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MOTOR RACING SHAV GLICK

Gordon Takes a Pounding for Complaints

June 03, 2005|SHAV GLICK

Robby Gordon's remarks about Danica Patrick's 100-pound weight giving her an advantage in the Indianapolis 500 over heavier drivers would carry more weight if he were speaking of a road or street race, rather than a big oval.

So says Phil Casey, senior technical director of the Indy Racing League, under whose rules the 500 is conducted.

"That's the way it's always been at Indianapolis, back to when USAC [the United States Auto Club] set the rules," said Casey, a former Indy car builder and chief mechanic before joining the IRL.

"At Indy, with the throttle wide open most of the time, a car retains maximum velocity, so weight would make only an insignificant difference. Things are different in Formula One, or a street course like Long Beach, where a lot of quick starts and stops put more demand on the fuel consumption."

Gordon was quoted before the race as saying that Patrick's size gave her such an advantage that he would refuse to race against her. After criticism of his comments hit the newsstands and airwaves, the volatile driver from Orange tried to smooth the waters.

"The only thing I was saying was that I have a problem with the rule, not any particular driver," he told Associated Press. "I've been impressed with Danica from the first time she got in an IRL car earlier this year, and I certainly did not mean to disrespect her or any other driver."

Patrick, weighing 100 pounds, finished fourth. Dan Wheldon, a 157-pound Englishman, won and collected $1.57 million.

The weight issue is not new at Indy. A few years ago, two-time champion Arie Luyendyk, 5-11 and about 175 pounds, complained about 120-pound Jimmy Kite, and Gordon said that he and Paul Tracy had discussed the problem with IRL officials.

In other series, such as Formula One, Champ Car and the National Hot Rod Assn. drag races, the car's minimum weight includes the driver. NASCAR, with its 3,400-pound Nextel Cup and Busch series cars and Craftsman trucks, does not put its drivers on the scales.

Champ Car weighs its drivers before the season and uses a formula to equalize the weight factor for each race, most of which are on road or street courses.

Lighter drivers make up the difference by putting ballast in their cars.

"Ballast can become a safety issue," Casey said. "Where do you put it where it might not fly around in an accident? For instance, you would need about 60 pounds in Danica's car, and that's a lot of loose weight. She had the same chassis and engine as Kenny Brack and was on the same team, and he ran quicker than she did [in qualifying], so I don't see the problem."

In some cases, using ballast can still be an advantage for a lighter driver because it gives the team an opportunity to put the weight where it will help most in balancing the car.

Austin Coil, crew chief for John Force's championship funny cars, once told Force, "We can spend $85,000 trying to lighten up the chassis and you could get the same result by eating a few less hamburgers."

*

Gordon, 36, may not be the most politically correct driver, but he certainly is the hardiest.

Unhappy over not being able to make the Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 same-day double this year because Indy changed its starting time, Gordon is making up for it this week. Today he will qualify in Dover, Del., for the MBNA 400 Nextel Cup race, then fly to Ensenada, Mexico, to drive in the Baja 500 off-road race Saturday and return to Dover for the Cup race Sunday.

Gordon, who will drive solo in the 419-mile Baja race, won it in 1989 and '90.

While Gordon is bouncing his No. 83 Red Bull Chevy CK1500 Trophy Truck in his first SCORE desert race of the year, Martin Truex Jr. will be putting Gordon's No. 31 Chevy Cup car through its pre-race ritual in Dover.

"Robby has a lot of respect for [Truex], so he was the perfect person to practice our car this weekend while Robby is running Baja," said Greg Erwin, Gordon's crew chief. "Martin's feedback on the car's race setup is going to be important, and we can't thank him enough for offering to help us out."

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Gordon will be at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma testing his car for the Nextel Cup race there June 26.

This may sound like a taxing schedule, but not for Gordon. As a prelude to the 36-race Nextel Cup season, he drove a Volkswagen Race-Touareg in the Dakar Rally, a 5,562-mile race over 17 days from Barcelona, Spain, through Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Senegal before ending in Dakar.

Southland Scene

Perris Auto Speedway is adding an eighth-mile drag strip to its Lake Perris Fairgrounds property, with an opening date scheduled for early July. There will be racing every Friday night.... On its half-mile oval, Perris will have super stocks, street stocks, IMCA modifieds, hornets and lightning sprint cars on Saturday night.... Ventura Raceway resumes its weekly Saturday season with four top classes -- VRA 360 sprint cars, senior sprints, IMCA modifieds and dwarf cars.

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