CUNNINGHAM THIRD FASTEST IN INDY PRO SERIES TEST Defending series champion Wade Cunningham emerged with the third fastest Indy Pro Series lap time at the Indy Racing League's big Open Test at Florida's Homestead-Miami oval yesterday I(NZ ...
CUNNINGHAM THIRD FASTEST IN INDY PRO SERIES TEST
Defending series champion Wade Cunningham emerged with the third fastest Indy Pro Series lap time at the Indy Racing League's big Open Test at Florida's Homestead-Miami oval yesterday I(NZ time).
Aucklander Cunningham, 20, set a best lap time round the high-speed 2.2 km oval of 28.7246, just 0.1920 of a second slower than second fastest qualifier Jamie Camara and 0.2508 of a second behind fastest qualifier, Jay Howard.
The other young New Zealand driver in the field, 23-year-old Christchurch driver Matthew Hamilton, set the 12th fastest time with a lap of 29.1792.
The test was the first big hit-out for drivers competing in the 2006 Indy Racing League (IRL) and Indy Pro Series (IPS)series with a 'road-course' test on Saturday and the oval on Monday (both US time).
Last year's IPS runner-up Jeff Simmons set the fastest IPS lap time on the 3.54km 'road' course (made up of the straights from the oval course and a purpose-built left/right turn 'infield' section at Homestead) setting a best time of 1.16.4130. Second fastest was 2005 US Star Mazda champion Rafeal Matos, third, Jonathan Klein.
Cunningham was vying with Simmons for the fastest lap time in the morning, but hit the wall early in the first afternoon session and had to sit out the rest of the test. Despite that his best morning time still saw him fifth fastest, just over half a second shy of Simmon's best time, but still 0.1751 faster than Howard.
Matthew Hamilton had a trouble-free day to log the ninth fastest time with a 1.18.3676.
The Homestead test saw record numbers of IPS car/driver combinations test, with 14 on Saturday and a series best-ever 17 on Monday.
Commenting on the test after Monday's oval run Cunningham said;
"It wasn't too bad. We had a list of things to get through and we did most of them. Today we were trying to build car speed in the morning so we didn't often work in the draft then we sort of struggled in the afternoon. In saying that it's difficult when you're making changes in these conditions because when it gets hot like it did in the middle of the day today the track gets slipperier and the tyres go off and the car might be better but it is not reflected in the times."
And commenting on the new-look Indy Pro Series the 2005 champion said;
"It's good. Last year when I arrived I was the odd one out because I had come from a kart and road course rather than a US oval track background. But this year, look at it, there are two reigning US road course series champions in Jay Howard (US FF2000) and Rapheal Matos (Star Mazda), and we have guys like Matthew (Hamilton) coming in from the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand. The top six this year is going to be as strong as the top six in any single-seater racing championship in the world so it's not going to be easy defending the 2005 title that's for sure."
Over the off-season there have been several changes in team and driver lineups with Cunningham one of the few drivers to stay with a team - in his case Brian Stewart Racing - for a second year.
Florida-based Englishman Jay Howard has replaced Travis Gregg at Sam Schmidt Racing, with Gregg going to new team Guthrie Racing, who also look like signing the highly rated Brazilian Rapheal Matos.
Sam Schmidt Racing's number 2 driver in 2005, Brazilian Jamie Camara has moved to Andretti Green Racing, where this year he will drive alongside series newcomer Jonathan Klein. And Matthew Hamilton is running for a new team run by expat New Zealander Dave McMillan.
The Indy Pro Series is the main support category for the Indy Racing League, the premier open-wheeler category in the United States. The series, which pits drivers of 3.5 litre V8 Nissan engined Dallara single-seaters against each other on oval and road courses is the main feeder category for the IRL and every race is beamed into 88 million US homes on ESPN2.
This year's new-look schedule includes the two new 'double-header' meetings (at St Petersburg in Florida and Infineon Raceway in Northern California) and again supports both the Indy 500 and the US Formula 1 Grand Prix (which runs on a purpose-built road course inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway).
Florida hosts the first round at the Homestead-Miami oval on Sunday March 26.