Cheever duo leads Delphi Indy 300 practice; Hornish hangs tough.

JOLIET, Ill., Friday, Sept. 6, 2002 -- Red Bull Cheever Racing drivers Buddy Rice and Eddie Cheever Jr. led the speed charts after practice for the Delphi Indy 300 on Sept. 6 at Chicagoland Speedway.

But the tenacity showed by defending Indy Racing League champions Sam Hornish Jr. and Pennzoil Panther Racing --locked in a tight struggle for this year's title -- was just as impressive.

Rookie Rice was the fastest overall with a lap of 24.4578 seconds, 223.732 mph turned during the first practice in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. His teammate and team owner, Cheever, was second in that session and overall at 24.4690, 223.630 in the No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

"The first session, obviously, we were set up for qualifying trim," Rice said. "This morning was just strictly qualifying. This afternoon was all full-tank runs, and we were running everything out just for the race trim. We're real happy right now with the way the cars are working."

Hornish was third overall and led the second session at 24.4910, 223.429 in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. His fast lap came less than three hours after near-disaster on the 1.5-mile oval.

Late in the first practice, Felipe Giaffone hit the outside retaining wall between Turns 3 and 4 with his No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone. Hornish ran over the detached nosecone from Giaffone's car, damaging the front wing and front suspension of his primary car.

But the Pennzoil Panther team fixed the car in time for the second practice, and the unflappable Hornish put it at the top of the speed chart. Hornish is third in the series standings entering this event, the second-to-last of the 2002 IRL season, just eight points behind leader Helio Castroneves.

"I just said, 'Well, I think it's going to do less damage if I try to hit that thing square and punt it out of my way than it's going to do if he runs in the back of me and we both go in the wall,'" Hornish said of the incident. "So I figured I would try to take the lesser of two evils.

"The guys at Pennzoil Panther Racing really struggled and worked hard to get the car ready to go. We wanted to make sure we ran that car in the race. That's the one that was completely ready to go. They did a good job getting it out there so we could go out there and run some more laps."

Billy Boat ended up fourth overall at 24.5529, 222.866 in the No. 98 CURB Records Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, while rookie Vitor Meira rounded out the top five at 24.5731, 222.683 in the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville/Pittsburgh Paints Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

Marlboro Team Penske teammates Castroneves and Gil de Ferran, one-two in the series points, didn't fare as well on the speed charts in today's practice.

de Ferran was 12th overall at 24.7152, 221.402 in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, while points leader Castroneves was 15th overall at 24.7475, 221.113 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

Castroneves leads de Ferran, 437-436, in the series points.

"Our focus today was working on the race setup," Castroneves said. "During both practice sessions, we did full-tank runs and tried to run with other cars to see how the Marlboro Team Penske car handled in traffic.

"We started with a setup from our test at Chicagoland Speedway last week and made changes throughout the day. I think the car was actually a little better during the test, but overall we're in good shape. I'm not too worried about our speeds given the focus was race setup. Tomorrow we'll work on qualifying so we'll see what times we can put on the board."

MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 11 a.m. (EDT) Saturday. The Delphi Indy 300 starts at 1 p.m. (EDT) Sunday and will be televised live on ABC.