©2002 SpeedCenter Publishing
After some well-deserved time off for the holiday season, the teams and drivers in the CART FedEx Championship Series have gotten back to work in preparation for the 2002 season, which kicks off the weekend of March 10 with the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico.
With that weekend drawing closer, the testing season is in full swing with several drivers taking to Sebring International Raceway in central Florida. One team is also paying a visit to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca -- the site of Sneak Preview scheduled for February 7-10 as well as Round 5 of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series, the Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 set for June 9.
Among those testing at Sebring is 1996 CART FedEx Championship Series champion Jimmy Vasser, who is making his first appearance in the #8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola for Team Rahal. After one year with Patrick Racing, Vasser moves over to the seat vacated by 2001 FedEx Championship Series runner-up Kenny Brack, who has joined Target Chip Ganassi Racing where Vasser drove from 1995 through the 2000 FedEx Championship Series campaign. For his part, Vasser is excited to get going with his new team.
"I'll admit that I'm pretty damn excited about the 2002 season," Vasser said. "This is a very good operation and I have been with good ones at Ganassi and Patrick in my CART career. Having the Lola again as well as the Ford horsepower has given me a strong combination for the upcoming season. I just want to hit the track now."
Vasser gets his chance to hit the track for the first time at Sebring today and Friday.
However, Vasser isn't the only newcomer to Team Rahal as the team has announced that Todd Bowland has signed on as Vasser's chief engineer. Bowland, who previously worked with Newman/Haas Racing, replaces Don Halliday, who moved from Team Rahal to become part owner of Fernandez Racing at the end of the 2001 season. Bowland will work alongside long-time Team Rahal engineers Ray Leto and Tim Reiter, who are responsible for aerodynamic, component development and computer simulation.
Joining Vasser and Team Rahal at Sebring will be Fernandez Racing, which begins its second year of operation. Shinji Nakano was at the controls of the team's first Honda-powered Lola chassis on Thursday and Friday. Nakano will once again team with Adrian Fernandez, the only current owner/driver in the CART FedEx Championship Series. Fernandez is scheduled to get his first off-season seat time Jan. 23 at Sebring.
Also scheduled to test at Sebring will be Team KOOL Green driver and newlywed Dario Franchitti, who gets his first crack at the 2002 Honda/Reynard, and Herdez Competition rookie Mario Dominguez in the team's new Ford-Cosworth-powered Lola.
Getting a jump on the others at Sebring was Player's Forsythe Racing driver Alex Tagliani, who took the opportunity to get more familiar with his '02 Ford-Cosworth/Reynard on Wednesday. Tagliani wrapped up his test Thursday.
While Sebring is a testing hotbed this week, Target Chip Ganassi Racing headed west to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for three days on the picturesque road circuit beginning Wednesday. Behind the wheel of the Toyota/Lola was Brack, who already has a few off-season test laps in courtesy of a visit to Sebring in mid-December.
"We have had two tests so far, and I'm amazed at how well everything has gone," Brack said. "It has been a real smooth transition. These guys are very organized and know what it takes to win championships. It's great to get back in the car and do some testing again. I had some time off over the holidays and I was able to eat some things that I usually stay away from. You know, hamburgers, fries, some of that greasy stuff. But now I'm back to my normal self, pasta, tofu, etc. It was nice to have that time off to relax and see family and friends. Now it's back to business.
"This week we're testing out in Laguna Seca. I think it's important for us to do these road course tests. We run so many road and street courses now during the year, it's important to get as much seat time as possible on those types of tracks. The new Lola is quite different both visually and how it handles on the track. I've been impressed with the new Toyota/Lola combination. We were pretty fast down in Sebring last month, so that was encouraging for us. I thought it would take a lot longer for me to feel comfortable with a new team, but I feel completely at home here already."
· CARPENTIER VISITS MARINES
Player's Forsythe Racing driver Patrick Carpentier had a unique opportunity just after the new year began as he visited the busiest United States Marine base in the United States - Camp Pendleton, near San Diego. Carpentier was a guest speaker in an annual program on road safety, and he also participated in a training mission aboard a U.S. attack helicopter. "My speech dealt with the importance of knowing both your limits and those of your car, and I hope that I was able to get their attention by stressing the fact that one should never mistake the road for a race track," Carpentier said. "During my visit, I was amazed to see the many similarities between a racing team and a military squadron, especially in the areas of teamwork, the important role of the mechanics and the precision of the setups on the aircraft. I really appreciated the Marines' hospitality, and with three races in California this season, I hope to see some of them again to give them a behind-the-scenes look at the CART FedEx Championship Series." Camp Pendleton is home to 40,000 soldiers.
· KARTERS TAKE NEXT STEP ON CART LADDER
Four North American go-kart racers earned the right to participate in the 2002 Formula Dodge National Championship after a shootout at Sebring International Raceway on Jan. 3-4. Californians Colin Fleming and Charlie Kimball, Bettendorf, Iowa native Craig Baltzer and Canadian Ward Imrie were selected to compete in the entire 2002 FDNC after emerging from a field of 16 in the fifth annual Barber CART Karting Scholarship Runoffs. Over the course of two days, the runoffs included car-control exercises and on-track competition using Dodge street vehicles as well as the Formula Dodge R/T 2000 with evaluations coming from the Skip Barber judging panel. Each scholarship to participate in the Official Amateur National Championship of CART is worth $45,000. The 16-race, 2002 Formula Dodge National Championship kicks off March 10 at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca.
· MADER PROMOTED AT BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE
Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire announced this week that Page Mader has been named manager of race tire development, replacing Richard (Dick) Davis who retired from the company after 35 years. Mader was formerly a senior project engineer with the company's racing program and he assumed his new responsibilities Jan. 1. Mader has been involved in the company's CART and Indy Racing League programs since 1995. "Much of our success on the race track can be attributed to the hard work and talent of Page Mader and the race tire development group," said Bridgestone/Firestone Motorsports Executive Director Al Speyer. "His engineering skills, combined with a thorough knowledge of motorsports and a love of competition, put him in good stead to oversee our race tire development program. He's well respected in the motorsports community, with many drivers, team owners, and sanctioning body officials routinely consulting him about tires. We're confident he will make our racing program stronger, and we're pleased he has taken on this new assignment." Added Mader: "I'm excited about the new opportunities and challenges. Fortunately, I'm working with some of the world's best engineers and chemists, all dedicated to putting the world's finest race tire out on the track, event after event. We'll continue to look for improvements in consistency, durability, and grip in our tires, listening to teams and drivers about what they want and expect. The men and women who drive these race cars aren't just customers, they're our friends, and we want them to have the best tires. That's my goal." All cars in the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series will ride on Bridgestone Potenza tires.
· CART/OLVEY TO HOST MOTORSPORTS SAFETY SYMPOSIUM
The 2002 International Council of Motorsports Sciences (ICMS) and Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) World Wide Motorsports Safety Symposium will be hosted by CART and Dr. Steve Olvey, who serves as director of medical affairs for CART. Scheduled for Jan. 17-19, the symposium brings together the top medical professionals from throughout the motor racing world. Olvey; CART chief orthopedic consultant, Dr. Terry Trammell; FIA safety and medical commissions president, Professor Sid Watkins; and Indy Racing League director of medical services, Dr. Henry Bock are among the scheduled presenters as key safety issues facing motorsports will be addressed. More that 150 medical professionals are expected to attend the symposium in Olvey's hometown of Miami.