CICERO, Ill. -- Shaky rear wings couldn't keep CART's drivers from flying high in the opening of practice for Sunday's Target Grand Prix.
Five drivers, led by Kenny Brack, unofficially topped the qualifying record on the 1.029-mile Chicago Motor Speedway oval in Friday's session.
But, despite the speeds that surpassed Max Papis' 162.559 mph lap last year in the inaugural Chicago event, nobody was very happy, thanks to the use of a second-generation rear wing called the Handford MkII.
The wing, intended to slow the cars enough to make racing on the one-mile ovals more competitive, instead is making the cars hard to balance and even harder to pass.
Brack, who earlier in the day was given a one-year contract extension, taking him through the 2001 season with Team Rahal, turned a fast lap of 164.224. But he wasn't surprised by the speed, since he was among the fastest drivers in an open test session here on July 6-7.
"We had a successful test a few weeks ago and carried on from there," Brack said. "We didn't do anything major. The car felt pretty much the way it did in tests."
During the test, in which most of the CART teams took part, the drivers were asked to try driving the track with both the MKII and the original Handford Device, which has been used on the bigger ovals in Michigan and California since 1998.
"We made a fair assessment of the wings in the test," Brack said. "We ran for half a day with each and then sat down and talked about it afterward. These wings are the best we had at the time."
But they are apparently not what the drivers -- or the fans -- would like.
In the 500-mile races on the bigger tracks, the bigger Handford wing has been a great success, producing tremendously competitive races with lots of passing.
Last Sunday's Michigan 500 not only saw 52 official lead changes -- as well as many more that took place before the finish line and weren't counted -- there was a scintillating 17-lap finishing duel between Juan Montoya and Michael Andretti at speeds up to 225 mph. Those two swapped leads on each of those final laps before Montoya beat Andretti to the finish line by less than a car-length.
Although the drivers chose to use the newer wing here, most consider it the lesser of two evils.
"I don't think there will be a lot of side-by-side racing," Brack said. "We really don't have a good choice for these tracks. For some, it's not going to be as exciting as Michigan. It's the one-mile syndrome, not a lot of passing."
Cristiano da Matta, who was second on Friday at 164.355, had problems with vibration from his tires during much of the session before finally smoothing things out with his third set of Firestone Firehawks.
"For a while it almost felt like there was an earthquake in the track," he said. "Once we got on the third set, everything was fine and we got a lot of laps."
As for the race, and the effects of the wing, he said, "I think there will be passing, but not 142 lead changes like there was in Michigan. It will be a lot like Formula One. Lap times will be more constant and pit stops will be more important."
Helio Castroneves, the third of five drivers to unofficially top the track record, turned a lap of 163.245.
"There were 21 cars within one second today, so you know it's going to be tough to pass in the race," Castroneves said. "You'll have to be patient and wait until someone makes a mistake."
Papis and Tony Kanaan were the other drivers to surpass the track record, turning lap of 163.046 and 163.031, respectively.
Defending series and race champion Montoya, whose car owner, Chip Ganassi, is part owner of the Chicago track, was seventh at 162.360, while series points leader Andretti was a disappointing 19th at 159.631.
"We came here pretty optimistic, but the car is not where we thought it would be in terms of set-up," said Andretti, who took the series lead at Michigan. "It's not magic. We just need to come up with a good set-up that will make us competitive again."
His teammate, Christian Fittipaldi, was far worse off than Andretti, hitting the wall hard in the morning practice. He was knocked out momentarily and underwent testing at a local hospital before being released.
CART bars drivers who are knocked unconscious from driving in a race on the same weekend.
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