By Tom Haapanen – Motorsport.com
Max Papis eked out the fastest lap in afternoon practice on a hot Michigan International Speedway, with Alex Tagliani and Kenny Brack close behind. Papis’ time of 31.853 was no match, though for the 31.809 that Brack had set in the cooler conditions of the morning session.
“The last time was rather special,” said Papis. “Because it was essentially under race conditions.”
As a result of the hot, slow track, many drivers had difficulty bettering the times from the morning session, and the leaderboard for the combined practice sessions had a thorough mix of times from the two sessions.
Brack’s time was from the first session; he was followed by Papis’ second-session time, and then Patrick Carpentier (1st session, 31.917) and Tagliani (2nd session, 31.998).
Carpentier and Tagliani had struggled through some technical difficulties in the session, when both Team Player’s teammates experienced near-simultaneous gearbox trouble, and had to switch to backup cars.
“We were trying a different gearbox, and both of our cars failed at almost the same time,” related Carpentier. “We won’t be using that gearbox for the race!”
The four drivers were the only ones to clock times under 32 seconds, with the cars slowed down by the seemingly ever-increasing size of the spec “Handford wing” used on all CART superspeedway events.
“It’s like the engine is fighting this big handbrake that is on the back of my car,” related Papis. “So technically it really doesn’t make sense.”
However, a majority of the drivers appear to be more comfortable with the speeds in mid-220 mph range, down nearly 10 mph from last year’s Michigan 500 qualifying. The larger rear wing slows the cars down, creates turbulence and, inevitably, puts even more load on the engines.
“I think it’s a lot more turbulent out there,” thought Brack. “I think the race will be much more interesting than before.”
Qualifying for the Harrah’s 500 begins at noon on Saturday.