IRL revs up the crowd in Sparta

Drivers find bumpy road in
preparation for August race.

By Don Ward

SPARTA, Ky. (June 20, 2003) – Sixteen Indy Racing League drivers tested their cars June 20 at the Kentucky Speedway's "Open Test in the Bluegrass" in between meeting and greeting hundreds of area fans, but the big story of the day turned out to be the track, not the drivers.

Scott Dixon in car

Photo by Don Ward

Indy Car driver Scott Dixon on pit row.

After the morning session, the drivers met with the press to discuss the bumpy track conditions, especially in Turns 1 and 2 – an unexpected factor for the fourth annual Belterra Casino Indy 300, scheduled for Aug. 17.
"It's bumpy, but it's bumpy for everybody, so we'll just adjust the car the best we can to the conditions we find today and try to gain some speed," said 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran, who added that the track conditions were "surprising," given the smoothness of the track last year. He was third in series points as of June 20, behind leaders Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon.

Al Unser Jr. signs

Photo by Don Ward

Al Unser Jr. signs autographs.

De Ferran's teammate, Helio Castroneves, fourth in points, said his team had to rest the car once and start all over again. And with the closeness the cars run to each other, he worried about the safety of drivers if they become aggressive and then hit a bump in the turn.
"Last year we were running two and three wide, and there were some great battles going on in the turns," he said. "We race so close to each other all the time, and if you hit a bump, it might push you to the outside (and cause a crash). We'll just have to pay close attention "
Kenny Brack, a Swede who left the IRL for the CART Series and has now returned, said the track conditions will be the same for everybody. "We'll just take a different approach to the setup of the car."
Brack agreed that the bumpiest area of the track were Turns 1 and 2. Kentucky Speedway vice president and general manager Mark Cassis said those areas were the shadiest parts of the track and the last to get sun each day. The extreme warm and cold conditions last winter and springs caused the asphalt to change. Turns 1 and 2 were the last to thaw after each freeze.
Also, because the track sits below ground level, it tends to retain moisture underneath longer.
Cassis said they would discuss the situation with IRL officials but did not expect to make any significant changes, considering the track has been repaved twice and it was smoothed down as late as April, just prior to the season opener in May.
"We know we had a little rigidity in Turns 1 and 2, and we know how sensitive these Indy cars are. Thats part of the track and the challenge," Cassis said. "Today, we've seen speeds of 218-219, so these cars can adjust. The stock cars did fine, but that's why we ran today's test (with the Indy cars)."
He added that safety would be a primary concern, and that "if it comes to it, we'll adjust, and the speeds may come down."

Gil deFerran

Photo by Don Ward

Gil deFerran takes a short break.

Al Unser Jr., who was fifth points, said of the track, "I feel it's caught us by surprise. Tracks do change from year to year, but I don't think any of the drivers expected that."
Like the others, Unser said his team would adjust accordingly and "just try to work with what we've got and make the best of it."
Castroneves, last year's Indy 500 winner, said he was glad to have had the opportunity to test at Kentucky in preparation for the August race. "The speeds might not be too 220 mile per hour right now, but it's fast enough to get your attention. It's good to work on your qualifying speed and to come here early and practice."
Rookie Dan Wheldon posted the fastest speed of the day. Wheldon, driving teammate Dario Franchitti's No. 27 Archipelago-Motorola Dallara-Honda-Firestone, turned a lap of 24.0392 seconds, 221.638 mph. Franchitti will miss the remainder of the 2003 season due to upcoming back surgery, Andretti Green Racing officials announced June 19. The replacement driver has not been announced.

Kentucky Speedway Open
Test Speeds, June 20, 2003

No. Driver Car Time Speed Laps
1. Dan Wheldon (R), 24.0392, 221.638, 117
2. Scott Dixon, 24.1575, 220.553, 133
3. Tony Kanaan, 24.1920, 220.238, 146
4. Tomas Scheckter, 24.1977, 220.186, 137
5. Gil de Ferran, 24.2527, 219.687, 168
6. Kenny Brack, 24.2599, 219.622, 154
7. Felipe Giaffone, 24.3191, 219.087, 136
8. Greg Ray, 24.3298, 218.991, 103
9. Helio Castroneves, 24.4023, 218.340, 173
10. Al Unser Jr., 24.4750, 217.692, 109
11. A.J. Foyt IV (R), 24.4755, 217.687, 121
12. Tora Takagi, 24.5513, 217.015, 85
13. Roger Yasukawa (R), 24.5648, 216.896, 122
14. Vitor Meira, 24.5654, 216.890, 128
15. Scott Dixon, 24.9615, 213.449, 29
16. Buddy Rice, 25.0758, 212.476, 107
(R) = Denotes rookie

"Obviously I'm in Dario's car because of Dario's unfortunate circumstances," Wheldon said. "We wish him well."
Wheldon completed 117 laps around the 1.5-mile oval, turning the top speed late in the afternoon session on his 113th lap of the day.
"We are looking forward to coming here for the race," Wheldon said. "It is one of my favorite tracks. It is fast, it is bumpy and you can run side by side. It is just exciting. The racing here is normally good. I haven't been in one, but looking from the outside it is good."
Dixon, the only repeat winner in 2003, was second fastest of the day, turning a lap of 24.1575, 220.553 in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Panoz G Force-Toyota-Firestone.
"We've had a busy week of testing, and it ended on a good note today," Dixon said. "We ran a lot of miles and didn't have any problems. The car has been fast at all of the tracks that we've gone to this year, and that gives me a lot of confidence."
Kanaan, Wheldon's teammate, was third in his No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara-Honda-Firestone at 24.1920, 220.238. Tomas Scheckter, Dixon's teammate, was fourth at 24.1977, 220.186 in his No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force-Toyota-Firestone.
De Ferran rounded out the top five in his No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara-Toyota-Firestone at 24.2527, 219.687.
Fifteen drivers completed 1,968 accident free laps in party cloudy conditions with temperatures ranging from 60 to 75 degrees. Belterra Casino Indy 300 defending champion Felipe Giaffone participated in the testing, but Sam Hornish Jr. and Sarah Fisher did not.
Fans were allowed into the infield and garages to meet the drivers and visit the IRL Interactive Center. Many watched the testing from a few feet away from the pits. They bought souvenirs and obtained autographs from the drivers.
The Belterra Casino Indy 300 will be the 12th of 16 events on the 2003 IndyCar Series schedule. The 200-lap, 300-mile race will be broadcast live at 2 p.m. (EDT-fast time) on ABC Sports and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.

• Tickets are available by calling 1-888-652-RACE or logging onto www.kentuckyspeedway.com.

Back to 2003 Kentucky Speedway Articles.



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