TALENT, TESTING, TEAM PUT WARD IN POSITION TO WIN AT ORLANDO LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 18, 1999 -- Jeff Ward and his family will join thousands of visitors at Walt Disney World this week. Ward and his wife, Candice, will...
TALENT, TESTING, TEAM PUT WARD IN POSITION TO WIN AT ORLANDO
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Jan. 18, 1999 -- Jeff Ward and his family will join thousands of visitors at Walt Disney World this week. Ward and his wife, Candice, will follow their son Brandon around the Magic Kingdom as the 6-year-old bounds throughout the park with 18-month twin brothers Ayrton and Alain in tow. The Wards are anxious to return to the Orlando area, but Jeff Ward has some reservations about the trip. "My son loves to go on all the rides, and I get dizzy being on anything that goes upside-down," said Ward, about to start his second full-time season as a driver in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. "I stay away from that stuff. I get dizzy from playing computer racing games on TV." That's a strange confession from one of the brightest stars on the Indy Racing League circuit, who remains a legend in the world of motorcycle racing for his daring flights over hill and dale en route to winning seven American Motorcyclist Association national motocross championships. "I don't even like roller coasters," he said. "I guess because it's out of my hands, and I'm just a passenger." Ward will be in complete control when the 1999 Pep Boys Indy Racing League season starts Jan. 24 with the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway, a 1-mile tri-oval located just inside the gates of the Magic Kingdom. It's the first of 11 races for the world's premier open-wheel, oval-track racing series this season. Despite his trip this week to the Magic Kingdom, the only line at Disney World that Ward is focused on is the finish line of the 1-mile tri-oval. He wants to improve on last year's runner-up finish in Orlando and claim his first Indy Racing League victory in the ThermoTech-ISM Racing G Force/Aurora/Goodyear entry, which has associate sponsorship from Ceasefire!, ProLong Super Lubricants, National Car Rental and Simpson Race Products. Ward finished a strong second to winner Tony Stewart a year ago at Orlando after starting from the 26th spot. Ward was forced to the back of the starting grid when rain washed out qualifying, and starting positions were determined by the previous year's drivers standings. "We made it through that mess, but I don't like starting in the back because of problems you can run in to," said Ward, who entered 1998 with only three Indy Racing League races on his resume. Ward's determination to escape a back-row start was evident at the next race when he won the PPG Pole for the Dura-Lube 200 at Phoenix International Raceway and finished fifth. It was an early indication of the impact Ward would make on the Pep Boys Indy Racing League season. He finished 1998 season sixth in driver standings and seventh in money earned. He was second for the year in laps led (326) that contributed to leading eight of the 11 Pep Boys IRL races. He started on the front row four times and compiled four top-five finishes. "That was my rookie year even though I wasn't classified a rookie," said Ward, who will turn 38 on the opening day of the TransWorld Diversified Services 200 weekend. "Going into last year I was overwhelmed with the situation I was in and ran very conservatively. At the end of the year I got a lot more aggressive. This year I know I'm going to pick up where I left off. We're going to be up front every race. We're way stronger. "We had some bad breaks and bad luck last year, but we're going to continue the good things we established. We're just going to win some races this year. "Everybody is pretty much ready to go. We ran really well last year. We were strong in every race, and that was with a new team. It's going to be a good year. I have tremendous confidence in the team and the car. I hope the results pay off for how hard our team has been working." Bob Hancher, co-owner of ISM Racing along with Gary Sallee, echoes Ward's enthusiasm. "One of Wardy's quotes is that when he was in bike racing it took him a number of years to get his first win, but when he got one he reeled off a whole bunch," Hancher said. "I think he's in a position now where he knows he can win and should win. This is going to be a real promising year. "We can actually be better this year. This year we feel like, 'Bring it on.'" Hancher and Sallee have kept the team intact and busy since the end of the season. Since the Las Vegas season finale, ISM -- with Ward in the cockpit for every lap -- has tested twice at Phoenix International Raceway, and once each at Disney World, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "We've made so many advancements that we feel like we are so much better," Hancher said. "Everybody is working together, and we are so much more prepared than we were a year ago. There