No Bull Cheever Tests End
January 24, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Next week, his search will come to an end at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. That’s where Cheever will announce the driver of Cheever Indy Racing’s No. 52 Dallara-Infiniti.
Four drivers have auditioned for Cheever’s second car at various tracks around the county. The first two were Buddy Rice and Jeff Ward the week after Thanksgiving at California Speedway. Next up was Daniel Wheldon at Homestead-Miami Speedway in mid-December. This week, Tomas Scheckter became the fourth driver to sit behind the wheel of Cheever’s testing machine.
The son of 1979 Formula One World Champion Jody Scheckter, Tomas Scheckter impressed Cheever at a test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Monday and Tuesday.
“The proverb, the apple does not fall far from the tree, is very much the case with the Scheckter family,” Cheever said. “Jody was a phenomenal driver, and Tomas is following in his footsteps. He didn't miss a beat and was very methodical in his approach.”
Scheckter not only showed off his skills to Cheever, but he also passed his IRL rookie test. He completed 85 laps and reached a top speed of 210.7 mph, more than 2 mph faster than the pole speed of 208.502 for the last IRL race at LVMS in April of 2000.
Like his father, Scheckter has been involved in Formula One. He was the test driver for Jaguar Racing last season. The 21-year-old enjoyed driving on an oval for the first time, however, and he adapted well to the left-turn-only style of driving.
“The first few sessions were unbelievable with the g-forces I felt,” Scheckter said. “Driving an average speed of over 200 mph was a great feeling, similar to a roller coaster. I got used to the feeling pretty quickly, and with guidance from Eddie, was able to do some good lap times. The team was very professional. Hopefully they feel as good about the test as I do.”
Cheever may be finished auditioning drivers, but he was impressed enough with Rice that he said the former Toyota Atlantic champion would return to test with the team at the Test in the West in February.
“I’m definitely interested in keeping him in our orbit,” Cheever said in December. “I’m not sure on who will be driving the No. 52 yet, but I know the work that Buddy did with us in Fontana warranted him testing with us again.”
That test will take place at California Speedway on Feb. 6. Rice, 25, is the 2000 Toyota Atlantic Champion.
Wheldon, 23, also is a graduate of the Toytota Atlantic Series. He was runner-up to Rice in 2000 and runner-up in the Indy Lights Championship Series last season.
Ward is the veteran among the Cheever hopefuls. He has competed in the past five IRL seasons but has never won a race. Ward’s audition for the No. 52 wasn’t the first time he’s driven for Cheever. In 1997 he drove for Cheever in the Indianapolis 500.
No matter who gets the job at Cheever, they’re stepping into a team on the rise. Cheever received backing from Red Bull during the offseason, and the Infiniti engine he uses improved during the season.
Cheever worked to build on that momentum during the offseason with two tests in October and November. During his evaluations of his possible drivers, Cheever also snuck in testing time of his own.
He’ll see if his preparations have paid off when he takes part in the Test in the West in February along with 20 other drivers.