Monday, June 10, 2002
Pikes Peak offers new challenges
By Jack Arute Special to ABC Sports Online
Speeds will be slower, but the equation will be quite different for the Indy Racing League this week when the series moves westward after its Texas two-step Saturday night before 83,000 Lone Star fans.
Pikes Peak International Raceway in Colorado Springs, Colo., is more than 1,500 feet higher in altitude than TMS. In essence, Sunday's Pikes Peak Indy 225 (ABC, 4 p.m. ET) will be contested at the same altitude as Dallas Ft. Worth Airport's approach pattern. It puts both engineers and drivers into a unique mode.
Buddy Lazier has an edge over his competitors by living in Vail.
Instead of taking out downforce to free up cars, PPIR puts a premium on finding the correct balance between downforce and drag. Experience at PPIR is a big advantage. Running good right off the trailer is important because of the IRL's limited track time.
Drivers also must adjust.
"When I raced at PPIR, I always liked getting out to Colorado immediately after Texas," explained ABC analyst and former IRL driver Scott Goodyear. "I went there and trained. I trained at altitude even higher than the track for the entire week."
PPIR's one-mile configuration keeps a driver busy in the car. There are no physical respites. Heart rates and oxygen use increases. That's why many of the drivers spend as much time in advance of the race in Colorado's mile high air as possible.
Greg Ray always mixes preparation with pleasure. The four-time pole winner takes his family to Colorado immediately after Texas to sightsee and vacation. In between tourist activities, the former IRL champion steps up his workouts with an eye towards increasing his aerobic capacity.
Guys like Texas winner Jeff Ward and second place finisher Al Unser Jr. are already parked in Pikes Peak's infield. Both traveled the 1,000-plus miles in their motor-coaches on Sunday. For them, it is a case of setting up their temporary homes and letting their bodies adjust to Colorado.
Rookie Tomas Scheckter started his training long before Texas. The Red Bull rookie started changing his routine immediately following Indy. At Texas the issue was Tomas' first night race.
"I never raced at night," remarked Scheckter. "I've raced on my PlayStation at night, but Texas was my first race under the lights."
"To compensate for the time differential, drivers like Scheckter start staying up later in the evening right after Indy," says Goodyear. "By the time you get to Colorado, your body clock is adjusted so that your performance peak is the same as the time of the race itself."
While a lot of drivers take their Colorado training seriously, there are others who enjoy a unique opportunity. Buddy Lazier is comfortable with mile high situations. He lives in Vail, so his PPIR appearance is actually at an altitude lower than what he deals with day-to-day.
It might have been the "X" factor in his performance last year when the Coors Light Chevy driver scored his first PPIR win.