Ray Fastest At Richmond Testing
May 31, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Mark Dismore, series points leader Sam Hornish Jr., Robbie Buhl, and 2001 Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Scott Sharp also turned laps in preparation for the SunTrust Indy Challenge at RIR. The night race will be the first event in IRNLS history contested on a track shorter than 1 mile.
Besides an IRNLS Open Test on April 20 at the track, drivers were still having difficulties on how they would conquer the small D-shaped oval.
"We are struggling with the car, and we're really driving the wheels off of these things," Ray said. "We're not used to sliding these things and wheeling them around, so you have to be precise to be really fast. The fact that it's new and we are all learning is exciting for us."
Ray's unofficial speed on Wednesday was faster than the top lap of the IRNLS Open Test last month.
Ray said he is excited about next month's race.
"It's fun here," he said. "It has a nice, homey, racy feel to it. It's a different style from what we're used to. We're not really sure what to expect, but already, everybody has a big smile on their faces. The mechanics, drivers - everybody - we got off of the track and we looked at each other and said: 'That's pretty cool. This is going to be a great race.'
"We are struggling with the car, and we're really driving the wheels off of these things. We're not used to sliding these things and wheeling them around, so you have to be precise to be really fast. The fact that it's new and we are all learning is exciting for us."
Hornish Jr. was third on the speed chart with a top lap of 161.968 mph. in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile during the afternoon.
"I think it is going to be a very exciting race," Hornish said. "The track is going to be very busy. It's very busy when you are out there by yourself, let alone with 25 other cars. I ran 50 laps (during the first afternoon session) and man, it went by pretty fast. The race is 250 laps, so that's going to go by pretty quickly. The fans will see a lot of different pit-stop strategies because of the fact that the tires are pretty hard. We'll be trying to figure out how far we can go on the tires and how much fuel you can put in the cars, kind of like NASCAR did at Bristol this year."
The track's layout doesn't allow much room for error, Hornish said.
"It's a tight track, and you are going to need a car that will be good when you move it all over the track," he said. "You'll need a good-handling car that you can take up high or keep taking down low. The fans will see a lot of close, side-by-side racing. Having these cars bump at 220 mph is not something we like to do, but with how close the racing will be here, you may see some of that. It is going to be very exciting."
Buhl was next during the afternoon with a lap of 159.763 mph. in the No. 24 Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold G Force/Infiniti. Sharp put in a top lap of 154.022 mph. in just 43 laps of work in the No. 8 Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile.
"This is going to be an action-packed place to run," Sharp said. "Things are moving fast when you come off of turns 2 and 4, so I can't imagine what it is going to be like with 26 other cars out there. I think the fans will be impressed.
"The cars sound great, they look fast, they are fast. We'll probably be about 30-40 mph faster than the Winston Cup cars here. With all the downforce we have, we'll have the potential to be side-by-side in the corners and to dart in and out of the holes. There is going to be a lot of action. It'll be like a big pack of swarming bees that can also move around."
Dismore led all drivers with 145 laps in the No. 28 Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile.
The two-day private test ends May 31 at the track, and the SunTrust Indy Challenge will be held June 30, 2001 at Richmond Int'l Raceway.