racetrack and other race cars beside him."

"It's a hard thing in a 24 hour race to know who's in which car when you come up on them. They have four drivers and we have three drivers alternating behind the wheel so who knows. I do know from talking to Mr. George that he really wants to drive in the race and he's excited driving here. I'm sure Scott and Dan and Juan are looking for him on the track will be excited about racing with him."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , Scott Dixon , Dan Wheldon , Chip Ganassi , Tony George , Mike Hull , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing