PHOENIX, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2000 - Stephan Gregoire and Dick Simon Racing produced a consistent - and fast - weekend at Phoenix International Raceway as they sat atop the time chart Feb. 26, the final day of the Northern Light Indy Racing Series...
PHOENIX, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2000 - Stephan Gregoire and Dick Simon Racing produced a consistent - and fast - weekend at Phoenix International Raceway as they sat atop the time chart Feb. 26, the final day of the Northern Light Indy Racing Series "Test in the West" at Phoenix International Raceway. Gregoire set the fastest speed Saturday when he posted a lap of 20.647 seconds, 174.359 mph early in the first morning practice. That lap backed up his performance Friday, which his best lap of 20.831, 172.819 ended up second to Mark Dismore's 20.638, 174.436 - the best lap of the two-day test.
"The whole team is really pleased with our 'Test in the West,'" Gregoire said. "We ran well at Las Vegas, and now I have a fast car here at Phoenix. It's been a great test for my team, and we are looking forward to the race at Phoenix next month." The MCI WorldCom Indy 200 is March 19 at the 1-mile oval at PIR. Defending Northern Light Indy Racing Series champion Greg Ray, after setting the second fastest lap of the day, 20.844, 172.712, crashed in his primary Conseco-Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone in the morning session. At 10:25 a.m. (MST), Ray's machine backed into the Turn 4 wall, suffering extensive damage. He climbed from his car uninjured. Ray's accident was the first of the three-day, rain-shortened "Test in the West," Feb. 22 at Las Vegas at Feb. 25-26 at Phoenix, but it was not the last. Late in the afternoon, rookie Sarah Fisher crashed in The Cummins Special fielded by Walker Racing. The Riley & Scott chassis suffered moderate damage from the contact with the Turn 2 wall. Fisher was uninjured. "Coming out of Turn 2, the whole car started washing up from the middle of the corner," said Fisher. "I should've given the car another lap or so to warm up because the tires were three to four PSI from being the optimum of where we wanted them to be at. So, obviously the tires were cold and weren't really ready to go, and I just pushed the button too soon, and it hurt me." Rookie Sam Hornish Jr. continued his impressive "Test in the West" as he finished the day in the top 10. His lap of 21.136, 170.326 mph was produced in a year-old G Force chassis fielded by PDM Racing. Dismore recorded the third fastest lap of the day with a circuit of 20.929, 172.010, in the Bryant Heating & Cooling-On Star Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Last year's Phoenix winner, Scott Goodyear, and A.J. Foyt Enterprises driver Eliseo Salazar followed Dismore.
AL UNSER JR. (#3 Galles ECR Racing Tickets.com Starz): "This track holds a lot of memories for me, both on the track and off. I watched my family race here since I was a young boy, and I raced Indy Cars here for over 10 years. I know this track very well, and I am excited to get back here and do some racing in March. If I had a home track, this would be it. We learned a lot about the car this week, but it was also a bit frustrating because we only had 45 minutes between sessions. We just kept taking stabs at the setups with each session, which is not the most ideal situation for testing. But the alternative to that is not great because there would be too many cars on the track if we just ran together all day. The IRL always keeps safety at the forefront of every event, which is why they split the sessions today and yesterday. I think they made the right decision."
