WGI Test A Success

Watkins Glen International hosted the IRL IndyCar Series for an open test Wednesday, and a race broke out.

The test was a resounding success from the standpoint of competitors, spectators and media attending the session to prepare for the September 25 inaugural running of the Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix presented by Argent Mortgage.

“It really turned into a small event,” said track president Craig Rust. “Even the drivers commented on the number of people who came out. They had never been at a test where there were so many people.”

Fans were lined up at the gates at 7 a.m., two hours before testing began, and several thousand spectators took advantage of the free day of high-speed entertainment.

On track, rookie Ryan Briscoe and defending IRL champion Tony Kanaan traded the top spot back and forth throughout the day, with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves briefly on top. While Briscoe and Kanaan were tied for the top speed at the end of the day, 132.272 mph, the nod went to the rookie by a scant four-thousandths of a second.

“It was amazingly fun driving around this fantastic racetrack,” Briscoe said. “It’s so fast and challenging. It was great fun. I’d really like to thank everyone at Watkins Glen International. I know they put in a lot of work and money for the safety of the track and they definitely made improvements.”

Like Briscoe, Kanaan and Castroneves were visiting The Glen for the first time.

“I was impressed when I got here today,” Kanaan said. “I used to watch the F1 races here back in the 80s on TV, so it was really exciting and fun to drive around this racetrack. It’s very physical, very difficult, very demanding — so it’s everything you want to have for a good racetrack.”

“It’s very challenging,” Castroneves said. “It’s very tough, very fast. With all of those characteristics, it makes it tough for the drivers and the engineers. There’s a lot of history, which I need to know, because I don’t know much, but it’s an honor to be here.”

The Glen’s history includes three races for Indy-type cars. CART raced on the Short Course in 1979 and 1980, with Bobby Unser winning both races. In 1981, the race was moved to the fall and on the Long Course to replace the U.S. Grand Prix. Rick Mears won that race.

Very few of the current IndyCar Series drivers have experience at The Glen. Scott Sharp enjoyed the most success, winning a pair of SCCA Trans-Am events on the Short Course in addition to driving in a number of sports car races on the Long Course. Bryan Herta raced Barber Saab and Sam Hornish Formula 2000, while Buddy Rice ran in a pair of Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series events.

“I had a little more background coming here,” Rice said. “Of course, you are going a lot faster in an Indy car. I think we’re a little surprised how fast we went today, and I’m sure we’ll be quicker in qualifying when we come back later in the year.”

One of the drivers visiting The Glen for the first time was Danica Patrick.

“This was my first time here, and it is a cool track,” Patrick said. “It reminds me of the European circuits, maybe like Spa. I need to learn the track more than just today. I haven’t driven with this much power before on a road circuit. I had 250 horsepower in the Atlantics, but there is a lot more horsepower with these cars, so there is learning curve for me. The surface was very smooth, and I like that. It will be an interesting race when we come back here. It was good to come here and test at this place. It would be very difficult to here for the first time during the race weekend.”

The speedway credentialed more than 80 media for the test, including television stations from Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Elmira.

“The media is going to be outstanding for this race,” Rust said. “Hopefully, all the coverage from today will translate into ticket sales. We’re doing great so far for an inaugural event, but today definitely helped us.”

“It will be a very important race,” Hornish said. “It’s a big part of the championship drive at the end of the season. Coming out of today’s test with some information will certainly help us then. The end of the championship is usually very close. You want to come here and know that you’re going to have a good run.”

It’s no coincidence that the race will be held in the fall, hoping to lure back fans who once made the traditional U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race part of their annual schedule. Based on Wednesday’s test, The Glen is well on its goal toward reviving that open-wheel tradition.

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