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With the 1997 Indy Racing League opener just two weeks away, testing of the IRL's new chassis and engine combinations for the Indy 200 continues at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Florida, writes James Beckett.

Cars manufactured by the British G-Force and Italian Dallara companies, and engines by Oldsmobile and Nissan, have been pounding the one-mile Disney Oval in preparation for the big race.

Scott Goodyear, driving a G-Force Oldsmobile for the Treadway Racing team, has to date logged the fastest winter testing lap at 168.145 mph, although he has been closely followed by Calles Racing's Davy Jones who took his G-Force Oldsmobile to a speed of 167.777 mph on January 7th.

Jones, winner of the 1996 Le Mans 24 hours, was also runner-up to Buddy Lazier in a thrilling Indy 500 last May and along with Rick Galles' team makes a welcome return to competition in the IRL.

Joining Goodyear and Jones have been a host of teams and drivers who have made their way to the WDW Speedway as soon as they have taken delivery of their new chassis and engines.

Arie Luyendyk and Elisio Salazar were the first to sample the V8 power of the Oldsmobile Aurora IRL engine in G-Force and Dallara chassis, while 1996 co-champions Buzz Calkins and Scott Sharp have driven G-Force and Dallara Oldsmobiles for their Bradley Motorsports and AJ Foyt Enterprise teams.

Buzz Calkins, shown here in his 1996 car at the Las Vegas 500K. Photo : James Beckett.

Power Grand Prix driver Eddie Cheever drove his own team's First Plus Team Cheever G-Force Oldsmobile to a speed of 155.844 mph at WDW, while the sensation of last year's Indy 500, Tony Stewart, has been recording hugely impressive times and speeds in his Team Menard G-Force Oldsmobile Aurora.

Menard, used to running their own Buick based V6 engine at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, have adapted well to their V8 task and Stewart will be a true star of 1997.

Current points leader Mike Groff has been the only driver to take to the track with a Nissan Infiniti engined car, and his Jonathan Byrd/Cunningham Racing G-Force chassis No. GF01-004 was hampered by a small mechanical problem which sidelined him after just thirteen laps of the Disney track. Groff said after his run, "We got a little later start than the other guys but they've gone through it too. I'm kind of encouraged about running further tests. We're learning as we go."

James Beckett.

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