Construction debris tough on CART teams’ tires
MADISON, Ill. (AP) _ There’s a little rubber shortage at the new Gateway International Raceway.
Leftovers from construction at the track _ scraps of iron from fencing and bleachers, stray wire from brushes used to clean the surface, general debris and odd nails _ have been hard on tires as teams prepared for Saturday’s Motorola 300.
Teams were allotted two extra sets of tires to begin with in anticipation of such problems, and on Friday they got clearance for a third set, with increased practice time given as the official reason.
``With a new track, there’s always some things laying around, and a tire when it’s hot is soft,″ said Al Speyer, motorsports manager for Firestone.
``It’s not as hard as a passenger tire and not as soft as butter. But it doesn’t take much at 180 mph to damage a tire.″
Raul Boesel punctured four right rear tires and one right front tire in 2 1/2 days of practice. Kevin Diamond, a spokesman for Team Brahma, said under normal circumstances Boesel maybe would have lost one tire in that span.
``Everybody is keenly aware of the situation,″ Diamond said. ``You’ll notice there are quite a few more track inspections than usual. As soon as somebody picks up something, they’re throwing a yellow flag and going out there and finding that little bit.″
Something else to get used to on the oval are the twin dips coming out of turn 4. Drivers have taken note, but don’t seem to mind.
``It’s part of the character of the track,″ Michael Andretti said. ``I don’t think it’s anything dangerous.″
INDY’S COMPETITION: CART officials made it official Friday that next year’s Motorola 300 again will be on Memorial Day weekend, a day before the Indianapolis 500.
Andrew Craig, CART president and CEO, said the weekend is important because it’s the kickoff for the summer schedule. This year, counting the Motorola race, CART has 10 races in a 14-week span.
Christopher Pook, president of Gateway International, asked for a Sunday date next year but Craig said running on the same weekend as Indy was close enough. However, he didn’t want to run on the same day. Craig also said Gateway has a four-year deal with CART partly because it wasn’t choosy.
``I told him this was a unique opportunity to get on our schedule probably several years earlier than he might have expected to do in other circumstances,″ Craig said.
CART is expanding to Japan next spring in an attempt to court advertisers there, and also is talking about a race in Houston for a 20-race schedule. This year there are 18 races.
SHORT COURSE: In the name of accuracy, Saturday’s CART race should be called the Motorola 299.72.
CART officials re-measured the new track and said Friday that it’s actually a 1.27-mile oval instead of 1.25 miles. As a result, the race will be 236 laps instead of 240.
PAYTON’S RIDE: Walter Payton, who turned to auto racing as a driver and now owner after his NFL career, is scheduled to drive the pace car Saturday. But his team’s Indy-car driver, Paul Jasper of the Payton Coyne Racing Team, had to withdraw from the race after crashing in practice Thursday.
THE PLACE: Al Unser Jr. misses Indianapolis, but he doesn’t plan to leave CART to go back.
``This series is stronger today than it ever has been,″ Unser said. ``It is way stronger than it was even two years ago, and without the Indy 500. I think we are the best racing series in the world.″
CELEBRITY WATCH: David Letterman, co-owner of Team Rahal, is hosting 70 local kids at the race. Letterman became partners with Bobby Rahal last year and his team, which also includes Bryan Herta, made it to the podium in two of the three events he attended last year. ... St. Louis Blues defenseman Chris Pronger was the guest presenter of the $10,000 pole position award.