IRL: Rookies Wheldon, Yashukawa test at Michigan

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- If Andretti Green racing driver Dan Wheldon could take any lesson from his rookie season so far in the IRL IndyCar Series, it would be pretty simple. "I certainly learned at Indy that you want to keep it on all four wheels," ...

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- If Andretti Green racing driver Dan Wheldon could take any lesson from his rookie season so far in the IRL IndyCar Series, it would be pretty simple. "I certainly learned at Indy that you want to keep it on all four wheels," Wheldon joked, referring to his spectacular wreck in the closing laps of the Indianapolis 500.

Fellow rookies Wheldon and Roger Yasukawa learned a few more lessons on Tuesday as they turned over 160 combined laps at MIS in a Honda test session in preparation for the upcoming Michigan Indy 400 on July 27.

Wheldon, a 25-year old from Emberton, England, has two top-10 finishes in five races this season. It's only natural for the rookie to learn something new every time he gets behind the wheel of his Honda-powered car, and Tuesday's test session was no different.

"For me it's just good to be on this track even if there aren't any other cars on track and we're not working in traffic," said Wheldon. "If I've not been on a track that I'm going to race on, it's just good experience for me. When I come back for the race, everything isn't going to be completely new."

Yasukawa, IRL IndyCar Series rookie points-leader from Los Angeles, California is 13th overall in the IRL points standings with two top-10 finishes in seven races. He was clocked at speeds in excess of 220 mph in his first laps ever on the 2-mile MIS oval.

"The track surface is really smooth," said Yasukawa. "There were only two cars out there today so I ran by myself without any drafting help. We have the car where we like it, but when we come back here we'll have to work hard to get the balance right in traffic."

When the IRL Indycar Series returns to MIS on July 27, Yasukawa believes the test session could be the key to a successful weekend.

"When you go out there for the first practice session, you're already a step ahead of everyone else and you don't have to learn the track."

During last year's Inaugural IRL IndyCar Series race at MIS, fans saw a gaggle of cars swapping the lead several times during a stirring, wheel-to-wheel duel after a restart with 25 laps to go. Wheldon expects much of the same when the series returns to MIS in a couple of weeks and also knows he needs to learn to give and take with his fellow competitors.

"Certainly you'll see three-wide during different stages of the race. That's why you need to trust everyone and your car has to work well too. If you get forced down, you don't want to under steer towards the car that's running in the middle because he has nowhere to go. It's obviously respect and patience."

The Michigan Indy 400 -- along with events at Indianapolis and California -- are the longest events on the IRL IndyCar Series schedule. Even though they're rookies in the series, that fact isn't lost on either Wheldon or Yasukawa, who think that they know what it takes to finish up front at MIS.

"I think you just need to run in the front pack and position yourself for the end to give yourself a chance to win," said Wheldon. "The car needs to be good in traffic because you're certainly going to run into clusters of cars."

Pit strategy also plays an important role at MIS in the ultra-competitive IRL IndyCar Series.

"When you make pit stops it's important to make sure you make positive changes to the car, especially with the series the way that it is now. It's so competitive it's unbelievable. If you miss it by just a little bit you could end up 10th instead of third," added Wheldon.

Yasukawa has had some tough luck this season. In seven starts so far, he has had three DNF's, all of which happened as a result of an accident. He knows more than anybody that you need to stay out of trouble all day to be there for the final dash to the finish.

"It's going to take a lot of patience," said Yasukawa. " You have to be with the lead group throughout the race, but you don't actually want to be in the lead until the very end. It's going to be a fun race, but you have to be careful when you're that close with other drivers at 220 miles per hour."

Seats are still available for all remaining 2003 events at MIS, including the new mid-summer classic, the Michigan Indy 400. All seats for the Michigan Indy 400 are just $40. Fans can purchase a combination ticket for both Saturday and Sunday for only $50. The combo ticket includes the Saturday, July 26 Sears 200 along with the Sunday July 27 IRL IndyCar Series Michigan Indy 400 and the IRL Infiniti Pro Series race Michigan 100. Children 12 and under are free all weekend. To order tickets, visit MIS' official website, www.MISpeedway.com, or call the MIS ticket hotline at (800) 354-1010.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa