Castroneves fastest on Indy 500 Opening Day

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Castroneves fastest on Indy 500 Opening Day

Team Penske's Helio Castroneves led all drivers for the top speed around Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday as preparations for the 2010 Indianapolis 500 commenced in Speedway, Indiana. Helio Castroneves, Team Penske. Photo by...

Team Penske's Helio Castroneves led all drivers for the top speed around Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday as preparations for the 2010 Indianapolis 500 commenced in Speedway, Indiana.

Helio Castroneves, Team Penske.
Photo by Andy Sallee.

Castroneves' lap of 226.603 mph was best among twenty-seven veteran competitors to take to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during early afternoon practice that preceded the Indy 500 Rookie Orientation Program.

Second on the scoring pylon at the end of the day was Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti at 226.535 mph, followed by teammate Scott Dixon with a best lap of 226.237 mph.

Castroneves spent the entirety of his track time on Saturday in his backup, the No. 3T car. "So far, the car seems to be where we want it," the three-time Indianapolis champion said. "It's always good to start on a positive note, but there's still a lot of work to do."

Franchitti commented, "It was a pretty solid day. To have the car feeling so good this early is encouraging. It was a nice way to start."

Former Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon in the Panther Racing entry was fourth with a speed of 225.609 mph.

Andretti Autosport's Tony Kanaan took turns behind the wheel of each of his four teammates' cars during the session. His best lap of 224.793 mph came in the No. 43 machine that John Andretti will attempt to qualify. The speed put him fifth on the timesheet.

"We just wanted to make sure all of the cars had the same feel," said Kanaan of his round robin of the racing cockpits. "We wanted to make sure we all had the same starting point, and they (the team) voted me the guy to do that."

Tony Kanaan, Andretti Autosport and Danica Patrick, Andretti Autosportmay approach 235 mph. The test begins at 200 mph and climbs progressively by five mph increments through 215 mph. Completion of the program permits rookie drivers to attempt to qualify for the 500-mile race to be held on May 30.

"They told me I couldn't go any faster," said a smiling Howard later. "I'm excited. I feel good."

Five drivers who started the Indy 500 previously, but have not driven competitively recently, also took turns with the rookies. Tomas Scheckter was fastest, recording laps in excess of 220 mph. Graham Rahal, Townsend Bell, Davey Hamilton and AJ Foyt IV also must run with the first-timers for a brief refresher to the big oval.

Jay Howard, Sarah Fisher Racing.
Photo by Indy Racing League.

The rookie session ended temporarily at 2:05 PM EDT when light rain showers erupted, then quickly abated. The period resumed on a dry track at 4:48 PM EDT. The track was declared officially closed for the day at 5:30 PM EDT when rain showers returned.

Conditions were excellent at Noon when the green flag dropped to signal the race course open for the two-week practice and qualifications leading up to this year's 500. Ambient temperature was 66 degrees Fahrenheit under partly cloudy skies in central Indiana. Track temperature was 99 degrees Fahrenheit.

Castroneves was first out onto the racing surface, exiting his pit box at the far southern end of pit lane at precisely Noon EDT.

Forty-two cars total are here at the Speedway as of opening day, with 36 fully tech-qualified to compete on the racecourse.

Practice continues on Sunday with another two-hour veteran session scheduled to begin at Noon EDT, followed by ROP. Gates open at 9AM EDT. The track closes at 6 PM EDT.

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Series INDYCAR