IRL: Test in the West postscript

Rookies looking good; Infiniti boosts ranks INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Feb. 11, 2002 - Six Indy Racing League rookie drivers continued the learning process during the Test in the West on Feb. 5-9, with all making good progress, according to ...

Rookies looking good; Infiniti boosts ranks

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Feb. 11, 2002 - Six Indy Racing League rookie drivers continued the learning process during the Test in the West on Feb. 5-9, with all making good progress, according to three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford.

Rookies Tomas Scheckter, Laurent Redon, John de Vries, Anthony Lazzaro and Scott Mayer each turned laps at California Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway during the annual preseason test. George Mack tested Feb. 6 at California.

"They looked good," said Rutherford, who handles special projects for the league, including serving as a driver coach. "Everyone seemed to benefit a lot from their time in Fontana and Phoenix.

"Two or three of them learned quite a bit about what they are up against with these cars in this league. There were a couple that were outstanding and should have no trouble being competitive in this series."

Red Bull Cheever Racing test driver Scheckter obviously falls into that category. He was the fastest driver at California Speedway with a top lap of 221.952 mph in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. Scheckter also was in the top five overall both days at Phoenix.

"He shows a great deal of talent and the ability to adapt very quickly," Rutherford said of Scheckter, the 21-year-old son of 1979 Formula One World Champion Jody Scheckter.

***

Infiniti ranks growing: Four cars used the Infiniti Indy 35A engine during the Test in the West, double the number that used it during the 2001 Indy Racing League season.

Infiniti mainstays Eddie Cheever Jr. and Robbie Buhl continued to develop the 35A during the annual preseason test at California Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway, while Red Bull Cheever Racing test driver Tomas Scheckter and Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing rookie Laurent Redon also used Infiniti power.

The amount of preseason testing turned in by the Infiniti drivers is quite a contrast from last year, when the engine was released just before the season opener.

"When the 35A came out last year, we were very late due to re-engineering that was required for the engine to be competitive in 2001," Cheever said. "We only did about 200 miles of testing before we came here to Phoenix for the race. Now we are far ahead of the curve.

"Since the end of last season, we have a new electronics package, and we have done some modifications to help the reliability of the engine, making it overall a very strong package."

Said Buhl: "We got the engine Friday night of race weekend in Phoenix and ran it the first time on Saturday. We are light years ahead now. We have put a lot of miles on the engine since then, and it is now running trouble-free."

Cheever recorded the first victory for the 35A engine last July at Kansas Speedway. Since then, the Infiniti Indy 35A has been through a complete design review. Infiniti teams tested more than 5,000 miles during the winter, concentrating on a new electronics package and durability of core engine components.

In addition, simulation races on the dynamometer test bed at the TWR engine facility in Kidlington, England, far exceeded the miles logged on Infiniti engines during winter testing.

As a result, new updates will be provided for Infiniti teams this season that will further reduce the engine's center of gravity and significantly enhance horsepower and reliability.

"This engine showcases the best of Nissan engineering," said Bernard Dudot, Indy Racing program manager for Infiniti Motorsports. "I suspect that it will be the right engine to challenge for victory at the Indy 500, and all season long."

***

Firestone happy with test: Indy Racing drivers completed 9,261 miles combined during the Test in the West last week at California Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway, giving Firestone engineers plenty of information to use this year in development.

So far, that development is going just fine.

"We were very pleased with the way our tires worked on the superspeedway at Fontana and on the 1-mile oval at PIR," said Joe Barbieri, Firestone Racing project supervisor. "The teams came here to test different setups and evaluate results, so sessions like these can be very demanding on tires. They want to wring as much performance out of their machines as possible, so they push the envelope pretty hard in these workouts, seeing what works and what doesn't.

"Because the Firehawks are so consistent from set to set and from lap to lap, the teams were able to gather some really good information. We're certainly pleased to end a very aggressive testing session with so much positive feedback from teams and drivers about how well the tires worked, and how helpful the Firestone engineers were in providing information and support."

Said 2001 Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, one of the fastest drivers every day of the test: "The Firestone tires have lots and lots of grip right from the start, allowing you to fix every problem you have with understeer and oversteer. You're just stuck to the ground."

*** Watching the weather: Several Indy Racing League teams used weather instruments in their pit area that read wind speed and direction, humidity, and barometric pressure during the Test in the West. Team engineers incorporate this information when comparing track and wind-tunnel testing data since the wind tunnel is conducted in a controlled environment.

Drivers also check the weather constantly, even from the cockpit. They substitute old-fashioned powers of observation for sophisticated instruments when watching the weather from the driver's seat.

"There are two times you want to look at the flags before you go into a corner," Jaques Lazier said at Phoenix International Raceway. "One is going into Turn 1, where you look at the flags on top of the grandstands down the front straightaway. Then in the back straightaway, you look up on top of one of the timing stands where you can see the American flag up there. It's important because around here the wind has a tendency to switch around a little bit and kind of swirl inside the track. You just want to make sure that things are at least staying the same from one lap to the next."

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Eddie Cheever , Robbie Buhl , Helio Castroneves , Jaques Lazier  , Anthony Lazzaro , Laurent Redon , George Mack , John de Vries , Scott Mayer , Jody Scheckter , Johnny Rutherford
Teams Conquest Racing