IRL Kentucky Complaints
June 20, 2003 | 12:33 A.M. EST
Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran said the track's condition dramatically deteriorated since last year's Belterra Casino Indy 300, raising safety concerns about this year's IRL race, scheduled for Aug. 17.
"I don't know what happened," de Ferran said. "Last year, it was not that bad. This year, for whatever reason, the track is unbelievably bumpy."
The drivers said the roughest patches were concentrated around the first two turns.
Speedway officials blamed the track condition on winter weather.
Mark Cassis, executive vice president and general manager of the speedway, said the bumps were created by water repeatedly freezing and thawing on the asphalt. He said the track was smoothed in April, but acknowledged the first two turns hold moisture because they are shaded by billboards during the winter.
Two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves said the track's condition raises safety concerns.
"Because we race so close to each other all the time, what might happen during the race is you happen to catch a bump, and the bump pushes you to the outside," Castroneves said.
Kenny Brack, the 1999 Indy 500 champion, said the bumps could alter race preparation and strategy.
"We just have to take that into consideration and try to set up the car so we can handle those kinds of situations," Brack said.
Cassis said he would meet with IRL officials to discuss the conditions and, if necessary, the track would implement rules to slow the cars.
Cassis said he didn't expect to order any major alterations to the track. The speedway hosts a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on July 12.
"I'm not going to say we're going to completely rebuild Turns 1 and 2," he said. "That's part of the race track, that's part of the character. That's also part of the challenge for the competitors - to make sure they can set up and who can get around this place.
"I want to emphasize that the changes we would be making would be very minor."
Dan Wheldon reached 221.638 mph and was the fastest of 16 drivers testing Friday. Wheldon beat Sarah Fisher's pole-winning qualifying speed of 221.390 mph for last year's race.