EDDIE CHEEVER (#51 Team Cheever-Firestone-Infiniti): "We are doing a lot of mileage with the Infiniti engine. That's what (brother) Ross (Cheever) worked on yesterday and what I am doing today. So, we will have the same engine in for most of the test. We are still trying to figure out how to make the Riley & Scott chassis work. We get one thing better and then something else gets worse. I think we are missing the boat on something. It is not the best of our test. We will continue our test tomorrow and may try to return here before the race. Between now and the next test, we are still 60 to 70 pounds overweight, so Riley & Scott is working on the bellhousing and some other pieces to try to take some weight out of the car. Right now, I don't think the weight is our biggest hindrance; it's mostly with handling. We got the cars for Orlando very late and didn't do a lot of testing. We did a lot better than we expected to do in the race. Our car was very strong at the end of the race, but we had a lot of handling problems up to the last full tank. Right now I would say we are not where we should be in our preparations for Phoenix. The car is not handling the way it should be, but that is what testing is about, and we are going to see if we can find our way through it. We have not been able to find the magical trend with this car. I don't understand it, and Owen (Snyder) doesn't understand it, whereas other teams that are running it have found it." (About the testing work done by his younger brother, Ross): "Ross is responsible for a lot of the endurance testing for Nissan Infiniti. The reason we divided the two things is that I can concentrate on bits and pieces they change in the engine for performance and how the car is handling. He can get in the car and just do miles and miles and get the right sort of feedback. We needed a driver that could be as aggressive as I am and not pussyfoot around. He has done a very good job. His job is not to be fast every day, his job is to be consistent and give good information and be able to run like a workhorse all day long. If he continues to do well, we might put him in the car for Las Vegas if the 35A engine is ready. If that goes well, we would like to run him at Indy. Hopefully, by that time, he will have done up to 3,000 miles of testing, which will really help him."
TYCE CARLSON (#20 Hubbard-Immke Racing): "We focused today on trying different wing angles and seeing how they effect the car both in traffic and running and alone. Since we know how fast we can be in a qualifying situation, our main concern is getting a decent setup going so we can apply that to the race. Our overall expectations for the two-day test were to be in the top five, and we were fourth yesterday and fifth today. So, that aspect went well. With time still left today, we could probably be in the top two if we wanted to, but right now we need to learn more about race conditions than we do about qualifying, so that's the direction we've headed. Once again, the guys have done a terrific job preparing the car. Greg Beck has done a great job engineering it, and the equipment has been super-reliable. There's no reason we shouldn't do very, very well when we return for the race in a few weeks."
SARAH FISHER (#5 The Cummins Special) (Before crash):"We work just working on a small change in the front, and then we were going to do some pit stops after that, focus on pit stops. I've never done that (pit stops) before and won't still for a while. (After crash, on condition of the car): It's fixable. It will definitely see how Riley & Scott is responsive to something like this. We'll see how quickly we can turn it around."
MARK DISMORE (#28 Bryant Heating & Cooling-On Star): "We've learned a lot at this test this week. I was here a few weeks ago and did well, so we are just concentrating on making a list of what works and what doesn't and making sure we don't throw away either list! We want to make sure we don't repeat any mistakes since this track goes through a lot of changes in a day."
STEPHAN GREGOIRE (#7 Dick Simon Racing-Mexmil-Tokheim-Viking Air Tools): "We wanted to go fast in the first session. The wind is in a different direction today, and it makes Turns 3 and 4 more difficult. But, my car is fast again today, top speed is faster than yesterday, and I am very pleased how fast we went. Buy my car was getting a little loose and so we will spend the rest of today on our race setup and running with full tanks. This is my best test ever. We accomplished a lot. We proved we can go fast. I think we will be very competitive in the IRL this season. We stayed fastest today, which makes me very happy. When we come back to Phoenix to race, we will be ready."
BUZZ CALKINS (#12 Bradley Food Marts/Sav-O-Mat): "I think we got some stuff done from a race car perspective and trying to make it comfortable. We weren 't the quickest, but that is something we could work on over the race weekend. I feel very comfortable in the car."
SCOTT SHARP (#8 Delphi Automotive Systems-MCI WorldCom): "We're really running pretty good here. Mark (Dismore) ran here a few weeks ago, and I feel like he is a step ahead of us. But overall I think we are catching back up, and we have a really good race car. The conditions change so quickly at this track due to weather and tire wear, so I feel we are chasing everybody a bit."
SCOTT GOODYEAR (#4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara): "We continue to learn more about the overall setup of the car. And so far, we're generally pleased with its response. At Orlando, we found problems in how the car handled in traffic. So, we're working hard, pin-pointing the correct setup that will solve those problems."
ELISEO SALAZAR (#11 Rio A.J. Foyt Racing): "It went very well. We didn't do Las Vegas, just Phoenix. This was the first test with the team because we went straight to Disney World without any testing. It was fun to work with A.J. in a more relaxed atmosphere than a race weekend. We made gear changes and are very happy with our results."
