By David Reininger - Motorsport.com
West Allis, Wis. (June 1, 2001) - Helio Castroneves set the fastest lap in practice for Sunday's Miller Lite 225 on the Milwaukee Mile. Castroneves drove his Marlboro Team Penske Honda-powered Reynard around the one-mile oval at an average speed of 166.601 mph.
Castroneves, who won the Indianapolis 500 last Sunday, arrives in Milwaukee after spending the week on a media tour in New York City.
"I just returned from New York yesterday," said Castroneves. "As soon as I put my helmet on and close my visor, I'm back to business.
After running 500 miles in an Indy Racing car last weekend, Castroneves had to adjust to his CART car this morning. "I had to be careful to not go too fast. I wasn't very careful in the beginning, I was just going for it. But the car is handling good, we didn't try to change much. Tomorrow we'll try to go even faster."
Castroneves, who has earned two pole positions with Marlboro Team Penske this season, at Long Beach and Motegi, ended the day .163 seconds ahead of runner-up Cristiano da Matta.
Due to the ban on in-season testing in the CART FedEx Series, the Newman Haas team tried two different setups on the cars of da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi. Da Matta ended the day nearly six-tenths of a second faster than his teammate.
"We had a pretty smooth session," said da Matta. "We went through a couple of pretty big, different things we wanted to try on the cars and made some adjustments. Overall we're pretty happy with what we came up for this track."
Fittipaldi, 20th on the day, will make use of the information gained by his teammate when practice resumes tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. "I wasn't really that happy with the way my car felt but Cristiano like his setup so that will help us for tomorrow. We have a similar driving style and we like our cars setup more similar than how Michael and I had our cars so that is a benefit for our team."
Michael Andretti was teammate to Fittipaldi for several seasons before moving to Team Green with Motorola sponsorship. Da Matta joined Newman Haas for the 2001 season, winning the season opener in Mexico.
With rain showers interrupting today's activities, weather conditions during qualifying tomorrow afternoon are a concern for many of the teams. Da Matta has a different take on the weather. "If qualifying was set on practice times, we would be okay starting in second place. If it goes by points then we would start third so either way, we are looking okay. But we all want to go try to do a good job in qualifying for ourselves and the fans, so I hope the weather is good."
Kenny Brack was third fastest on the day, turning a lap at 164.864 mph. Despite winning the last round of the FedEx Series at Motegi, Japan, Brack knows he's back at square one at Milwaukee. "Personally, it was good to get that win. It's a big weight off my shoulders because we've been so close so many times, but it doesn't mean anything now. We're at a new race now, a new challenge, a new situation to get a grip on, and a new race on Sunday."
Mo Nunn Racing teammates Tony Kanaan and Alex Zanardi were fourth and fifth on the day's speed chart, respectively. Kanaan toured the track at 164.776 mph 22.547, while his teammate was one-tenth of a second slower at a speed of 164.048.
"It was definitely a good day from a team standpoint," said Kanaan. "Alex and I were both trying different things with our cars and we both ended up in the top-five."
Despite the top-five run for both No Nunn Racing cars, Kanaan and Zanardi will be looking for big improvements tomorrow. "I want to be running up front, and I know we are capable of being the fastest cars out there," said Kanaan.
"The changes we made at the end of the session put us where we are in the order," said Zanardi, who wasn't happy with the car when the session started. "I still can't say I'm incredibly happy with my car right now.
"We'll put our heads together and come up with something that will help us feel more comfortable in the car tomorrow."
Jimmy Vasser was sixth, followed by Paul Tracy and Shinji Nakano. Bryan Herta and Max Papis rounded out the day's top-ten.
Qualifying for Sunday's Miller Lite 225 gets underway on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. local time.
The Newman Haas cars of Cristiano Da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi were sporting Adflash WheelFX systems, which use light-emitting diodes to flash the names of the team sponsors on the wheels. The new technology adds extra real estate for sponsors and offers an opportunity to stand apart from the traditional decal on the car. The system was first employed at Nazareth, where course safety marshals were quick to alert each other of the effect via radio. Safety marshals at Milwaukee were briefed on the system prior to today's practice session.
The official lap distance of the Milwaukee Mile is 1.032. Race distance will be 225 laps (232.2 miles).
Helio Castroneves will continue his media activities surrounding his win in the 85th running of the Indianapolis 500 after completing Sunday's race at Milwaukee. He will return to New York on Monday for an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. After fulfilling his media obligations in New York, Castroneves is looking forward to returning to Brazil to celebrate his victory with family and friends.