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Motorsports

Slowdown progress finds favor with IRL

By Wire services
Published April 8, 2004

IRL officials are encouraged by the first on-track testing of the new aerodynamic package and engine combination designed to reduce speeds beginning with the Indianapolis 500.

Twelve IndyCar Series teams used the new aero package, which includes quarter-inch metal strips, known as wickers, on the top and bottom of the rear wing and a curved skid plate underneath the car.

The test was held Friday on the 21/2-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Indy 500 will be run May30.

"We're very pleased," said Brian Barnhart, the IRL's chief of racing operations. "We think it was great validation and verification of the countless hours and months of hard work needed to come up with a package for the month of May."

The test marked the first on-track use of the 3.0-liter engine. The results showed speeds were down significantly from Helio Castroneves' 2003 pole-winning run of 231.725 mph, with top laps in the 216-mph range.

"Most of the comments from the drivers have been very positive," Barnhart said.

Barnhart said IRL officials will continue to evaluate the data from teams until the IndyCar Series open test at Indy April27-28.

IRL officials decided to reduce speeds in the aftermath of the death of driver Tony Renna in testing at Indy and serious injuries to former Indy 500 winner and series champion Kenny Brack in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway during the 2003 season-finale.

The IRL is reducing engines from 3.5 liters, cutting horsepower about 10 percent and reducing speeds by about 10 mph, beginning at Indy in May.

WHAT A BARGAIN: Nuerburgring plans to cut ticket prices almost in half to combat a decline in attendance at the F1 race. Organizers said they will expand the event in Germany from three to four days, adding a Thursday for events like a lottery and autograph signing by the drivers.

"Formula One doesn't sell itself anymore, but the prices keep rising year by year," said Nuerburgring business manager Walter Kafitz. "We couldn't make a profit last year. We want to offer people a better show."

Friday's training rates will be cut from about $60 to $35 and the cost to watch Saturday qualifying will drop from about $121 to $71. Kafitz said Nuerburgring, where the main race is held May30, has approval from F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone for its plans.

Nuerburgring has not released attendance figures, but in recent years fewer rooms in villages near the mountain racetrack have been booked. Fewer tents and campers dot nearby fields.

Some believe Ferrari and Michael Schumacher's dominance has robbed the sport of suspense, with dropping attendance also seen at other F1 tracks. Kafitz said that reasoning did not apply to the Nuerburgring, since Schumacher is German.

"If Rubens Barrichello was winning, I'd be scared. Because Michael Schumacher is winning, I don't have that fear," Kafitz said.

DEBUT SUCCESS: Michael Schumacher and Ferrari have a knack for winning F1 races at new venues. The six-time and defending series champion won the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, just as he won the first U.S. Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2000 and first Malaysian Grand Prix in 1999.

Schumacher started on the pole in each event, and teammate Barrichello finished second in those races.

"I guess it is just coincidence in respect that there is no special secret other than that we are prepared properly in terms of having a very good car and a very good team," Schumacher said. "I have no other explanation."

UNSER GETS WHEELS: Al Unser, the fourth generation of racing Unsers, will drive for P-1 Racing this season in Champ Car's developmental Toyota Atlantic series. Known as "Just Al," he is the eldest son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. (Little Al) and grandson of four-time Indy winner Al Unser (Big Al). His great-grandfather, Louie Unser, also was a race car driver.

Unser, 21, makes his Toyota Atlantic debut next week at Long Beach, Calif., on the same track where his father won a record six times.

[Last modified April 8, 2004, 01:35:43]


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