INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana -- Vitor Meira, the 2000 South American Formula 3 champion, passed the speed phase of his Indy Racing League rookie test July 31 at Kentucky Speedway. Meira completed 72 laps in the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville/Pittsburgh Paints Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone for Team Menard under the eye of Mark Bridges, technical manager for the Indy Racing League.
"He's focused. He's aware of what he has to do," said Bridges. "He passed all four phases and did his second and third phase back to back. He didn't come in to stop and think about it. He knew what to do and just stepped up. He performed well and looked comfortable in the car."
Meira spent the 2001 season in the European Formula 3000 series.
"My first impression was certainly that the car is very quick, but then after a few laps I felt much more comfortable," said Meira. "It is a very, very nice car. Everything was very good and fast. The track is very, very nice. There are not a lot of bumps. It feels very smooth. I'm certainly very happy to have passed my rookie test."
In addition to the Meira, some of the top drivers in the Indy Racing League tested July 31 at Kentucky in preparation for the Belterra Casino Indy 300 on Aug. 11. Marlboro Team Penske driver Gil de Ferran, who leads the series points standings, and his teammate, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, tested in preparation for their first race at the 1.5-mile oval.
"We learned the track," said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. "It's the first time that I've been here. Certain tracks have different types of banking. This is one that does not have much banking. It's very nice and similar to Kansas City, the layout of the track.
"We had a very good test. We found speed but still want to keep working to make sure that the balance of the car can improve."
De Ferran, driver of the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, noted that speeds have already climbed above 220 mph, faster than the track record of 219.191 set by Scott Goodyear in 2000.
"That's likely to increase by the time we come to the race weekend," said de Ferran. "It's going to be a very exciting and very, very fast race."
Defending Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. turned 180 laps in his No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, the most of any driver at the test.
"The day went OK," said Hornish. "We were working on race setup and trying to make the car faster over longer periods of time. It worked pretty well. We accomplished everything we wanted to."
Sarah Fisher, coming off a strong eighth-place finish in the Michigan Indy 400, also tested at Kentucky with her teammate and car owner Robbie Buhl. Buhl was battling Buddy Lazier for the lead last year at Kentucky when he ran out of fuel on Lap 198. He finished ninth.
"We've changed a lot on the car from a year ago here," said Buhl, driver of the No. 24 Team Purex/Aventis/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force/Infiniti/Firestone. "Every race weekend when you learn things and things are positive, it's stuff that carries over, and we still have to do a lot more of that."
"All the mile-and-a-half tracks we run, like Kansas City and Chicago, that were new to us last year, every one of those tracks has its unique surface, in terms of its banking. All those subtle things really highlight what these cars can do."
His teammate Fisher, driver of the No. 23 Team Smart Blade/ Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force/Infiniti/Firestone, finished third at Kentucky in 2000.
"It's really nice to be able to come and be in a relaxed atmosphere and work with the team more and more," said Fisher. "Kentucky is a great place for us to visit because I've had previous experience here. I've never run the package that we have now (at Kentucky Speedway), the G Force Infiniti package, which performed quite well at Michigan."
Richie Hearn, who has finished in the top 10 in seven of the last eight Indy Racing events, is in search of a first-time victory for team owner Sam Schmidt.
"It's a good track," said Hearn, driver of the No. 20 Meijer/Coca Cola/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. "It's a little trickier to figure out than I thought because the corners are a little different. I can see it being a good race because the corners don't pinch off at the exit so you can run two-wide all the way around. It'll be fun."
Texas Testing: Indy Racing testing also took place July 31 at Texas Motor Speedway, the sight of the closest finish in Indy Racing history. Jeff Ward, who held off Al Unser Jr. by .0111 of a second on June 8, participated in the Firestone tire test along with Tomas Scheckter, winner of the Michigan Indy 400 on July 28.
"They're working good," said Ward about the Firestone Firehawk tires. "Firestone's always had a good tire. Last June when we raced, it took like eight laps for the tire pressure to come up, and the car was really squirrelly until then. We have been working on that a little bit to help that out. So far, so good."
Ward completed 369 laps in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone.
