2006 INDYCAR SERIES INDIANAPOLIS OPEN TEST NOTEBOOK Cheever happy to be back home at Speedway; J. Lazier hopeful for Indy ride INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, April 5, 2006 -- Eddie Cheever Jr. walked into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center...
2006 INDYCAR SERIES INDIANAPOLIS OPEN TEST NOTEBOOK
Cheever happy to be back home at Speedway; J. Lazier hopeful for Indy ride
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, April 5, 2006 -- Eddie Cheever Jr. walked into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center on Wednesday morning April 5, a couple of hours before he was scheduled to return to the track at the site of his greatest victory.
"Good to see you back with your helmet," someone said in welcome.
"I never put it away," said Cheever, the 1998 winner of the "500." "All I had to do was dust it off."
He talked of his decision to join fellow "500" winner Al Unser Jr. and Michael Andretti in "comeback" runs for the Month of May.
"Our last three years as a company were difficult, as was everybody's who didn't have a Honda engine," Cheever said. "When the IndyCars went to one type of engine (Honda) this year and parity, there were too many positives not to return.
"From a personal standpoint, my father died the last year I was racing, and my heart wasn't in it the last half of the season. That's not the way I wanted to leave IndyCar racing."
Cheever said it hasn't been an easy return, but a welcome one nonetheless.
"My whole Homestead race was incredibly difficult for me as a driver," Cheever said. "I never felt comfortable in the car; I wasn't using the draft as I should've. Right now, I may be the weakest link.
"But our goal has always been to perform well with a chance to win the Indianapolis 500. I feel so lucky that I can still come out here and run on pace. Driving Indy -- there's nothing compared to it.
"Last night, I felt like a 10-year-old just before Christmas, and it was going to be a good Christmas with lots of presents today because I was a good boy. (The crew) is still working at getting me up to speed. They tell me it's the first day of practice, and I'm telling them I'm having too much fun."
Cheever was seventh fastest during the one-day test at 223.367 in the No. 51 Cheever Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone.
Cheever Racing will field a second car at Indy, Cheever said.
"We'll be running two cars," he said. "I expect we'll announce a driver after Japan."
J. Lazier looking: Veteran Jaques Lazier is very hopeful of landing a ride and was on hand pounding the Gasoline Alley pavement.
"I'm very optimistic," Lazier said. "We haven't finalized anything, but we're definitely getting close. We're working with a great sponsor right now, and although we haven't finalized it, I believe it's a sponsor I can carry with me for many years.
"I think we're going to have to announce something by the Motegi race. We can get that aspect done now and focus on doing the best job we can for our sponsor."
Wheldon out first: For the record, defending winner Dan Wheldon was first away when the track opened for practice at 10:42 a.m. under a running yellow.
Practice opened 42 minutes due to cool track temperatures, so the test was extended from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
D&R skips test: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing was scheduled to take part in the test but opted out.
"With losing a car at the Homestead race, it put us behind," said team manager John O'Gara. "We just figured the time would be better spent in the workshop.
Dreyer & Reinbold is in a unique position: It has two previous winners entered, 1996 winner Buddy Lazier and two-time champion Al Unser Jr. A single team has not entered two former winners since Marlboro Team Penske saddled up Emerson Fittipaldi and Unser in 1995 -- and ironically, both missed the field that year.
"I hadn't really given any thought about that," O'Gara said. "I hope we don't repeat that."
"We have three cars for Indy, and our fourth one is just missing a few bits. We'll probably have four cars over there by the time things start."
O'Gara didn't rule out running a third entry.
"I wouldn't say it's totally out," he said. "My guess is if we did it, we'd have to farm it out to somebody for some help. But I wouldn't say it's out of the question."
Veteran engineer eyes entry: Veteran engineer Roman Kuzma was on hand at the Speedway and is hoping to field a car for the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500. He said he has access to a car from Newman-Haas Racing.
"It's one of the backups to (Bruno) Junqueira and (Sebastian (Bourdais) last year," Kuzma said. "I'm just trying to work things out. I'm down here on a fact-finding mission. This is the most even I've ever seen the field and the first time in quite awhile that an independent can come in and do well.
"We have a car, and we're trying to work a deal for an engine package. We have people looking for sponsors and have it narrowed down to four to five drivers, veterans who can do it."
The last time Kuzma fielded a car at Indy was 1992 with rookie Kenji Momota.
Firestone keeps same compound: Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing, said it's unlikely the tire company will switch any compounds for the "500"this year.
"We had a new tire for the Homestead track, and we had run it before at Chicagoland," Speyer said. "At St. Petersburg, we had a slightly modified tread compound.
"But we've run the same tire the last two years here. It's worked really well for us and has been trouble-free. When we get the final results of this test, we'll make our decision."
Indy 500 tickets on sale: Tickets are on sale for the 2006 Indianapolis 500, the 90th running of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
Fans can order tickets online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com, by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area, or at the ticket office at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Parking and camping information also can be obtained through the ticket office.
Hours for phone orders and the ticket office are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday, while online orders can be made at any time.
Ticket prices start at just $20.