Silly Season Surprises
October 21, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
A group of IRNLS drivers was testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and several of the driver-team combinations were curious, to say the least.
Former Formula One driver Johnny Herbert practiced in the No. 35 Heritage Motorsports G Force-Infiniti, apparently in anticipation of running the full season next year in place of Jeff Ward, who tested Sam Schmidt’s No. 99.
“I don't know what I'm doing next year, no plans are set, and Sam's looking for a driver, so I figured I'd come out,” said Ward, who finishes 11th in the points this season in the No. 35. “I'm just here helping Sam (Schmidt). They wanted me to find a baseline on the car since I know how to get around here pretty decent.”
Ward was fifth fastest at 217.298 mph, just behind Herbert, who lapped the 2.5-mile oval at IMS for the first time and did so pretty impressively. His fast lap was 218.915 in just 10 laps.Jaques Lazier led the test in Team Menard’s No. 2 Dallara-Aurora at 225.006 mph.
Herbert was supposed to participate in the season-ending Chevy 500 at Texas, but when the race was postponed to Oct. 6 because of the terrorist attacks on America, the race conflicted with his American Le Mans Series duties. He has made it clear that he wants to participate full time in an open-wheel car next season and race in the Indy 500. It looks as though Heritage is going to oblige him.
"It would be great to get the right experience running up to Indy and then run the rest of the year for the championship," Herbert said. "It would be nice to win a championship and the 500, as well. I know it's not that simple, but that would be the plan."
Sam Schmidt’s team hasn’t had a full-time driver since Davey Hamilton seriously injured his feet in an accident in the first Texas race on June 9. Since then, Alex Barron, Richie Hearn and Anthony Lazzaro have split time in the No. 99. Schmidt added two drivers to that list with Ward and Brandon Erwin at Indy.
Erwin, a rookie this past season, competed in four IRNLS races with a best finish of 14th at the season-opening Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. He failed to qualify at Indianapolis in May and was out of action after the Casino Magic 500 at Texas in June.
He was happy to be running again.
“This group, they really know what they’re doing, and I felt really comfortable out there,” Erwin said. “I've never felt that comfortable in a car before.”
Another rookie, Rick Treadway, carried the flag for Treadway Racing at the Firestone test at Indy. Treadway, coming off a fifth-place finish at Texas on Oct. 6, competed in three races for his father Fred. Felipe Giaffone will not return to the team next year, so the Treadway team may be preparing the younger Treadway for a full-time ride next season. No matter the intent, Treadway the driver was in awe in his first appearance on the historic track.
“It was just unbelievable,” Treadway said.