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Schedule gives teams little rest
By Jack Arute
Special to ABC Sports Online

The Indy Racing League gets a breather this weekend after putting together three events over the last four weekends. It's the meat of an ambitious schedule that puts pressure upon preparation.

On Saturday night, June 29th, the series heads into the heart of NASCAR country for the second SunTrust Indy Challenge with the Ameristar Casino Indy 200 the following weekend. That's five races in just seven weeks -- more like a NASCAR Winston Cup schedule than one usually reserved for Indy Cars.

So what's the big deal about running events so close together?

Gil de Ferran
Gil de Ferran doesn't have much time to enjoy his victory at Pikes Peak.
Unlike NASCAR's Cup Series, IRL teams use basically the same car for every race on the schedule. Depending upon track size, wing kits are exchanged from short track to superspeedway, but the basic car is the same one run at Indianapolis, Texas, Pikes Peak, Richmond and Kansas.

Stroll into a NASCAR shop and a legion of cars are standing at attention, each one designed aerodynamically for a specific track. The rules allow for minute detailing to capitalize upon the specific nuances of individual tracks.

In the IRL, engines are the biggest area where specific changes earmarked for specific tracks is made. Fuel mapping and engine performance can be computer customized for anything from the flat-out configuration needed at Texas to the on and off acceleration needed for Richmond.

That doesn't mean that there aren't chassis changes that IRL teams can make for individual tracks. Suspension is a key area where IRL teams work their magic. If you ever sit in the stands and watch IRL practices, that's what's happening when teams unbutton the rear cowling and front nose lid. Springs and shock settings get changed a lot looking for the perfect setup.

The IRL's mandates regarding wing size and angel and gurney flaps presents some interesting challenges. How many times have you heard a driver or crew chief refer to "finding the balance" on a car? In most cases, he or she is referencing the handling characteristics. Does the car push (understeer)? Is it loose (oversteer)? Or is it neutral?

During practice sessions, teams will use shocks and springs to make major changes. During the race -- and often in practice -- tire pressure changes on their Firestone Firehawks, wing angle adjustments and driver-executed changes to the anti-roll bar and weight jacker tweak the package.

But because all of these changes go onto the same chassis, this schedule crunch tests the mettle of teams.

Consider the plight of Robby McGehee and his new union with Greg Beck Motorsports. Beck has one chassis. It certainly is not cost-efficient for him to go out and purchase another at this point in the season when you consider the fact that the current crop of chassis will be outdated at season's end with new chassis rules starting in 2003. Buying a chassis at this point in time is financial folly for a guy like Beck.

Even the well-healed financial teams keep -- for the most part -- a primary and one backup (called the "T" car) in their shops. Damage to most tubs is often repairable, but it is a time-consuming repair. The loss of a tub during this part of the schedule can knock a team out of the next race.

Nonetheless, few teams will ever ask a driver to be conservative. After all, they are racers. But some of those concerned looks you see during a race are because they are thinking about having a car ready for the next one -- the next week.

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De Ferran claims first IRL win


video
 Gil de Ferran leads Team Penske and claims his first IRL victory.
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 Gil de Ferran talks about laying claim to his first IRL win.
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