IRL: This is only a test, please stay tuned!

IRL: This is only a test, please stay tuned!

INDIANAPOLIS, April 22, 2003 - Just a month from now it will be Carburetion Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the final tune-up for the 33 cars, drivers and the teams that have qualified to run the 87th Indianapolis 500 Mile ...

INDIANAPOLIS, April 22, 2003 - Just a month from now it will be Carburetion Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the final tune-up for the 33 cars, drivers and the teams that have qualified to run the 87th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Tomas Scheckter.
Photo by Hiroshi Yamamura.
To get to race day on May 25th, however, teams have to start with a good baseline setup for the 2.5-mile oval that's legendary for its changing conditions. And the weather was part and parcel of today's test, as 14 different car/driver combinations took to the Brickyard. When they began, it was cold (temps in the 40s), windy and cloudy. In fact, at the noon lunch break, the track temperature peaked at 53 degrees.

Those aren't the best circumstances under which to test but, as Scott Sharp and the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota crew noted, it was a good morning to shake down their car. "If this were the Thursday before Pole Day, it would be another story altogether," Sharp said. "You know, I'm really surprised how smooth the track is, considering last winter was so bad. It feels really good," he remarked with a smile.

It's silly to look at the fast times posted in a test of this type, because teams normally have a program to chase and rarely, particularly in weather of this type, go for a qualifying time. Just the same, Tomas Scheckter was quickest in the morning session in his #10 Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, lapping above 223mph despite the cold and wind. Scheckter neared the 225mph mark at 3:45pm CDT.

"I joined this team because they've won before. We're staying at it today to make sure we've got a good race car [for the month of May]. We'll look at our data and do stuff to get a feel for how it all works." Scheckter is really starting to become a member of this very tight team and, in fact, owner Chip Ganassi was on the premises during the midday break, laughing with Scheckter, team director Mike Hull and engineer Bill Pappas as they relaxed during the downtime.

"This is starting to feel like home, particularly after Japan. With Scott we can go to one another to find things," Tomas said. "I'm finding it's how you react with pressure that matters and we were on pace all weekend [at Twin Ring Motegi]. We needed that for our confidence," he noted.

"Tomas is the kind of driver we like at Team Target; someone who is on the edge is the kind of guy who will win a lot of races," Hull thinks Scheckter is "enormously talented and he's gaining confidence with the guys. We really work hard here at Team Target, as a team. We may have two drivers but this is one team. Scott [Dixon] learned that last year. We push and support each other and Tomas is discovering the immense amount of support he has in this building [the Ganassi Racing shops] and at Target.

"He's learning how good he can be in our system. Some drivers don't want the comfort in their lives [that Team Target offers]. Sometimes, when they lose their edge it's over for them. We want to retain that edge for Tomas and everyone on our team from the office staff to the folks who sweep the floor. We're working to keep that sharpness," Hull explained.

Scott Dixon.
Photo by Anne Proffit.
During the afternoon session the walking wounded came to call, including Target driver Scott Dixon, who began his therapy treatment on Monday for injuries sustained in a late race crash with Tony Kanaan. As Scheckter worked out Dixon's #9 Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, the Kiwi hung out with his crew and noted his determination to be in his car for the first week of Indy 500 practice.

Concerning the mass of destructive accidents at Twin Ring Motegi, New Zealander Dixon had a theory. "Some of the CART guys were kind of caught out, as they'd never been able to run at the top of the track before (using the wing configurations decreed by that organization). There, if you stayed up high, you'd be in the wall but in these cars, you can run at the top."

Things will be different at Indy next month, Dixon believes, because there are more grooves available to drivers on this fairly flat track, unlike the two racing lines in Japan. "I hope to be able to turn some laps the first week of practice," he said. Dixon has seven shattered bones in his right wrist and hand and is grateful they are all in-line. While he's wearing a cast and brace on his hand and wrist right now, he'll be fitted with a special flexible brace when he's cleared to drive at the Speedway.

What difficulties does Dixon expect? "Vibration in the car will give me the most trouble, I believe, but I don't think shifting will be too bad." He's doing two hours of physical therapy each day, mostly stretching and trying not to do too much movement of the affected areas.

In the afternoon, temperatures began to creep up a bit, thanks to the appearance of sunshine at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Track temps rose to nearly 86 degrees around 3:30pm CDT, yet air temps remained in the low 50s.

Dario Franchitti was also on-site to give encouragement to Dan Wheldon, the rookie driving a #26 Jim Beam-sponsored Dallara/Honda for Andretti Green Racing.

Max Papis and Dario Franchitti.
Photo by Anne Proffit.
Franchitti, undergoing therapy in Indianapolis will head for his regular therapist's lair in Austria next week to take on specific exercises that will aid a speedier recovery from the motorcycle accident that took him out of the Twin Ring Motegi round, the 87th Indianapolis 500 and, it's expected, much of the June IndyCar Series schedule. The MV Agusta he was riding had just been serviced and the Scot still shakes his head over the circumstances that caused the bike to throw him off, much like a finicky horse.

Wearing a brace around his middle and up the plane of his back, Franchitti says he can do most anything but drive a race car in anger. It will take at least a month for his fractured back's bones to harden and, if he got into a car before being completely healed and had an accident affecting that area of his body, the damage would be far more severe.

Max Papis was also on hand to take in the test, the Italian looking for a good car to drive at Indy, without an open wheel drive since Sigma Motorsports exited the CART series early last year. He's running sports cars, but Max is a died-in-the-wool open wheeler, so this is where he wants to be. He claims to have spoken with Eddie Cheever but is unsure of the 1998 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner's plans and, when asked about substituting for Franchitti at Andretti Green Racing, responded that the list was more than 500 names long! An exaggeration, perhaps, but not that far off the mark.

Tony Kanaan was absent this Tuesday, having called at the Brickyard during yesterday's Rookie Orientation Program. He was wearing a full cast on his left arm and limped noticeably. The Brazilian's smile and his will to return in time for the first week of qualifying were both evident. He stuck around in the cold and chatted with his Andretti Green and Honda race engineers.

Another day of testing is scheduled for Wednesday, with events both days wrapping at 6pm Central time.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Eddie Cheever , Scott Sharp , Max Papis , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Chip Ganassi , Mike Hull , Jim Beam
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing