PHOENIX, March 16 Â "Don't hurry." That might seem to be odd advice for someone poised to make his first start ever in the most competitive professional open-wheel series in the world, running down the straightaways of Phoenix...
PHOENIX, March 16 "Don't hurry."
That might seem to be odd advice for someone poised to make his first start ever in the most competitive professional open-wheel series in the world, running down the straightaways of Phoenix International Raceway at speeds in excess of 200 mph.
In reality, however, those words are very wise. They come from someone who knows, too: four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Sr.
Unser gave that sage advice to McCormack Motorsports' rookie driver, Brandon Erwin, during a testing session at Phoenix International Raceway last week. Erwin, 25, of Denton, Texas, is entered in his first Indy Racing Northern Lights Series race ever this weekend: the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix.
Fans can watch his qualifying run on Saturday on ESPN2 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time. On race day, Sunday, they can watch a pre-race show on ESPN2 at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time before switching over to ABC for live coverage of the race beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern time.
Erwin will be behind the wheel of McCormack Motorsports' G-Force Olds Aurora, which uses Firestone Firehawk tires, is painted a beautiful shade of blue and carries the number 30. It is sponsored by WorldBestBuy.com. Additional support comes from Firestone Firehawk, Fast Rod, Team Losi, Oldsmobile, Southwest Development Corp., Bosch, and Pennzoil. The team, headquartered in the Indianapolis suburb of Avon, Ind., is led by veteran team owner Dennis McCormack.
Erwin is one of four Indy Racing rookies entered in the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200. The other three are Treadway Racing's Felipe Giaffone and Casey Mears and Didier Andre, both of Galles Racing. All are shooting for the series' Rookie of the Year award.
Arie Luyendyk holds the Indy car track record in qualifying here, circling the 1-mile oval in 19.608 seconds in 1996 for an average speed of 183.599 mph.
Erwin's previous racing experience has been primarily in sprint cars, late models and karts. He made a name for himself in the tough sprint car ranks at Devil's Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas.
"My goal for the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 is to stay out of trouble and finish the race," Erwin said. "I need to learn how to run a 200-mile race first. We have to be there at the finish. After I learn how to finish an Indy car race, then I'll concentrate on how to go faster and win one. But first I have to finish; that's my goal."
Erwin will have an excellent coach in Dennis McCormack in his pursuit of the Indy Racing League's Rookie of the Year award. McCormack helped Fabrizio Barbazza and Randy Lanier win Indy 500 Rookie of the Year awards, and he also had two CART Indy Car World Series Rookie of the Year drivers: Barbazza and John Jones. He was an integral part of Barbazza's third-place finish in the 1987 Indy 500, and he was the team owner of the car which Robbie Groff drove to ninth place as a rookie 10 years later.
McCormack invited Unser to attend the team's test session here at Phoenix last week to help his young driver get acclimated. Erwin got his first look at the track ever that day.
Unser and Erwin went out on the track in a rental car first, when Unser described the proper line to take in driving the track.
"He emphasized that I should take my time and don't try to get in a hurry; that's what he told me," Erwin said. "I need to just get comfortable doing laps here, get some experience and finish this race. That's what I'm going to do my best to do.
"I was a lot more comfortable yesterday than I was when I ran at Texas [to pass his rookie test]. I've been lifting weights and running two to three miles a day, and that has really helped. I'm not as good as a long-distance runner as I am a sprinter, but the weight-lifting and running is really helping. I feel a ton better in the car because I'm more physically fit. When you're more physically fit you can concentrate better.
"I also have been trying to run my sprint car at Devil's Bowl, but we've been getting rained out. I hope to race my sprinter again soon."