IRL: Castroneves fastest in practice at the Glen

Sunny and breezy skies replaced persistent morning rain, permitting the full field of Indy cars a proper 45 minutes of all-skate practice this afternoon. Preparing for the inaugural Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix presented by Argent Mortgage on...

Sunny and breezy skies replaced persistent morning rain, permitting the full field of Indy cars a proper 45 minutes of all-skate practice this afternoon.

Preparing for the inaugural Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix presented by Argent Mortgage on the seminal 3.37-mile Finger Lakes road circuit, it was no surprise to see the duo of Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, respectively, atop the speed charts. This duo has wide experience on road circuits - and battling one another - for more than 20 years.

Castroneves, who ended up sixth in the morning practice cracked off a lap at 130.696mph on his eighth of ten circuits to the end of the protracted practice, giving him the decision to either go first or last in single car qualifying tomorrow. "You know," the ebullient Castroneves related, "we didn't have much luck at Infineon Raceway after looking for so much on the road courses.

"There's a lot of experience involved and it takes time to adapt," he continued. "This place is incredible; it's wide and fast but the weather here has been weird. This morning we went from dry to rain to dry tires, back and forth. In the end we were able to improve," Castroneves acknowledged.

His favorite part of the 17-turn long course has to be "the carousel, turn 5 after the bus stop. It's very difficult. The best part about racing here, though is the fans' enthusiasm. When we had our open test five thousand people turned up. That was awesome."

Kanaan, who had to relinquish the IRL championship earned in 2004 to teammate Dan Wheldon at the start of practice, was second quickest this afternoon with his seventh (of l0) lap at 130.619mph. He did "what I could do to win the championship and I'm still in a fight for second so it's not done yet. There's a dogfight back there," Kanaan declared.

Kanaan too enjoys the turn 5 complex after the bus stop. "Everything is so much fun on this track. It's very fast at turn 5 and I like that. The track did a very, very good job of fixing what we asked for" after the June open test at Watkins Glen.

"We're very pleased with what we saw this morning. We asked them to move some curbing and guardrails and they made the track much better." Kanaan won the only other IRL road race held in the League's ten-year history, at Infineon Raceway Sears Point late last month.

The only other driver to crack the 130mph bracket was Scott Dixon, who came through with a 130.168mph run on his 15th of 17 tours of the track. In all, Dixon ran 42 laps over the two sessions, more than any other driver. Dixon ran a lot in the wet and reported, "Our cars were the first ones out there. It was pretty decent," the Kiwi said. "We came out in the afternoon and the car was pretty decent then, too. It was all about just getting a lap."

Newly crowned 2005 champion Dan Wheldon was fourth this afternoon (129.925mph) after having a tough morning practice (he was 11th in the wet). "the car feels pretty good and I thought the balance was pretty good this afternoon. I'm looking forward to qualifying" tomorrow afternoon.

Dario Franchitti's lap of 129.633mph was good for fifth overall; he attained the same ranking in the morning session. Giving his own weather report the Scot advised, "We saw everything today. We saw beautiful sunshine and horrendous fog and I think we're a lot closer than we were in the test but we still need to get the balance more comfortable for me."

Giorgio Pantano's second drive in the second Ganassi entry yielded sixth place in the afternoon session at 129.185mph; he completed a total of 31 laps getting to know the car and the circuit over both sessions. Pantano was the quickest driver during the difficult morning session that was halted several times for off-course excursions and for fog so thick the first turn was invisible from the star/finish stand.

Pantano thought the morning "went very well for us despite the rain, but this afternoon there was just too much traffic (with all cars on track) and I couldn't get a good lap in. I think we have a very fast car and I am getting a lot more confidence with every lap."

Vitor Meira's 128.658mph lap was best of the Rahal Letterman Racing trio in seventh. Meira "really wanted that last lap before the checkered flag; we had at least a second left in the car," he said. Not wanting to be too aggressive in the morning session, Meira "sat out a lot just because we didn't want to do something stupid. The rain is always a different animal."

After practicing third in the morning, Patrick Carpentier dropped to eighth in the sunny session at 128.461mph. Tomas Scheckter 's 128.288mph was best of the Bow-Tie Brigade. Scheckter was pleased to be well ahead of his preparations at Infineon Raceway last month. Bryan Herta rounded out the top ten at 127.929mph.

Among the balance of the field, Sam Hornish Jr. earned 11th, while Buddy Rice in 12th "getting better in the dry. We didn't run stickers so I'm sure we had some more time in the car," Rice said.

Jeff Bucknum didn't run at all this morning and one team member said, "We didn't want to fix the car". The Foyt team has a lot of confidence in Bucknum, who has a ton of miles around this track in various machines. He was 17th.

Rookie point leader Danica Patrick had a tough go today, ending up 18th. "We really struggled to find a consistent car today," she said. Ed Carpenter suffered the ignominy of being first to bend his car early in the wet session, damaging his front and rear wings. After practicing fourth this morning in difficult conditions, Tomas Enge made only two laps this afternoon and became the caboose in this 20-car IndyCar Series train.

Clear skies are expected for tomorrow afternoon's single car and Firestone Fast Six qualifying sessions, but there is a good chance of rain squalls on Sunday afternoon, when the Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix starts off for its 60-lap contest.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Giorgio Pantano , Tomas Enge , Helio Castroneves , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Jeff Bucknum , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira