IRL: Steve Knapp has IRL Rookie Test




MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, (November 30, 1997) -- Putting proof to the old adage "there's no substitute for experience" 1996 US Formula Ford 2000 Champion and 1997 KOOL/Toyota Atlantic standout Steve Knapp made short work of mastering both Las Vegas Motor Speedway and his Indy Racing League Rookie Orientation.

Continuing his relationship with friend and mentor, John Miller and Miller Brothers Racing, and with additional support from a unique cast of more than a dozen "behind the scenes" supporters, Knapp's Rookie Orientation this past week was his first chance to showcase his ability behind the wheel of an Indy car, driving cousin Tom Knapp's Thomas Knapp Motorsports - Miller Milling Company Dallara at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's 1.5 mile tri-oval.

Designed to evaluate the driver's performance and abilities the Indy Racing League's Rookie Orientation stresses safety, consistency and control as the driver is observed during four, ten lap stages each with gradually increasing speeds. Stage One at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is between 175 and 180 MPH, Stage Two 180 to 185 MPH, Stage Three 185 to 190 MPH and Stage Four ten laps at an average speed of 190 MPH plus.

Under the supervision and guidance of the Indy Racing League's Brian Barnhart, and Thomas Knapp Motorsports driver Greg Ray, Knapp's budding Indy car career was initially off to an inauspicious beginning. On just his 6th lap during his familiarization run in the car, at just under 170 mph, Knapp lost a motor on the back straight as he entered turn three. A couple quick spins later Knapp had the car collected back up and other than minor damage to the nose was able to coast back to the pits to an impressed and appreciative crew.

"That was quite a ride" said a reserved Knapp. "The engine changed note and then I was into the corner. With the rear tires oiled I spun down to the bottom of the track and did a couple quick 360's. After the car nosed up and bumped off the wall I was able to coast back to my pit box. Afterwards everybody told me what a great job I did avoiding a big accident but it was really more a combination of luck and instinct. I'm just glad I was able to keep the car in one piece so we could complete my test."

Knapp's next chance behind the wheel came the following afternoon when at approximately 3:30 PM with shadows lengthening, Knapp was back on the track. Concerned over the fast approaching sunset, Knapp wasted no time getting up to speed.

After just four warm-up laps, and showing no signs of apprehension or concern over the previous days incident, Knapp radioed in "I'm ready, let's get this test started." Ten laps later, with a 10 lap average of 179.6 MPH, Stage One was complete. When asked how the car felt Knapp radioed back to an amused crew; "the car's really comfortable but it feel's like it could use more rebound in the left rear -- although it could just be because I'm going so slow." A quick splash of fuel and a confident Knapp was back on track. After a single warm-up lap, Stage Two was underway. Another 10 laps later, with an average speed just over 185 MPH, and Stage Two was complete.

A reminder about consistency from Tom Knapp and a few pointers from Greg Ray and Knapp was back out. Again a single warm-up lap and Stage Three had begun. Showing he'd paid attention to Tom's reminder, Knapp's next 8 laps were within 1 MPH of each other -- all the more impressive, as Brian Barnhart would tell Knapp, considering these laps were based on Knapp's feel alone, the result of an inoperative average lap speed display in the car. With an average speed of 188.2 MPH, Stage Three was in the books.

Another speedy servicing by the hard working and talented TKM crew and Knapp had fuel and a new set of tires as he began his final stage. A couple laps to scrub the fresh rubber, ten laps at an average of almost 195 MPH, a fast lap of 198.8 and an extra lap at 197.1 MPH "because I was just having too much fun" and Knapp was a qualified Indy car driver. In an impressive 56 laps over just 45 minutes, Steve Knapp's Indy Racing League Rookie Orientation was successfully complete. The first comment as a beaming and obviously elated Knapp climbed out of the car to a round of applause from the enthusiastic crew; "Thanks guys -- that was the most fun I've ever had!"

Asked his thoughts on his first time in the cockpit of an Indy car, Knapp commented; "My biggest asset going into this test was that my cousin Thomas [Knapp] was running the team. Being a blood relative and having grown up together our communication is at a level that's hard to find. I knew I could completely trust the car -- Tom and the whole TKM team are true professional's. I have to give Greg Ray my thanks as well -- Greg's shaking down the car and providing me with the advantage of his experience, insight and advice were really a big help."

Regarding whether the previous days incident was any concern, Knapp observed; "From my first lap in the car today it was just incredible. After yesterday's spin I had told Tom I was a little nervous. I knew time was running short though, and that I had to attack and do it early to get my confidence. The faster I went the more confidence I gained, I felt very comfortable. My experience on the ovals in the US FF2000 Series and last year in the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic cars was definitely a big help -- I knew exactly what to expect. Completing Stage Two I felt no hesitation about going faster -- I knew all it would take was to drive it in to the corners a little harder. For the final stage I got my first experience on fresh rubber and by the end I was having so much fun that Tom had to give me the not so subtle 'Pit NOW, Steve' message over the radio. My only genuine disappointment was that I couldn't have another run to really see how fast I could go!"

Asked to rate his cousin's inaugural Indy car excursion, Tom Knapp replied; "We entirely anticipated this kind of a strong, competent first outing. Not only did Steve adjust nearly immediately to the heavier and more powerful car, he was giving us technical feedback within his first few miles in the car. Even with the first day drama dealing with the spin he was always calm and confident -- his preparation and focus were really quite remarkable. All concerned felt it rather an excellent demonstration of Steve's ability and future potential."

"We're obviously delighted." noted Miller Brothers Racing team owner, John Miller. "Steve's accomplishment was certainly no surprise -- he did exactly what we've always expected of him. Steve's talent, commitment and maturity, as he's shown here with an impressive performance in his first Indy car opportunity, is why we continue to support him. Both Steve and the team have worked extremely hard these last several years to get us to this point. Completing Steve's Rookie Orientation has been another important and necessary step as we continue towards our goal of bringing Steve Knapp and the Miller Brothers Racing 'Flying M' to the Indianapolis 500."

Regarding what this next step in his professional racing career meant to him Knapp responded; "When the Indy Racing League was created I knew that the door to the Speedway was finally opening for me. I've said this a lot the last couple years but I still remind myself of it every day -- I am one of the luckiest guys around. Thanks to a great bunch of people who have believed in, helped, and supported me and to Tony George's vision and commitment to American racing by starting the Indy Racing League, I'm another step closer to realizing a dream I've had since a was a little kid -- to race in the Indy 500."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Steve Knapp , Tony George