RONNIE JOHNCOX (#30 Jonathan's Byrd's Cafeteria-McCormack Motorsports) (About competing against Andy Michner for the seat): "It hasn't been too bad. You know, I think probably more has been made of it than what's really there. (Co-owners) Jonathan (Byrd) and Dennis (McCormack) have been really good. There's no pressure on us in the sense that we have to go out and prove something. We're just trying to work on making the racecar better. I think hopefully we'll end up with a better race car on race day."
DENNIS McCORMACK (Co-owner, Jonathan Byrd-McCormack Motorsports): "The last two test sessions, at Vegas and here, running three different drivers has been enjoyable. It helped us evaluate all three drivers, who are all very, very talented. It's good to see what their demeanor is from day to day as we move on, how they compose themselves and what their feedback is. I can't say enough about all thee of them. They've done a good job. We've ended up only running Andy (Michner) and Ronnie (Johncox) today. And, in all fairness, we had trouble with Derek (Higgins) yesterday. We had an oil-leak problem, and Derek actually backed out himself and said 'Those two have more miles and are more likely to make the race for Phoenix.'" That's what we've been doing today, evaluating the difference between Ronnie and Andy. It's a hard decision. They're both very talented. Who ever we pick, I hope someone else picks up the other, or we would like to pick them up in a second car when we get that going. I would say that Jonathan and I would probably decide (between Johncox and Michner) over the next couple of days. We'll evaluate what we've seen, sit down with the crew and engineer, and come here with who we think is the better of the two drivers."
ROBBIE BUHL (#24 Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing): "This is really the first opportunity we've had to try things on the car. That's what we did yesterday and today. It challenges you a little bit because I have to be patient with the things we are trying. We've made good headway. We are just trying to learn as much as we can about our car. When we are done here, we will piece it all together, and I think we will have a good racecar. I feel really confident heading toward the Phoenix race. Our focus in Orlando was to have a good racecar, and that worked out very well for us. That is our main mission here. I would like to go out there and see what we could do about going faster but we are focusing on the car."
DONNIE BEECHLER (#98 Big Daddy's Sauces-Race Car Cafe Las Vegas): "We haven' t set any track records, but I'm real happy with Darrell Soppe, our team's new engineer. Vegas was our first test with him. He's got a plan for us. We' ve changed crew chiefs and engineers so many times in the last two years, we just really need somebody with us long enough to allow us to jell, and I think we've found him. You have to be out and doing these tests. We've tested more this year already than we did all together over the last two years. And naturally, with the competition that's in the IRL, if you don't stay right with those guys are even test more than they do, you're going to fall behind."
BUDDY LAZIER (#91 Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing): "We broke a motor this morning, but we were really lucky to keep it off the wall since it happened right in the middle of Turns 3 and 4. My guys pulled off a miracle and did what should have been a six-hour motor change in two, and we were right back out there. I really think the new cars and motors are just phenomenal. It makes for great race cars, and the field is just so close We are all able to run flat out-and at this track-running wide open is nothing but awesome!"
JEFF WARD (#14 Harrah's A.J. Foyt Racing): "We had problems yesterday with our motor, so we only had about 30 laps. We didn't really accomplish much. Today, we are pretty comfortable. We had to put a different motor in, and it is not really for a short track. It was really laboring off the corners. It' s kind of frustrating because we are kind of down on power. It's not too bad, but not as strong as what Eliseo (Salazar) has. We have a good car, and we are real happy with what we have. I like this race. I was on the pole here in '98 and finished second last year. I like this track, and we have a good team led by A.J. We should be better off on race weekend."
ROBBY McGEHEE (#55 Energizer Advanced Formula-Energizer Motorsports): "We're are shaking down a brand new car here, and I think we are doing well. We've encountered a few mechanical problems, but that is to be expected with a new chassis. This has been a very worthwhile test, and we feel like we are right on track with a great racecar. We are going for those extra tenths to get ahead for race day."
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