IRL: Briscoe fastest on Friday in Sonoma

Ryan Briscoe parlayed his quick test last April into the best speed in practice for Sunday's Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix on the 2.26-mile, 12-turn Infineon Raceway Sears Point road course this afternoon. Besting 20 challengers on his 11th of...

Ryan Briscoe parlayed his quick test last April into the best speed in practice for Sunday's Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix on the 2.26-mile, 12-turn Infineon Raceway Sears Point road course this afternoon.

Besting 20 challengers on his 11th of 17 laps, the Australian rookie claimed the top spot on the scoring pylon at 108.130mph. "The IRL has done a very good job with these cars for the road courses," Briscoe acknowledged. "There's not too much experimentation allowed yet these cars are very good to drive.

Because he set top time in today's practice, Briscoe will determine the qualifying order tomorrow afternoon, and can either choose to be first or 21st in early afternoon time trials. "We'll look at the conditions tomorrow and since, we have until an hour before the start of qualifying to decide the order, hopefully I'll have the ideal track conditions to go out and post a fast time. Today was about getting a good car setup and putting us in a good position to qualify at the front," he said.

"This is one of the most challenging circuits I've driven and the team has done a great job of preparation. We are trying some new things and they are helping. This will be challenging race on a tough track," the former Toyota Formula One tester stated.

Reversing their order from the first April day of testing here, Helio Castroneves was second in practice today at 108.072mph, his quick lap set on the seventh of 16 total in the second, split session.

The Brazilian thought he "started pretty good and we were quick. We developed a radio problem this afternoon and when I was supposed to stop for new tires I just kept going. I took tires too late in the end and struggled," Castroneves explained. "We got greedy a little this morning and we'll go back on the changes we made for this afternoon."

Despite being the sole driver to go off and impact a tire barrier this morning, Tony Kanaan ended up third for the day with his second practice speed of 108.012mph, set on his ninth of 11 total laps. He also spun during the afternoon session, bringing out a local yellow.

Kanaan had been fifth in the morning, nearly one mile per hour slower. "We're just working towards qualifying and trying to find the best setup," Kanaan reported. "We had a couple of issues; I spun twice, so I'm not very happy with the setup I have right now."

Scott Dixon, who practiced second in the morning session was fourth overall for the day, turning his quick lap this afternoon at 107.670mph. New teammate and GP2 racer Giorgio Pantano was first in the morning session at 107.620mph and was unable to improve in the afternoon, setting for fifth overall.

Dario Franchitti, first to take flying laps on this circuit and the driver who performed exploratory setup maneuvers for the Indy Racing League logged the sixth best speed of the day at 107.508mph. Like most of his peers, the Scot was out first thing in the morning to watch the historic Formula One cars taking their paces around the track with a huge smile on his face.

His teammate Bryan Herta was seventh at 107.097mph, followed by Pikes Peak victor and point leader Dan Wheldon's lap of 107.051mph, both times set in the second session. Wheldon had the ignominious distinction of being the first driver to go off-course, spinning in Turn 11 just 16 minutes into practice. Sam Hornish Jr. was ninth (107.017mph) while Alex Barron used his morning lap of 106.800mph to nab tenth place.

There were plenty of "offs' during both practice sessions in the morning and afternoon sessions, in particular at the blind uphill Turn 2 and in the shortened Turn 11 area, which has plenty of concrete runoff space. Teams experimented with fuel levels in the full-field morning practice and that meant some, including Jeff Bucknum sitting in for A.J. Foyt IV needed tow- ins for methanol-depleted race cars.

In addition to Kanaan, Buddy Rice and Kosuke Matsuura spun at the second corner in the morning session, while teammates Tomas Scheckter and Tomas Enge managed to make contact in Turn 11, the South African coming off poorer yet able to get back on track and continue for the final half-hour of morning practice. Enge ended up 13th in the combined speed charts; Scheckter was 16th.

Rice set his best speed in the morning session for 11th and teammate Vitor Meira produced the 12th best speed of the day with his eighth lap this afternoon. Patrick Carpentier was 14th for the day, using his morning speed, as did Scott Sharp, who ended up 15th. Matsuura turned the 17th quickest lap, followed by Bucknum, Danica Patrick (19th) Roger Yasukawa and Ed Carpenter.

It was quite a change to see the Ganassi drivers on top of the heap, with Briscoe first, Dixon fourth and Pantano fifth. Apparently the team has found something in their settings, but Briscoe allowed that their ascension is a combination of Toyota power, the team's activities and the trio of drivers. ""When you get it right at this track, you know it. We're doing everything we can to be competitive and we feel our car is very good on the road course."

Qualifying takes place tomorrow afternoon at 12:30PM PDT and the Indy cars will have a final practice at 4PM Saturday afternoon to get their cars properly bedded in for Sunday's 80-lap contest.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Giorgio Pantano , Scott Sharp , A.J. Foyt IV , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Jeff Bucknum , Kosuke Matsuura , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter