Ijoliet Notebook:/I Friday
August 31, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Hornish leads Buddy Lazier by 45 points in the series standings, and if he can stretch that lead to 53 points this weekend, he’ll be the IRNLS champion.
“We’re going to go out there and try to win the race,” Hornish said. “Stranger things have happened – 45-point leads can sometimes go real quick, but we think we’ve got a good chance of clinching it here.”
Hornish has reason to be sure of himself. He has put the No. 4 Dallara-Aurora in the Top 3 eight times in 11 races this season and has finished out of the Top 10 just once (14th at Indianapolis).
If he can clinch his first Northern Light Cup and the $1 million bonus that goes along with it, Hornish will be relieved.
“It’d be a big stress off our backs so we don’t have to think about it for two weeks going into Texas,” he said. “We can just relax and go in there and have fun and just go out there and keep doing what we love doing.”
Infiniti Brigade Quick
Forget the chase for the IRNLS title. The entire field will be chasing the Infiniti-powered machines of Robbie Buhl and Eddie Cheever Jr. in qualifying on Saturday.
Buhl and Cheever Jr. were the only two drivers to top 220 mph in Friday’s morning practice, and they did that after suffering minor problems during the 45-minute practice session.
Buhl’s on-board fire extinguisher accidentally discharged, and Cheever experienced fuel pressure problems as he drained his fuel tank. Both hinted that they expect to go even faster during qualifying.
“People already know that the Infiniti engine is making good power, and you can really see that on the track today,” said Buhl, who swapped the No. 1 position in Friday morning practice with Cheever five times. “This is an older engine that we are running today. We already have a bunch of miles on it, and it keeps running.
“Having said all that, this team has been fast and in position to win races, especially the last few. It just hasn’t happened yet, so we are taking things one day at a time.”
Buhl’s top speed was 221.002 in his No. 24 G Force-Infiniti. Cheever was .06 seconds back at 220.380 mph in his No. 51 Dallara-Infiniti.
“We worked on our qualifying setup this morning and tried a few things that didn’t work,” Cheever said. “The track has a tremendous amount of grip. We need to find a way to get more drag out of the car.”
Jaques Lazier was third fastest in the morning practice at 219.639 mph in the No. 2 Dallara-Aurora. Teammates Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore were fourth and fifth respectively at 219.194 mph and 218.961 mph in Kelley Racing’s Dallara-Auroras.
Hornish was sixth fastest at 218.868 mph, and Buddy Lazier was eighth at 218.073 mph. Al Unser Jr., coming off his win last week at Gateway, was ninth at 217.718 mph.
Warmer temperatures and strong winds kept speeds down a bit in the afternoon practice, but Buhl still come out on top among his group of drivers with a 220.771 mph lap. Cheever was second quick at 219.584 mph, but Scott Sharp and Buddy Lazier moved him to fourth overall after turning in faster laps in the second practice group in the afternoon.
Sharp topped out at 220.424 mph, and Lazier hit 219.786 mph. Mark Dismore rounded out the Top 5 in the afternoon with a 219.583 mph lap.
Qualifying for the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., is scheduled for 1 p.m. (ET) on Saturday.
Rookie Laurent Redon’s first practice session was an eye-opener.
“This is so different, there’s nothing to compare,” said Redon, who comes to the IRNLS from the world of F3000 and Formula One. “It’s a different-driving car, and there’s everything to learn. I’m really open to everything so that I can learn.
“We tested two weeks ago and we were a little quicker. The car is good.”
Laurent is driving the No. 34 Dallara-Aurora for Conquest Racing, which former Indy driver Eric Bachelart owns. The team has competed in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship Series the past few seasons.
Redon and Conquest will compete in the final two races of the season before deciding on their plans for 2002.
“I have one or more races this year, and if we can put the right package together, we will do 2002,” Redon said.
The team is sponsored by Mi-Jack and Hype Energy Drink.