Another Andretti gets behind the wheel

All in the family

Posted: Thursday, January 02, 2003

Marco Andretti, 15, son of CART's winningest driver, Michael Andretti, and grandson to racing legend Mario Andretti, is racing go-karts with hopes of following a family tradition.

''It's the way to go'' young Andretti said of go-karts. ''It's awesome. People underestimate these things a lot. These things are race cars. It's a great step ping stone if you want to be a driver.''

Marco competed in the senior division during the World Karting Association's five-day program this week at the Daytona International Speedway. He finished 10th.

THIS IS A TEST: Each team with a veteran driver on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series is allowed five official test sessions in 2003. Rookies get seven test dates.

Whether they like it or not, a pair of three-day sessions at the Daytona International Speedway will count as one of those five dates.

Testing for the Daytona 500 is mandatory, and half of the teams that have announced intentions to compete in 2003 will be at the 2.5-mile raceway from Jan. 7-9. The other half will practice from Jan. 14-16.

Drivers who finished in the odd-numbered positions in the 2002 point standings will be at the first test; even-numbered drivers will attend the second session.

Unlike seasons past, when teams were trying to fine-tune their superspeedway cars, this year's test has a greater sense of importance. Pontiac and Chevrolet both have new cars that need sorting out, and all four manufacturers are working with standardized body locations.

Old rules simply called for standard-sized car body and a certain wheelbase measurement.

The rules, however, didn't say how the two had to match.

As a result, teams pushed the car body closer to the front on superspeedways to keep the rear spoiler from creating too much drag, and they pushed the body toward the rear on short tracks.

The difference, according to NASCAR, was as much as a seven- or eight-inch variance from week to week. Now all bodies must be positioned in the same place.

''There have been obvious front and rear changes, and overall changes as well,'' said Derrike Cope, the 1990 Daytona 500 winner. ''That changes the balance for everyone. Testing at Daytona has now become a matter of going out and finding the balance in the car. The rule changes the attitude of the car. Everybody is going to have to work hard.''

For single-car teams without big budgets, the new rule is welcomed.

''For us, it's a good thing,'' Cope said. ''It puts us in a position where the wind tunnel becomes less important because of the standardized body location. Everybody will have to do the same thing, whether it's us or a team that's won a championship: go to the track and work on the balance of the car down force-wise.''

The first group of drivers at the Daytona test will include defending series champion Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Rusty Wallace, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler, Jeff Burton, Michael Waltrip, Bobby La bonte and Cope.

The second group a week later will include Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Sterling Marlin, Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bill Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Rudd and 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton.

TAG IDEA STALLS: Apparently race fans aren't too keen about seeing their favorite driver on car tags in South Carolina. Sales of the special tags that come with a driver's name, car number and autograph have been sluggish, according to public safety spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli.

Only 177 of the special license plates were sold since they became available on Dec. 2. The tags cost $94.

PIT STOPS: Toyota, which plans to join the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2004 with its Tundra, is thinking about making the jump into the Winston Cup Series as well. Toyota engineers are working on an eight-cylinder push-rod engine. That project, which will include the Camry, has a 2007 target date ... Former Formula One champion Alain Prost said NASCAR's $10 million-a-year budget is very appealing to him. He's not happy about the staggering costs and lack of competition on the F-1 circuit, so he's been looking at starting a stock car team.



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