Toyota Starting 2003 Fight Early

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The battle for the 2003 Indy Racing League Engine championship begins now.

After finishing fifth in the Belterra Casino Indy 300 Sunday, Marlboro Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves stayed behind at Kentucky Speedway to help Toyota Racing Development fine tune its 2003 Indy Racing League package this week.

The two-time Indy 500 champion and Marlboro Team Penske President Tim Cindric tested the new Toyota motor with both short and long run setups with a Dallara chassis.

“We have eight to 10 of these engines that we’ve been building in rotation," said Lee White of Toyota Racing Development. "We build probably three or four a week for ‘dyno’ (aerodynamic) development and virtually every one has been a different spec.

“It’s been a very rapid evolutionary process because of time constraints. We’ve been focusing heavily on performance development because those parts, by the (IRL) rules, have to be submitted by Sept. 1. We’re just starting to shift from 80 or 90 percent performance development to something more normal, which is primarily durability development.”

Toyota and Team Penske, which both have experienced success in the CART Fed/Ex Series system, focused their testing energy on the elements of the IRL package with which they are most unfamiliar.

“The IRL program is different,” White said. “It’s a rev–limited format, it’s normally aspirated as opposed to turbo charger, and is primarily oval track racing instead of road course racing. It’s a different science. We are here primarily focusing on the things we understand the least about, which is the rev limiter, the pit lane crew system and some of the other CART systems that you have to control pit lane crews. We’ll be working some on ‘shift without lift,’ which is something new for the IRL next year.“

With the established General Motors IRL program and the expected new arrivals of Honda and Ilmor next year, White said the 2003 IRL season could be even more competitive than this year.

“(The competiton with Honda) will be as fierce as ever,” White said. “We’ll go at it with the gloves off. Toyota raced against GM at GTP (Grand Touring Prototype) and prevailed, and we expect to prevail here, although we certainly respect and appreciate the five years experience and head start they have in the series.

“We think we have great teams with this group (Penske), Chip (Ganassi), the Kelley’s, and hopefully a couple of others we’re talking to. We know that Chevrolet has some good teams with Panther and Hemelgarn, and we certainly expect that Honda and Ilmor are going to come with (CART) Team Green and it’s going to be a shootout. It’s (the IRL) is going to be the open wheel series in this country.”

Cindric said Team Penske is making solid progress in its second test with the new power plant. “We’re certainly off to a good start,” he said. “We ran a test a Nazareth and worked out a few bugs, at least initially. Just from a pure racing technical standpoint, it’s always fun to be on the leading edge of the next evolution. For me personally, for the team and someone like (Gil) de Ferran we take a lot of pride in that. Being part of it from the beginning, that amount of pride is what our team is about.”

Castroneves added that he was impressed the with engine performance in just its second time out.

“It’s pretty good for the second test," Castroneves said. "We still have some developing to do, on a scale of zero to 10, I think we’re at a seven right now. I feel that we have a very good bottom end and still developing more of the high speed (performance).”

Toyota will continue refining its 2003 package by turning over the same engine and chassis combination over to Kelley Racing, while Chip Ganassi Racing tests a version of the Toyota engine with a G Force chassis.

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