IPS: A day of firsts at Indy

Thursday, March 24th was a day of many firsts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was the first time the cars of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series (MIPS) were run on a road course. It was the first time the fresh new pavement on the oval...

Thursday, March 24th was a day of many firsts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was the first time the cars of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series (MIPS) were run on a road course. It was the first time the fresh new pavement on the oval portion of the legendary circuit was used in anger. It was the first time Marco Andretti, son and grandson of open-wheel legends Michael and Mario Andretti respectively, drove on the circuit that helped to etch his surname into the annals of racing history. It was also the first time that Marco ran one of the IPS cars. Furthermore, it was the first time Marco was on track with another famous son and grandson, the youngest Al Unser.

The MIPS test at Indianapolis gave the teams a chance to not only prepare for their first road course race at St. Petersburg, FL on April 3rd, but also for their gig as a support race for the U.S. Formula One Grand Prix in June. The proceedings were originally slated to begin at 8:30 AM, but didn't officially get underway until an hour later due to low track temperatures. Andretti was the first to hit the track, but only managed 19 laps before breaking a drive shaft that would put him out until the afternoon session. More cars went out as the bright sunshine warmed up the road surface, and it wasn't long before the drivers were pushing the limits in search of more speed.

Jeff Simmons set the fastest time of the day in the #24 Team ISI car with a 1:25.82, over a second faster than his nearest rival. He also ran the most laps, finishing the day with 71 tours. "We've had a long, busy day with our testing program because this is our last test before St. Pete," he said. "Some of the other teams will go to Sebring and get more time, but we're not, so we had to run a lot of laps today to stay ahead of them."

Chris Festa was second best with a time of 1:27:00, while Marco Andretti used the encouragement and advice of Michael and Mario to turn out a 1:27.03. "To be honest, this is the best car I've driven so far, obviously, but I think it's the most fun. This morning was a little slick with the track temperature being so cold; but it came in and is a lot better now. The only place the car lacks is in the braking, but everywhere else it's fun. I guess the game plan now is just to trim out as much as we can for the straightaway speed; but at this place it's all about mechanical grip and just trying to lay the wings down as much as you can."

New Zealand's Wade Cunningham looked solid all day and put together the fourth best time, a 1:27.33, for the Brian Stewart Racing Team. His teammate, Al Unser, was fifth with a 1:27.81. "It's lots of fun out there," Unser enthused. "It's just real slick. You're hauling butt through the corners just totally sideways. It's great to finally get these cars going sideways and feeling confident about it. Going sideways during the oval is not very much fun. But I was having a blast, you know. I had the same problem Marco did. I broke a drive shaft, too, but right before lunch. So we can get it fixed, and hopefully I didn't lose too much time."

The Infiniti powered, Firestone shod Dallaras, originally designed for an all-oval series, looked surprisingly well adapted to running on a road course. They appeared relatively stable under braking, and seemed quick and responsive through the corners despite many complaints of a nagging understeer. Some of the drivers were clearly more at home turning both right and left as it was the first time on a road course for a few of them, but on the whole it was clear that the day was a success for everyone involved in the MIPS series.

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Mario Andretti , Marco Andretti , Jeff Simmons , Chris Festa , Wade Cunningham , Al Unser