Rain in the Phoenix desert curtailed this week's projected two-day IRL IndyCar Series test at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway although Tuesday's running still allowed Scott Sharp a chance to work with new Kelley Racing engineer Andy Borme and gave Super Aguri Fernandez Racing an opportunity to rate rookie talent Kousuke Matsuura.

Series veteran Sharp became the first IRL IndyCar Series driver to test on the slightly reconfigured 'desert jewel' oval in Tom Kelley's No. 8 Delphi Dallara-Toyota on Tuesday and was pleased with the changes that had been made to the venue since the last time an IRL car turned a wheel at the track.

After the Purex Dial Indy 200 on March 23rd at PIR, construction crews began reconfiguring the track by eliminating the opening in the backstretch wall and widening the exit to Turn 2. In addition, a portion of Turn 4 was torn up to build a tunnel, and a piece of asphalt in that area had to be repaved.

"PIR has done a great job in their additions to the track," Sharp said. "The tunnel will provide great access, and the repaving in Turn 4 was incredibly smooth. The track was also widened on the exit of Turn 2, which should provide much more racing room when our IRL cars get two abreast."

Sharp completed 138 laps and worked with new engineer Andy Borme for the first time.

"We got on quite well almost immediately," Sharp said. "We seemed to have great understanding and communication. I really liked the new set-up Andy put on the car. Without pushing too hard, we were already a fair bit faster than when we qualified at Phoenix last March. Unfortunately, our second day was rained out, but we were able to get a few items accomplished the first day and establish a baseline for when we return in 2004."

In addition to Sharp's testing, Super Aguri Fernandez Racing continued their preparations for 2004 by testing 24-year-old Japanese driver Matsuura. The ARTA backed driver completed 134 laps in the team's Dallara-Honda that narrowly missed out on the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year title with American Roger Yasukawa at the wheel.

Despite losing all of Wednesday's track-time due to the arrival of rain, Matsuura still completed the speed-phase of his IRL Rookie Test.

"It was a great experience," Matsuura said. "It was my first time to drive an oval circuit in an IRL car. The test was good, and I didn't make any mistakes. The car is quite fast, and I really enjoyed it. This was my first time driving in the United States, and it was a great experience."

Indy Racing League Technical Manager Mark Bridges oversaw the test.

"He looked good," Bridges said. "He did real well and gave good feedback."

Matsuura drove for the ARTA-Signature team in 2003, finishing third in the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup championship with three wins and six consecutive podium finishes in the final rounds. He began his career in karts at the age of 15 and won multiple championship titles. In 1999, he was invited to attend the Suzuka Racing School Formula (SRS-F), a premiere driver's training program based in Japan.

After claiming the 2000 Formula Dream championship title, Matsuura graduated to the German Formula 3 Championship with the help of the ARTA Project run by Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Co-Owner Aguri Suzuki. Matsuura finished second in the 2002 German F3 Championship with the Prema Powerteam, remaining in contention for the championship until the final rounds. His accomplishments in F3 competition earned Matsuura a test with the Lucky Strike BAR Honda Formula One team in December 2002.

Suzuki, Co-Owner Adrian Fernandez, Managing Director Tom Anderson and Race
Engineer John Dick were on hand for the test.

"Obviously, Kousuke has a lot of talent, and we are very pleased with his results from the first day," Anderson said. "We are disappointed that we didn't get to run the second day due to rain, but otherwise we are very pleased."

"The test was very good," said Suzuki. "We were very impressed with Kousuke. It was his first time in an IRL car on an oval track. He did a very good job. I am very happy to have tested him."

"The g-forces are quite high and my neck already hurts," added the young driver. "John [Dick, race engineer] is very smart and he knows what a driver wants. He gave me quite an understeering car for the beginning of the test, and I think it was a very good idea to do this with a new driver. I was very happy to work with all of the mechanics and they were very helpful. I am very thankful for the team, for Aguri, for Honda, everyone. I had a very great experience."

Super Aguri Fernandez Racing, which is looking to step up to a two-car effort next season, will be confirming its driver line-up for the 2004 IRL IndyCar Series in the near future.

 

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