IRL: Homestead test preview

MIAMI (Thursday, Feb. 22, 2001) - Clues to the mysteries of the preseason could be found at the Indy Racing Northern Light Series Open Test Friday and Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. While Friday's activities are closed to media only, ...

MIAMI (Thursday, Feb. 22, 2001) - Clues to the mysteries of the preseason could be found at the Indy Racing Northern Light Series Open Test Friday and Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. While Friday's activities are closed to media only, Saturday's Grand Prix of Miami Open House is free to the public.

A dozen Indy Racing drivers are expected to test on the 1.5-mile oval in preparation for the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami on April 8, the debut of the Northern Light Series in South Florida.

Not only will the test give an indication of which drivers will be fast during the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but it also may give a better indication of which drivers will contend for victory in the season-opening Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 on March 18 at Phoenix International Raceway.

At first glance, Homestead-Miami and Phoenix appear to have few similarities. Homestead-Miami is a 1.5-mile symmetrical oval in the sub-tropics, while Phoenix is a 1-mile oval with a unique dogleg in the desert.

But there are common denominators between the two tracks. Both are relatively flat tracks, as the banking in the turns at Homestead-Miami is 6 degrees while the banking at Phoenix ranges from 9 to 11 degrees.

And both tracks are very tricky.

Homestead-Miami also boasts another challenge to teams: speed. Top speeds at the track should exceed 200 mph in this test, more than 20 mph faster than at Phoenix. Combine the need for aerodynamic efficiency to gain speed on the long straightaways with the need to have good chassis balance in the tight corners, and Homestead-Miami could provide one of the top setup challenges for crews this season.

Expect defending Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion Buddy Lazier and 1999 series champ Greg Ray to be among the fastest drivers during the test at Homestead-Miami. Both have been among the quickest drivers in preseason testing at both Homestead-Miami and Phoenix this winter.

1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Lazier posted the second-fastest lap of winter testing so far at Homestead-Miami, 26.97 seconds, 200.222 mph, in the Delta Faucet/Tae-Bo/Coors Light/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone on Jan. 25. He also posted the fifth-fastest speed at Phoenix during the Indy Racing Northern Light Series Open Test on Feb. 9-10.

Ray was third fastest overall recently at Phoenix in his Johns Manville/Menard Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone and posted a lap of 27.32, 197.6 on Nov. 28, 2000. Team Menard and Ray have tested extensively during the offseason at Homestead-Miami, possibly giving them an advantage during this test and the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami.

Sam Hornish Jr. is another driver to watch at the Homestead-Miami Open Test. Second-year Northern Light Series driver Hornish earned one of the most coveted seats in Indy Racing with Panther Racing last fall. He showed instant speed earlier this month at Phoenix in his first official Open Test with the team, clocking the second fastest lap overall.

The team owned by four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt will participate in an Open Test for the first time this year, as veteran Eliseo Salazar will be behind the wheel of the Harrah's/A.J. Foyt Racing entry. Salazar, who has a residence in South Florida, finished an impressive fourth in the Northern Light Cup point standings last season, his first driving for Foyt.

There will be another South Florida resident in the test besides Salazar. 2000 Northern Light Series Rookie of the Year Airton Daré, a Miami resident, returns for his second season with TeamXtreme and will test in the 1-800-BAR NONE/ G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

Another top rookie from 2000, Sarah Fisher, will test at Homestead-Miami with Walker Racing. Fisher, 20, was the sixth fastest driver overall at the recent Test in the West at Phoenix.

Other drivers expected to test are Buzz Calkins, rookie Felipe Giaffone, Robbie Buhl, Jeff Ward, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. and Stan Wattles.


Schedule: Testing will take place from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (EST) Feb. 23-24 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.


Open house: Indianapolis 500 legends Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser will have a special treat for fans during their visit to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the track's Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami Open House on Feb. 24.

Rutherford and Unser will give Pace Car rides around the 1.5-mile oval to fans who purchase their tickets for the Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami.

The Open House also will include an autograph session with many Indy Racing Northern Light Series stars (with Al Unser Jr., Casey Mears and Didier Andre also participating) from 12:05-1 p.m., a contest for a trip for two to this year's Indianapolis 500 and other fun-filled activities for the family.

Pace Car rides for ticket buyers will take place from noon-1 p.m. (EST) Feb. 24. Fans who purchase tickets also will receive a T-shirt.

Rutherford is a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, while Unser is one of only three drivers to win The Greatest Spectacle in Racing four times. Rutherford now is in charge of special projects for the Indy Racing League. Unser is driver coach and a consultant to the league.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Buzz Calkins , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Casey Mears , Robbie Buhl , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Didier André , Airton Daré , Stan Wattles , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Johnny Rutherford