CHEEVER SAYS CHARLOTTE IS RIGHT TIME FOR CHANGE By Dick Mittman indyracingleague.com CONCORD, N.C., April 19, 1999 -- Eddie Cheever Jr. won the Indianapolis 500 last May 24 and now gets his second chance since that exhilarating victory...
CHEEVER SAYS CHARLOTTE IS RIGHT TIME FOR CHANGE By Dick Mittman indyracingleague.com
CONCORD, N.C., April 19, 1999 -- Eddie Cheever Jr. won the Indianapolis 500 last May 24 and now gets his second chance since that exhilarating victory to add a win at another historic race track on May 1. And just as Charlotte Motor Speedway has changed its name to Lowe's Motor Speedway, Cheever has changed his engine from the all-winning Oldsmobile Aurora to the yet-to-win Nissan Infiniti Indy V8. The VisionAire 500 will be the introductory event for Cheever and his new engine. What he learns from Charlotte -- though the distance is 200 miles less than Indy -- and through recent and future testing will go a long way toward determining whether he can become the first driver since Al Unser Sr. in 1970-71 to put together back-to-back victories in the world's most famous race. "I think we'll surprise a few people at Charlotte," Cheever said. "Charlotte is a very important race for us." The 1998 Charlotte race was held on July 25, but the Pep Boys Indy Racing League switched the popular night event to May 1 for 1999 to provide a third race leading up to Indy. The "500" this year reverts to its once original date of May 30. Cheever has competed in both of the previous races at the impressive Charlotte facility. He started 15th and finished sixth in 1997 behind inaugural winner Buddy Lazier and took the green from the outside of the sixth row last summer. He dropped out of that one in 20th (Kenny Brack won it) when his Aurora engine encountered problems. The former Formula One regular started this season with an Aurora powering his Team Cheever-Children's Beverage Group Dallara/Goodyear. He won the first race at Orlando and was leading at Phoenix when he and Lazier tangled and hit the wall. Then two weeks ago he made the dramatic announcement that he was switching engine manufacturers. Why? "We would not be making this change for any other reason than it offers a bright future for us," he exclaimed. The Infiniti engine has been a part of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League from the time the league switched to a 4-liter, normally aspirated powerplant for the Orlando race in 1997. However, it was far behind the Aurora in race results. It never showed its potential until veteran driver Roberto Guerrero stepped into the Price Cobb car at Pikes Peak after the Charlotte race last year. Then at Atlanta on Sept. 20, Guerrero led 22 laps and brought the car home in fourth place. At the most recent race in Phoenix, Robbie Buhl finished third and Scott Harrington fifth in the final rundown with Infiniti engines. And they were on the same lap with winner Scott Goodyear. Cheever began running the Infiniti first at an Atlanta test and then during the recent open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He returns to Indy four days after the Charlotte race for another shakedown. "It's got a lot of power, a lot of torque," Cheever said. "I think it is a very good base to work from. It isn't at its true potential yet, so we're doing some thinking and analyzing. We're collecting a lot of data. "But I'm very happy with our decision. We're just taking some time to get used to the Infiniti methods and everything. I'm quietly optimistic." Cheever said he had worked very well with Brayton Engineering, which prepared his Aurora engines. He noted that all three wins came with the engine and he wanted to thank them for their support. The 41-year-old Phoenix native feels he won't be coming to Charlotte at too much of a disadvantage. He points out that racing technology has come so far in the 1990's that a team knows what to expect when it gets to a certain track. For instance, he knows the Charlotte racing surface is bumpy and the team must prepare for that. The new engine provides a welcomed new challenge. Through his F-1, CART and IRL career, he probably has raced with as many different type engines as any driver. "If I get anymore vigorous than I am now," he said about his feelings, "they're going to have to put me in a room for about two days. "I have a great group of people who work on our team (headed by team manager Dick Caron and crew chief Owen Snyder). I would put and will put my group against any other group in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. They're extremely motivated. We realize we have changed our mix a little bit by running with an Infiniti engine. We also strongly believe it gives us an opportunity to become a lot stronger than we are now. "And, quite frankly, I believe we are probably in the top three teams in the IRL." That's why the Charlotte race and the testing are so vital. He said he wants to learn in advance - not on May 30 - whether the engine will last 500 miles. Despite his constant thoughts about winning Indy again, Cheever said he needs nothing to psyche him up for Charlotte. "No, I love racing," he said. "I'm at the point in my life where I know I have less races ahead of me than I've had behind me. I enjoy every lap I do in a race car. If I could, I would race every weekend. "Charlotte's a good place. I think we're going to do very well."
VISIONAIRE 500 NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The VisionAire 500 starts at 8 p.m. (EDT) May 1. PPG Pole qualifying starts at 6:15 p.m. April 30. Practice sessions start at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 29, and 3:15 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. April 30. *** On the air: The VisionAire 500 will be televised live, starting with a 30-minute prerace show at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) May 1, on SpeedVision. It's the network's first live broadcast of a Pep Boys Indy Racing League race. FOX Sports Net will rebroadcast the race May 6. Check local listings for air time. SpeedVision will televise PPG Pole qualifying live at 6 p.m. (EDT) April 30. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) May 1, followed by the live race broadcast at 8 p.m. The Charlotte-area IRRN affiliate is WSOC-FM, 103.7, Charlotte. The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracingleague.com as part of a new partnership between IRL Online and broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.
*** Tickets: Tickets are available for the VisionAire 500 on May 1. Call (704) 455-3200 for more information. Ticket information also is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.lowesmotorspeedway.com .