Archive for Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Rain a pain at Speedway

June 20, 2001


Six of the top Indy Racing League teams in town for the first of two days of crucial testing in preparation for the upcoming IRL race at KC's new motorsports facility certainly felt the thunder. And the rain. And saw the lightning.

IRL points leader Sam Hornish Jr., IRL veteran and former Indianapolis 500 champion Eddie Cheever Jr., Robbie Buhl and rookie Felipe Giaffone barely unloaded their $350,000-plus cars before rain washed out testing Tuesday at the track.

"We're very disappointed we're not out there running today," Cheever said. "We wish you'd stop the rain. We don't think it's very hospitable of you."

About the only automotive action Tuesday came when the mischievous Cheever took his rental car into the parking lot and spun off a few donuts.

Unless the weather changes today, the IRL drivers could come to qualifying for the July 8 race without so much as a spin around the track.

"We really don't have much time," said Hornish, who will carry a 229-173 IRL series points lead over runner-up Eliseo Salazar into the June 30 SunTrust Indy Challenge in Richmond, Va. "We're in Richmond next week, and there's a 10-day test rule, where you can't test inside 10 days of the race.

"But at least we got to see the track. There's not a whole lot you can do, but at least it's pretty much the same for everyone."

Actually, Hornish, a 21-year-old from Bryan, Ohio, has a bit of a leg up on the rest of the IRL drivers. His Pennzoil Panther racing team sent a driver to Kansas Speedway during its construction.

"I don't know how much that will help," Hornish said. "It didn't have the final coat down, so it's hard to say if anything carries over. But we got to see the track, and seeing the track is half the battle. I'd love to be in the race car now, but it's not the end of the world."

The July 8 IRL race at Kansas Speedway -- coming a day after the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series event at the KC track -- is just one of three IRL debuts this season.

Cheever perceives it as a substantial shift in the 6-year-old IRL's strategy.

"Before, the IRL would race on short ovals," said Cheever, a 43-year-old from Phoenix who won the IRL's showcase event, the Indy 500, in 1998. "They were bullrings, and speeds weren't very fast. Then we'd go to the (Indianapolis) Speedway. Then we started running mile-and-a-half ovals. It started a whole new kind of racing.

"Mile-and-a-half ovals are very, very difficult. Drafting is a word you'll hear a lot when we come out here."

Open-wheel IRL cars generate 650 horsepower, and their top speeds should approach 220 mph on Kansas Speedway's 1 1/2-mile tri-oval. That's around 40 mph faster than NASCAR Winston Cup cars will reach when the Cup series comes to Kansas.

"And we don't have fenders," Cheever said. "That other series has fenders. It's dramatically different when you don't have fenders. There's no room for error."

"It's very exciting," Buhl added. "You can run side-by-side all the way around these big tracks. We have to respect each other and what we're doing. When you're doing 200 mph and going side-by-side, you have to know what you're doing. " That's a whole bunch of speed."

Practice and qualifying for the sold-out IRL race will be held July 6.

Hornish, Buhl, Greg Ray and Shigeaki Hattori were to try their luck at testing today.

-- Associate sports editor Andrew Hartsock can be reached at 832-7216.

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