Scheckter, who raced in Europe before coming to the Indy Racing League, remains impressed with Texas.
"It's a track like this that is a good recipe for good racing," said Scheckter, driver of the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. "You know, high banks, one-and-a-half-mile track, running side by side every lap. This is pure American racing. I come from European-style racing, and this is about the best you can get. I ran side by side for five laps with someone before, and it's great for the spectators, great for the (television) viewers and for the IRL as well."
The season-finale Chevy 500 is scheduled for Sept. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway.
IROC at Indy: Indy Racing League drivers Scott Sharp and Buddy Lazier tested True Value IROC cars July 30-31 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the final round of the 2002 IROC season Aug. 3 in Indianapolis.
Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion, dominated the third round of IROC competition July 13 at Chicagoland Speedway. He recorded the first IROC win for the Indy Racing League this season.
"Today was a really good day. The track's getting some rubber down and has so much grip with these grooves," said Lazier. "We obviously felt it in the Indy cars during the Indy 500, and I'm certainly feeling it in the IROC cars. The track is in great shape, super condition, lots of grip. For me, it just a matter of trying different cars and trying to get as comfortable as I can get. I'm still working on my line. I'm giving up a lot of speed in Turn 1. Turn 1 is one of the hardest turns in all of racing, it's always very challenging. As for Turns 2, 3 and 4, I'm really comfortable and am just enjoying my True Value IROC at Indy weekend."
Parsons' hospitalized: Ray Parsons, owner of Parsons Motorsports Marketing, underwent surgery in a Cleveland hospital this week for unexpected health problems.
Parsons' had planned to field an entry for Robby McGehee in the remaining IRL races this year but has closed the team for the remainder of the 2002 Indy Racing League season.
"We'll be praying for Ray's health to improve," McGehee said. "We all thought that we could finish the year together; this is very unexpected."
Parsons' has invested in several Indy Racing League operations including Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Beck Motorsports.
Fike stays on hot streak: Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series driver Aaron Fike, 19, began a hectic weeklong racing schedule July 28 at Michigan International Speedway, where he finished fourth in his third Infiniti Pro Series event. An energetic Fike hopped out of his No. 91 Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone entry and into an airplane heading to Wisconsin. He competed that evening at Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, Wis. in the Badger Midget event, finishing fourth and retaining his lead in the Badger Midget Series point standings.
Two days later, Fike strapped into his Midget at Eagle Raceway in Eagle, Neb., earning a seventh-place finish. The 2000 USAC Midget Rookie of the Year ranks third in the National Midget standings this season with 551 points, trailing leader Dave Darland by 65 points.
Fike, of Galesburg, Ill., will spend August 1 at Indianapolis Raceway Park running his USAC Silver Crown car before heading to Kansas and the Belleville High Banks. Fike is scheduled to participate in one of the biggest events of the season, the Belleville Midget Nationals August 1-3. His busy race week will come to an end Aug. 4 in Wisconsin, as he returns to the 1/3-mile Angell Park Speedway for the final race of the weekend.
Merkel joins REV 1 Racing: REV 1 Racing owner/driver Ronnie Johncox has named H. Pete Merkel vice president of sales for the Jackson, Mich.-based Infiniti Pro Series team. Prior to joining REV 1 Racing, Merkel served as the executive vice president and general manager of Chicago Motor Speedway from 2001 to 2002 and director of corporate sales for Michigan International Speedway from 1998 to 2001.
REV 1 Racing, co-owned by Johncox, his father Ron, and Tampa, Fla.-based businessman Rick Ehrgott, fields the No. 8 Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone in the Infiniti Pro Series. Johncox has qualified on the front row for two of three Infiniti Pro Series events, earning the pole position for the Nashville 100 on July 20. He finished fifth at the Michigan 100 on July 28.
Hot laps: Michigan Indy 400 race winner Tomas Scheckter will attend the Cincinnati Bengals training camp Aug. 3 . 1996 IRL co-champion Scott Sharp will draw car colors for the True Value IROC all-star line up. The blind draw will air Aug. 1 at 6:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN2's RPM2Night.