were times (last year) when we were rushing around like chickens with our heads cut off. During the season you just don't have the time or the energy to test." ISM Vice President of Racing Mitch Davis agrees. "We had a lot of things to test and we thought there would be gains, and we now know we can be better than we were last year," Davis said. "For example, we have been just as fast in race trim as we were with last year's qualifying setup at every track where we've tested." Another advantage for the ISM team is continuity. "It's the same old, same old," Hancher said. "Everybody knows everybody. We've all lived together for a couple of years, and everyone knows what's on each other's mind. We don't have any egos, so everything flows." The only major change for ISM has been its selection as a Goodyear Tire test team. "We're getting a lot of help from Goodyear as one of its main testing teams," Ward said. "We have 20 days of testing lined up and being a Goodyear test team helps the budget. We'll also go testing on our own at open test dates." Tire companies need to maximize their testing efforts, so it is imperative for their teams to run consistently and possess reliable equipment. "I'm a pretty aggressive driver on cold tires," Ward said. "This situation gives me a lot more confidence and experience on cold tires. It's a win-win situation for me. Drivers pay to go testing and to be in the car, and they're putting on sticker tires every time I come in. Drivers love having new tires every time they come in, and you don't normally have that when you're testing on your own bill." And there's nothing like track time. "You like to stay in the car as much as possible," Ward said. "It probably only takes a couple of runs to get back to the comfort zone. (Testing) is more for finding data and trying things." Continuing with the Aurora engine combination and G Force chassis also bolsters Ward's confidence. The only preseason hitch had been a delay in receiving the 1999 chassis upgrade kit. Heavy snowfall in the Midwest contributed to that. "All the update kit will do is add more downforce," Ward said. "Your car will work the same only it will have more grip and that will let you move you up into the corners deeper." While few changes have been made to Ward's car, the resident of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., took "tune-up" personally. "I'm in better shape this year," said Ward, who is 5-foot-7 and weighs about 160 pounds. "I've lost 10 pounds, and in a race car that computes to quicker times. I'm a pretty husky guy. When I quit racing motocross I bulked up because I wasn't doing as much long-distance training, and I was still lifting weights." Ward, a former biathlon and triathlon athlete, limits most of his two-wheel riding these days to his mountain bike where he gets his cardiovascular training by scaling nearby mountains and hills. As a Kawasaki factory rider for 13 years, Ward was the only rider to win every AMA National motocross title. His 20 career Supercross wins are second best among retired riders, and his 55 motocross victories are the most ever. Before joining the Indy Racing League, Ward devoted five years of competing part-time on the Indy Lights circuit to ease the transition from his motorcycle racing to Indy-style cars. Ward made his Indy Racing League debut two years ago as a substitute for injured Davy Jones for Galles team at Orlando. Starting in eighth position, Ward was sidelined by gearbox problems after 63 laps, finishing in 16th place. His best finish that first season, and thus far the highlight of his Indy Racing League career, was a third-place finish in the 1997 Indianapolis 500 that caught the attention of the four-wheeled racing world. He was named Bank One Rookie of the Year at Indy.
TRANSWORLD DIVERSIFIED SERVICES INDY 200 NOTEBOOK
Let's get ready to rumble: Announcer Michael Buffer, famous for his call of "let's get ready to rumble!" at boxing matches, will introduce every driver in the starting field Jan. 24 during prerace ceremonies. Schedule: The TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 starts at 1 p.m. (EST) Jan. 24. PPG Pole qualifying starts at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 23. Practice sessions take place at 10:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. Jan. 22, and 9:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Jan. 23. The USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series race, held in conjunction with this event, starts at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 23. On the air: ABC will televise the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 on a one-hour delay basis starting at 2 p.m. (EST) Jan. 24. SpeedVision will televise PPG Pole qualifying live at noon Jan. 23. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 1 p.m. Jan. 24, with a prerace show starting at 12:30 p.m. A qualifying highlights show will be broadcast on the IMS Radio Network at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 23.