INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 8, 2001 -- The long offseason has been an on season for many Indy Racing Northern Light Series teams. The teams want to be on the mark when the expanded 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series season begins with...
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 8, 2001 -- The long offseason has been an on season for many Indy Racing Northern Light Series teams. The teams want to be on the mark when the expanded 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series season begins with the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 on March 18 at Phoenix International Raceway. That date is approximately 50 days beyond the opening date in the previous five seasons in Indy Racing League history. The schedule change was made so 13 races could be compacted into a six-month period ending with the Excite 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 16. The teams - many of which are participating in the Test in the West on Feb. 9-10 at Phoenix - have been busy over the winter testing, expanding or moving their facilities, getting acquainted with new drivers and strengthening their personnel for what most foresee as the most intense, competitive season in league history. "I feel this will be one hell of a competitive season, and you'd better be ready," team owner Dick Simon said. A.J. Foyt has competed in Indy Racing as a driver and car owner since the late 1950s. He won the Indianapolis 500 four times as a driver, and his driver Kenny Brack won the Indy Racing title in 1998 and the Indianapolis 500 in 1999. Eliseo Salazar returns as his driver in 2001 after finishing fourth in the Northern Light Cup point standings in 2000. Foyt is streamlining his operation to a one-car team. "A one-car team will make us more efficient," team manager Craig Baranouski said. "We're still going to run two cars at Indy." The Foyt team hasn't ruled out fielding a second car for the season if proper funding can be found, Baranouski said. Foyt, who moved his shop last year to Waller, Texas, to have it closer to his ranch, has returned to the Dallara chassis, selling his G Force cars. Both new cars are in the shop. The first test will be at Homestead-Miami Speedway followed by a private test at Phoenix. His nephew Tommy LaMance, once A.J.'s right-hand man with the Indy Racing program, has moved to North Carolina, purchased a home and will run Foyt's NASCAR program. But Bill Spencer remains as Salazar's chief mechanic and most of the Indy Racing crew remains intact. "He's going to be with us everywhere we go," Baranouski said of Foyt. The Pennzoil Panther Racing team is preparing for the new season with a new driver, 21-year-old Sam Hornish Jr. who finished 21st in the 2000 Indy Racing final standings. "Scott (Goodyear) had three good years, so I think Sam has some huge shoes to fill," said John Barnes, co-owner and team manager. "He brings some new qualities, some different qualities." The team leased a condominium for Ohio native Hornish in Indianapolis so he could be close to the shop. Panther Racing sent engineer Andy Brown to the Dallara factory in Italy so he could learn how to simplify the "quick change" program. "It's a way to turn the cars around (between races) in the meat of our season, June and July," Barnes said. "We work very diligently on a way we can tear a car down and put it together again quickly." The long break since the 2000 season finale last October has been extremely helpful for Team Cheever, chief mechanic Owen Snyder said. It provided the extra time for the arrival of new engines, chassis and update kits. Cheever will participate in the Test in the West on Saturday and in a private test Sunday with last year's Infiniti engine in his Dallara, Snyder said. The new 35A engine hasn't arrived yet. A new engineer, Alan Langridge, has joined the team. Bradley Motorsports has made a significant change, moving its shop from Denver to temporary quarters in the former Joe Gibbs' drag racing facility on the north side of Indianapolis. The team opened for business and began preparing driver Buzz Calkins car Jan. 1. "It's small by standards the others set," mechanic Scott Erickson said of the shop. "The resources are better in Indianapolis." Erickson is one of the new team members hired after the move. Only three from last year's crew made the switch from Denver. David Cripps is team manager, Todd Tapply is chief mechanic, and Don Williams is crew chief. "I think Buzz is really pumped up," Erickson said. "He's got a really good team built around him. Personally, I think it is one of the best." The team made its 2001 test debut this week at Homestead-Miami but won't participate at the Test in the West due to Calkins' testing accident Feb. 7. Calkins was unhurt, and the team plans to participate in the Open Test Feb. 23-24 at Homestead-Miami. Team Menard has made some major personnel changes since the end of the 2001 season. Chris Sumner assumed the team manager's assignment.
"We've been building the team, working together, getting familiar with the car and learning how to do things at Team Menard," Sumner said. Down in Rockwall, Texas, TeamXtreme stayed extremely busy over the winter, general manager John Lopes said. First, the 30,000 square-foot shop was totally gutted, repainted and made "more worker friendly," Lopes said. Second, the crew for second-year driver Airton Dare of Brazil was reconstructed. Mark Weida has reassumed the engineer's position. Derrick Stephan, who was with Jeret Schroeder last season, has joined the team as crew chief. Ray Sorenson, former crew chief for Michael Andretti, has taken on the team manager role, allowing Lopes to concentrate more on the general manager's duties. Bruce Rust -- a full-time pharmacist -- has rejoined the team as Dare's lead mechanic. Kenny Vaughn is a new full-time fabricator. Andy Woods, once mechanic for Jack Clark and Kenny Bernstein in NHRA, and vent man Ronnie DeHays -- world seniors racquetball champion -- also are new, while returnees include data engineer Jason Lucas, mechanic Danny Hunter and painter Scott Robinson. "Third, we've invested time, energy and resources to upgrade our motor program," Lopes said. The team will use motors prepared by RPM Engineering of Tempe, Ariz. "All of this is critical, because reviewing this year this is where the price of poker goes up," he said. TeamXtreme still is trying to raise sponsorship to run a second car for Jaques Lazier, Indy Racing champion Buddy Lazier's younger brother. A Feb. 17 deadline has been set, Lopes said. At Walker Racing, the major team change moves Robert Edwards, team manager and track engineer for Indy Racing driver Sarah Fisher last season, back to the CART end of the operation. Veteran French mechanic Gilbert Lage has been hired to work exclusively with Fisher. "Moving into our second year, we want the two teams more independent and in separate shops (same building)," team owner Derrick Walker said. "The schedule has forced us to do that." Dick Simon Racing will participate in the Test in the West with driver Stephan Gregoire. He said the long period between races has helped teams prepare better for when the season commences. "We're not throwing things together (for the former late January race at Walt Disney World Speedway)," he said. "Some people had new stuff, some had old. This allows everybody to be ready." Simon, who retains his basic crew headed by chief and son Rich Simon, received a new Dallara chassis two weeks ago. The team will bring it and last year's G Force to Phoenix this weekend, but Gregoire will concentrate mostly on checking out the Dallara to see how it compares with the G Force, Simon said. "This (season) is like the boxer who has been building to a peak and says, 'Let's go,'" Simon said. "If you're going to do any testing, you'd better do it before the first race. There won't be any time after that."