PHOENIX, Friday, Feb. 2, 2001 - Since the Test in the West Feb. 9-10 at Phoenix International Raceway is the first major test session of = 2001 for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, participating teams will try to unlock the secrets of sheer...
PHOENIX, Friday, Feb. 2, 2001 - Since the Test in the West Feb. 9-10 at Phoenix International Raceway is the first major test session of = 2001 for the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, participating teams will try to unlock the secrets of sheer speed.
Most of them will, that is.
The balance between teams trying to find all-out, MBNA Pole-qualifying speed and those working on full-tank race setups in = traffic is one of the more fascinating aspects of the annual test session at = Phoenix International Raceway.
Teams always have different agendas during test sessions, and the two days of testing on the tricky, 1-mile desert oval at Phoenix are no different. But there is a common denominator for those who study the = time sheets: consistency.
Drivers who are consistently fast throughout the varying track temperatures and conditions during the two days of testing probably = will show similar speed during the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 on March = 18 at PIR, the Indy Racing Northern Light Series season opener.
1999 series champion Greg Ray and 2000 series champion Buddy Lazier should be among the fastest drivers during the test. Ray is a usual = suspect for big speed; Lazier is not.
Ray always looks toward the top of the speed charts in his Johns Manville/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. He won five MBNA Poles = last year, including the coveted top spot at the Indianapolis 500, and = earned one victory. Ray also has been among the fastest drivers during offseason testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Lazier, on the other hand, usually has concentrated on race setup with Hemelgarn Racing. It has served him well in the past, especially = at Phoenix. Lazier won at PIR last year after starting last in the field, = a first in Indy Racing history.
But offseason testing has shown a different, speedy side of Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing this winter. Lazier is the second-fastest driver = in offseason testing so far this year at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his = Delta Faucet/Tae-Bo/Coors Light/Hemelgarn Racing = Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.
For 2001, 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Lazier has targeted a second Indy win and the Northern Light Cup as goals for this season -- an unprecedented feat in Indy Racing Northern Light Series history. Maybe = he will take the fast lane, using pure speed, to try and accomplish those = goals this year.
There are plenty of other interesting subplots during the Test in the West, such as:
*The performance of Team Penske drivers Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves. Both Penske drivers will continue to become acclimated to Northern Light Series equipment as they prepare for the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 and the Indianapolis 500. It will be the first time that = the CART regulars will test with other Indy Racing drivers, so observers = will keep a keen eye on the time sheets.
*The performance of rookies Didier Andr=E9 and Casey Mears (Galles Racing), and Felipe Giaffone (Treadway-Hubbard Racing). All three = showed exceptional oval-racing skill in the Indy Lights series and could = surprise the veterans with speedy showings at this test.
*The performance of Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish, a rookie standout in 2000, has stepped into the coveted Panther Racing seat for his second = season in the Northern Light Series. Hornish isn't the only super sophomore to watch at the test. Second-year drivers Sarah Fisher and Airton Dar=E9 = also will participate.
*The performance of Al Unser Jr. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Unser is motivated to capture the Northern Light Cup during his second season in the series. Some of his toughest competition could come from within the Galles Racing team, as new teammates Didier Andr=E9 and = Casey Mears are two of Indy Racing's most promising rookies.
TEST IN THE WEST NOTEBOOK
Schedule: Testing will take place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 9-10 at Phoenix International Raceway.
For the fans: The main grandstand at Phoenix International Raceway will be open Feb. 10, free of charge, for spectators. Fans should enter = the track through Gate 7. An open autograph session featuring Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers will start at noon Feb. 10 on the front straightaway at = PIR.