#51 Team Cheever Riley & Scott/Firestone/Infiniti 1998 Indy 500 winner, Eddie Cheever, Jr. comes to Walt Disney World Speedway to defend not only last year's race win, but also to attempt to become the event's first ever three-time winner. Racing in his hometown of Orlando, Cheever arrives with a completely new package: tires from Firestone, new 3.5 liter engine from Infiniti and a newly developed chassis from Riley & Scott.
On going for his third win at Walt Disney World Speedway "The two wins came to us in different ways, so it is hard to say. We were not dominant in the first one (1997) and we ended up profiting from the bad luck of others. In the second (1999), we were very dominant. We won last year because of intense winter preparation. This year, we are very late with our prime component, the car. Combine that with a new engine and new tires and you could say that we are still learning as we go. The lateness of the equipment has really put us, in my opinion behind the top three or four teams by at least a month and a half."
On the new Infiniti 3.5 engine "Last year, we were very fast but not reliable in the races. Because the "Indy 350" doesn't pay as much as the Indy 500, we changed our focus after May to building reliability and making it to the end of the race. Infiniti has made a lot of progress with their 3.5 engine and we believe we have made big strides on reliability to the point where we can refocus on issues of horsepower. As in all things, time will tell."
On the Firestone Tires "I put the relationship between the driver and the tires on the top of the list of things that have to work in a seamless and smooth manner. The trick lies in pushing them to the limit and not beyond. We are slowly learning how to make the most of our new Firestone tires. It is a completely different tire and it will be at least another thousand miles of testing in different conditions before we really have a handle on what they like and don't like."
On his brother, Ross Cheever, who is assisting the Testing Program "Not only has our team remained intact, but also we've have also added a very talented test driver to our mix. The reason behind this addition is two-fold. I cannot do all the testing that will be required if we are to have a bulletproof engine by the 84th Running of the Indy 500. Ross' credentials were too impressive to pass on. Being an understudy for Formula One in his early career, he comes from a similar background to last year's Indy 500 winner, Kenny Brack. Though transition from road courses to ovals can be difficult, Ross seems to be picking it up quickly. Team Cheever's goal is to run Ross at the 500 this year and if our plan works, he will have at least 2000 miles under his belt before he gets there. By the time he gets to Indy, our hope is that he will think it a cake walk compared to all the very vigorous workouts he will have done with us before then."