Memo's big chance

He's come to all the races this year, helmet in hand, ready to drive at any time. Memo Gidley has driven twenty-two Champ car races over the past two years for Derrick Walker, Dale Coyne, Jerry Forsythe and John Della Penna, but Gidley hasn't raced in almost eight months since last year's California Speedway season-closer. This weekend, the 31-year old Californian is back in the saddle with Chip Ganassi's team, replacing Nicolas Minassian. It's Gidley's big chance and he knows he has to make it happen

Memo's big chance

"I think whatever you do is basically a reflection of your personality and who you are," Gidley says of the long days he spent showing his face around the Champ car paddock. "To see somebody come to the races, week in and week out without a ride and pound around like I did, whether it's walking around or in a car, I think it speaks for the work that I'm going to put into it."

Ganassi's team manager Mike Hull told Gidley last Monday night he would replace Minassian this weekend and Gidley went to Ganassi's shop on for a seat fitting on Wednesday before flying to Oregon. "It was completely unexpected, like a lot of the rides I've been in have come about," Gidley observes. "Everything that I've done, other than not drive a Champ car for the last seven months has been to prepare for a situation like this."

Gidley did not approach Ganassi or make a sales pitch to the four-time champion team owner. "I've seen him around the track and said hi to him a few times," Memo said. "I don't think you can pitch somebody on this. They either have to believe in you, or they don't. That's just the way it is."

Gidley lives in Indianapolis these days and is a regular shifter kart racer. In fact, he usually beats his Champ car contemporaries whenever they take part in a pick-up kart race. He also maintains a vigorous work-out programme.

"I'm at the gym all the time. I do a lot of weight training and cardio work. I ride my bicycle a lot. It's really humid and hot in Indy during the spring and summer and I try and ride a lot during the middle of the day when the humidity is up. I do long rides and short rides to prepare for the heat and get used to the heat. And I drive my kart all the time. Basically, it's just non-stop fitness."

Gidley drove four races for Derrick Walker's team in 1999 and half a dozen races for Dale Coyne's small team later that year. Last season he replaced the injured Patrick Carpentier for three races in Jerry Forsythe's Players team, then finished the year driving for John Della Penna. His best finish from these various adventures was a sixth with Della Penna at Elkhart Lake last August.

"I've never been able to do any type of a test program," Gidley points out. "Every time I'm in a car is practice that I need. So I think I'm really used to this situation. As many things that you have control of you try to make sure they're right, whether it's small things like knowing what the numbers on the dash are. All the things like that you can control, you make sure you're prepared for that. The rest of it is just getting out and driving, like leaving the pitbox or whatever. It's just getting out on the track and driving around, and just trying to learn, or remember, as quickly as you can."

Gidley says Friday at Portland was a good day for him even though he finished in last place, just 1.6 seconds away from Helio Castroneves's fastest lap. "I felt pretty good right away. It wasn't like I was intimidated by the power or the speed, or any of that. The car felt normal. Everything felt real normal. Then it was just getting the subtleties of my driving back into it and trying to get the set-up to work around that. For me it felt like I got into the programme again pretty quickly."

He says he enjoyed his first day with Ganassi's team and was impressed with their efficiency and professionalism. "Everybody here, all the mechanics are really behind what I've done in the past and what I'm doing now. So it's great to have that kind of support. I feel like I know them pretty well in a short amount of time. It's amazing how quickly the engineers make their decisions when we make a change during practice. It doesn't seem like you're ever sitting there thinking about it too long, which is great. Everybody works really efficiently and the work is done on the cars quickly and thoroughly. So it's really nice because you can concentrate on your driving."

On Saturday morning Gidley improved by almost a full second over his best from Friday and moved up to twenty-first ovarall. Memo says his goal for this weekend is simply to improve each time he's on the track.

"I think my goal is to continue to get better each time out and however much improvement I make each session, I can't force it to happen. So my goal pretty much is to keep making improvements and at the end of the weekend we'll see where we stand. The thing about this weekend is a lot of people figure I'm going to be really nervous or anxious but there is nothing more that I can do. Everything that I'm aware of to get into the groove quicker, or be prepared, I can't think of anything more that I should have done or could be doing right now. I'm ready. We've just got to see where the chips fall and that's where it ends."

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