IRL: Observations from IRL Testing at WDW
17 December 1998David Treffer -- The Auto Channel Lake Buena Vista, FL- The 1999 Indy Racing League season gets underway on January 24 at Walt Disney World. In preparation for the first of 11 races, seventeen drivers visited the Orlando, FL area facility this past week-end for team and tire testing. Delphi Automotive/MCI WorldCom (Tom Kelly Racing) teammates Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore were the consistent leaders on both the Friday and Saturday sessions. On Friday, Scott Sharp turned a lap of 21.124 seconds for an average lap speed of 170.422mph. On Saturday, Sharp reeled-off a lap of 21.039 seconds for a lap speed of 171.111mph. The lap was even more incredible considering the fact that the new 1999 revolution limiter rule reduced the maximum rpm from 10,500 down to 10,300 rpm.
The week-end was driven off, so to speak, with a promotional stunt that even Humpy Wheeler would envy. 1998 Indy 500 Champion Eddie Cheever drove his Rachael's Gourmet Potato Chips Dallara from his home in Lake Nona, a suburb of Orlando, onto the Orlando GreenWay and finally into the WDW racing facility. Asked about paying the tolls on the Greenway, Cheever replied, with tongue firmly in cheek, that "they (the toll takers) looked the other way and I was too fast for them anyway! The purpose of the drive (ticket sales) from home to work was obvious and it paid off with a front-page color photo of the event in several local newspapers.
When the testing finally got underway, Messers. Sharp and Dismore displayed that Tom Kelley Racing is going to be a contender for the 1999 championship. Asked about 1999, Tom Kelley responded, "We're optimistic about our chances, these guys do wonders with an unlimited budget." Scott Goodyear was the third fastest on Saturdays' session with a speed of 168.171 mph in the Pennzoil Panther G Force/Aurora. Goodyear's team appeared to be working with a handling problem coming out of turn 1 onto the short back straight. The team was also working with a variety of wing settings gathering new data on the lowered wing height for 1999. While the team was not enthused about being 3 mph behind Scott Sharp, they were encouraged with the feedback from the two day test.
Greg Ray, who replaced Winston Cup bound Tony Stewart on the Menard team, found the turn 2 wall early in the Saturday session. Fortunately, Ray was able to leave the cockpit under his own power and returned to the test session later in the afternoon to turn in the fourth best time of the day. Buzz Calkins, in the Bradley Motorsports Dallara was fifth fastest with a time of 167.348.
The 1999 season has some interesting changes in store. First, the series visits Pikes Peak International Raceway twice (June 27 and Aug 29). Second, the Atlanta date was moved from August to July. There were several date switches to try and work with the tracks to draw larger crowds. Another observation about the schedule also reveals that the IRL will visit five times to tracks controlled by Bruton Smith (Charlotte, Atlanta, Texas and Las Vegas).
The IRL will return to the Walt Disney World track on Jan 7-8 for more testing.