IRL: Nashville: Team Penske pit notes

Marlboro Team Penske prepares for the final night race of the season. When Marlboro Team Penske heads into the Firestone Indy 200 this weekend at Nashville Superspeedway it will mark the Team's fifth consecutive race on a new track. ...

Marlboro Team Penske prepares for the final night race of the season.

When Marlboro Team Penske heads into the Firestone Indy 200 this weekend at Nashville Superspeedway it will mark the Team's fifth consecutive race on a new track. Furthermore, the race on Saturday night will be just the third night race for the Team and the third of five two-day events. While each of these factors present a different challenge, Marlboro Team Penske has been working hard to tackle each element as they prepare for their debut in Music City.

Not only have 2001 & 2002 Indianapolis 500 Winner Helio Castroneves and teammate 2000 & 2001 National Champion Gil de Ferran tested at Nashville, but they were able to test at different times in the year - Castroneves in November and de Ferran just last week - and throughout the day and evening. The goal was to run the cars under various track conditions to simulate any possible condition they may encounter during the race. With Castroneves and de Ferran one and two in the Indy Racing League (IRL) Championship point standings and only eight points separating them and nineteen points to third place Sam Hornish Jr., this weekend will be a pivotal point in the 2002 IRL Championship hunt.

While Marlboro Team Penske is gearing up for the third night race of the season, here's a look at how the Team has done under the lights this season:

*Two top-five finishes (de Ferran - 2nd in Richmond; Castroneves - 4th in Texas)

*One front row sweep (Richmond - de Ferran on pole)

*Led four times for a total of 171 laps (de Ferran won the Marlboro Lap Leader Award for most laps led in Richmond)

*101 total points earned

*Both drivers have been running at the end of each race

Marlboro Team Penske'S thoughts on the challenges they will face this weekend.

"I like night races, but like anything there are pros and cons," said Castroneves. "The good thing is that we don't have to deal with the high heat and humidity, but the difficult thing is that visually everything is not as sharp as it is during the day. This is our first season racing at night so Marlboro Team Penske has tried to test at night to simulate race conditions as closely as possible. I tested at night before the Texas race, which was helpful for us. My teammate, Gil (de Ferran), tested at night last week in Nashville so we have some data going into this weekend."

"Issues such as changing track conditions or finding the right set-up are not more difficult for night races compared to day races. The biggest challenge is the shortened, two-day schedule that usually accompanies the night races because we have less time to work on the racecar," said Andy Borme, Castroneves' Race Engineer. "We have to zero in on both race and qualifying set-ups then go directly into qualifying on the first day, whereas with a three day schedule we can focus on race set-up only on the first day, work on qualifying the second day, then go racing the third day. All of the teams are in the same position, so Marlboro Team Penske needs to make sure we've got a game plan for the weekend and do our best to execute it."

"For me, the number one challenge that I face during a night race is adjusting my vision to the dark conditions," explains de Ferran. "While the track is illuminated, the look of the circuit is very different from that of a day race. There is nothing that can be done about it, you just have to get used to it and adjust visually to the nighttime conditions. Another adjustment I make in order to prepare for a night race is that I slide my internal clock later and later. Since we race at night, it's important to stay up later during the evenings preceding the race - which also allows me to wake up later. I also eat my meals later, shifting breakfast, lunch and dinner further into the day in order to get used to the timing of the event. We had the opportunity to test at Nashville Superspeedway during all times of the day, so it was effective in giving us an understanding of how the track conditions will change over the course of the race."

"The only thing that makes this different than a day race is that you need to be concerned about the drop in track and ambient temperature over the duration of the race," said Tom German, de Ferran's Race Engineer. "When the track temperature begins to fall, the handling of the car changes. While the ambient temperature may only fall ten degrees after the sun goes down, the track temperature can drop thirty degrees, which really affects the way the car handles. In order to combat the change in temperature, we'll have to adjust the car with things like changes to the tire pressures and wing configuration. We were able to test here at times throughout the day, so we're prepared with a number of different conditions we're likely to encounter on race day."

-mtp-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske