Ryan Briscoe pleased with IndyCar test at Texas

IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe was pleased with the progress of the

new car following a test this week at Texas Motor Speedway.

Briscoe worked with fellow Chevrolet driver Tony Kanaan during

the session to help IndyCar set the rules package for an upcoming

open test at the speedway. The series scheduled the March 13 test

to give teams an opportunity to drive the new Dallara DW12 on the

high-banked oval – a concern following the death last October of

two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas.

”What we are trying to avoid is a pack race situation like we

had in Las Vegas,” Briscoe said. ”We feel like this car is safer,

but we still want to make sure we avoid pack racing, and we’ve got

a couple of different options that are going to make the car more

difficult to drive.”

Briscoe also praised the handling of the new car, and said it

had improved tremendously since he tested it in November at

Fontana.

”It was a little bit of a handful the last time I drove it, and

it feels like normal now,” Briscoe said. ”The balance feels

really good.”

But, he said the car was 3-to-4 mph slower than the pole-winning

speed of 215.186 mph in last year’s race.

Meanwhile, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said the

apron in Turns 1 and 2 at the track had been paved in response to

IndyCar driver’s complaints that the surface was too rough. He’s

heard drivers express concern about the fencing at Texas, which

like Las Vegas has its poles on the inside of the mesh wiring.

Wheldon was killed when his head hit the post at Las Vegas.

But Gossage and track owner Bruton Smith are adamant the design

of the fencing is safe. However, if IndyCar officials would like to

add support cables to the existing fence, Gossage would be

amenable.

”Our engineers have told us that the design we currently have

is what they recommend,” Gossage said. ”If IndyCar wants to add

some cables, we’ll be happy to do that. We are all for making it

safer.”

—(equals)

PHOENIX RETURN?: IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard met Thursday with the

president of Phoenix International Raceway, presumably to discuss

the series’ potential return to the desert track.

The meeting between Bernard and Bryan Sperber occurred a day

after Panther Racing tested the new car on Phoenix’s new

configuration. PIR hosted IndyCar races from 1996 through 2005, and

USAC and CART ran at the track from 1964 until 1995.

JR Hildebrand turned 114 laps over four hours at Phoenix and

offered a strong recommendation that IndyCar return to Phoenix.

”They’ve done a great job with the facility at Phoenix, and for

the Indy cars it could really lend itself to good racing,”

Hildebrand said. ”We were able to get down to business really

quickly in the test and the track is much smoother; the repaving

was really well done. The variable banking works well with the car

and I honestly think it could be possible that there would be a

usable second lane.

”If IndyCar wants to come back and race here, I’d put my stamp

on it.”

David Cripps, technical director for Panther, said the new

configuration and racing surface was ”one of the most consistent

and smoothest I have ever seen. I’d race here tomorrow, no

question.”

—(equals)

SHANK STILL PLUGGING ALONG: Michael Shank has not given up on

his attempt to field a car for a full IndyCar season this year.

But, Shank knows time is running out to get to next month’s

season-opener at St. Petersburg.

”I’m coming to grips with how difficult this is, but we’re

still alive and I’m still trying,” Shank said Thursday. ”I didn’t

anticipate it would be this difficult to get a team started, but

I’ve not given up.”

Shank was at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday to watch

AJ Allmendinger race in the Daytona 500 qualifying race.

Allmendinger was part of Shank’s winning team at last month’s Rolex

24 Hours at Daytona sports car race, and the two have partnered on

the IndyCar effort Shank announced last October.

When he announced his team, Shank indicated he’d partner with

Lotus, but the engine maker has told him it likely can’t get him a

motor in time for the season-opening race. And, sponsorship that

would have put driver Paul Tracy in the car for a final IndyCar

season fell apart. Coupled with the exclusion from the series’

Leader’s Circle program, the celebration on the Daytona victory was

short-lived for Shank.

”It was a definitely a kick in the gut,” said Shank. ”We were

at an all-time high, and now we’re dealing with the difficulties of

being a new team trying to get a program going in the series.”

Shank has already spent $1 million out of pocket, and is in

possession of a new Dallara. He said he’ll most definitely be

entered in the Indianapolis 500, but his main goal is to run the

entire season.

”We’ve got the car in the shop and the people we need to go run

the car, but at this point we are still working to have the full

budget in place to go racing,” said Shank. ”I don’t want to be in

a position to just go out and make up the numbers. We want to show

up and have a competitive presence.”