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Everyone’s Winging It in Testing of Device Designed to Slow Cars

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When NASCAR decided its stock cars were going too fast on certain superspeedways a few years ago, officials introduced carburetor restrictor plates to reduce speeds.

CART, after seeing Mauricio Gugelmin reach 240 mph last year at California Speedway, decided it had to slow its Champ cars for Michigan and California speedways, the twin two-mile ovals owned by Penske Motorsports.

The answer was a device called the Handford wing, designed by Mark Handford of Swift Engineering, which will be mandatory for starters in Sunday’s U.S. 500 and the Marlboro 500 at Fontana on Nov. 1.

The device was expected to reduce speeds from 5 to 10 mph. Fitted to the rear of the car, it is a winglike aerodynamic piece that increases drag on straightaways and reduces downforce in corners.

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The results from Friday’s first day of testing were not conclusive.

Alex Fernandez, in a Reynard-Ford Cosworth, turned in a lap of 232.004 mph, faster than any he posted last year.

“Qualifying times will probably drop into the 227 range without the other cars to help you along,” Fernandez said.

However, most of the other top drivers were 3-8 mph slower than their laps last year. The track record is 234.625 by Jimmy Vasser in 1996. Scott Pruett took the pole last year at 233.857.

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“It might not appear to be much, but if you compare how much quicker we’d have been going had we never done anything [to reduce speeds] to where we are right now, we’ve probably taken a huge chunk of speed out,” said car owner Derrick Walker, a member of the rules committee. “We’d probably be looking at 240 here and maybe 250 at Fontana.”

Gugelmin said the device “made the car feel like you’ve got a parachute on the back. It’s very draggy.”

Although a number of drivers tested the Handford wing before coming here for the U.S. 500, no one knew what to expect when running with it in traffic.

“There could be some excitement on the straightaways because we found that you can get a big tow off a car in front of you,” said Gil de Ferran, who drives a Reynard-Honda for Walker. “There is a tendency to get sucked in by the car ahead of you.”

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Michael Andretti, whose 231.051 lap was second fastest, said, “The Handford device was doing what it’s supposed to do. You’ll notice it more tomorrow when we’re out there [qualifying] alone. I don’t think you’ll see anyone over 229.”

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Series champion Alex Zanardi, who will be seeking his fifth consecutive win in Sunday’s race, set a “mid-August” date for revealing his plans for next year. European news agencies insist he will be Jacques Villeneuve’s replacement on Frank Williams’ Formula One team, but Zanardi said he is still talking with Target team owner Chip Ganassi about the possibility of returning for another season in CART.

“Wherever I go, I am a lucky boy to get a chance to play with million-dollar toys,” Zanardi said.

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From now on, CART’s New York Stock Exchange stock ticker symbol will be MPH, a change from OPW.

“MPH is a natural choice for a company such as ours,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Andrew Craig in making the announcement Friday.

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With the FedEx series taking a week off, Toyota driver Robby Gordon will head for Indianapolis, where he will drive the No. 19 Yellow Freight Ford for Kurt Roehrig in next Saturday’s Brickyard 400.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Race at a Glance

* Event: U.S. 500.

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* Site: Brooklyn, Mich.

* Schedule: Today, qualifying (ESPN2, 4 p.m., delayed); Sunday, race (Channel 7, noon, delayed).

* Track: Michigan Speedway (oval, 2.0 miles, 18 degrees banking in corners).

* Race distance: 500 miles, 250 laps.

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* Last year: Italy’s Alex Zanardi raced to his first oval-track victory, beating England’s Mark Blundell by nearly a full lap.


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