IRL: Day Nine: Tora Takagi takes Indy over

IRL: Day Nine: Tora Takagi takes Indy over

INDIANAPOLIS, May 14, 2003 - Practice resumed for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race today, following two days of silence at the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Jimmy Vasser. Photo by Earl Ma. On a...

INDIANAPOLIS, May 14, 2003 - Practice resumed for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race today, following two days of silence at the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

Jimmy Vasser.
Photo by Earl Ma.
On a cool, mostly cloudy day 25 cars took part in the seven hours of running, including newcomer Jimmy Vasser, in the #19 Argent Dallara/Honda fielded by Rahal/Letterman Racing. Shigeaki Hattori returned to competitive driving following his accident a week ago Tuesday in the #5 Epson Dallara/Toyota from the A.J. Foyt Racing stables.

"It's good to be back," Vasser said, after returning from Champ Car's two- race swing in England and Germany. "The Argent car was solid straight away and it only took me about 3-4 laps to get up to speed. The rest of the day we've spent doing full tank running." Vasser's best was a 225.956mph tour, good for 11th overall, which he set on his 6th of 55 total laps.

"This is one of the best opportunities I have to win here, with the Dallara/Honda package, but I still have to go through the qualifying process on Sunday. We'll be starting at the back but we're working to make the car good in bad conditions. Sooner or later we'll be at or near the front and use our experience to find opportunities out there," Vasser noted. "This place is all about preparation." He was quickest among four unqualified drivers.

Cars barely took to the track before timed laps were halted by moisture for a period of 46 minutes. A second rain delay would be called shortly after noon and continued for 27 minutes. With most teams working on race setups, speeds were nominally slower than they had been prior to MBNA Pole Day, yet 16 drivers practiced within one second.

The top of the time sheets changed only once during the day, as Kenny Brack owned P1 at 12:50pm in his #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda, at 227.213mph. Tora Takagi took over the top spot at 1:45pm -- with a lap of 229.704mph -- and stayed there until the close of practice, despite turning only 45 laps in the #12 Pioneer Panoz G Force/Toyota. "I set the fast lap on my own," Takagi acknowledged, "but I know the most important thing is to have a good-handling car in traffic."

Tora Takagi.
Photo by Michael Kim.
There was only one incident at 1:17pm, when Shinji Nakano executed a quarter-spin exiting Turn 1 and smacked the retaining wall between the first and second turns. He got the #54 Beard Papa's Dallara/Honda stopped at the exit of Turn 2 with no damage to himself but some to the car he qualified just this past Sunday. "I just got loose and spun. It's frustrating, but there's nothing I can do right now. I just have to wait until the team can put the car back together again," Nakano explained.

The rain stayed away through the afternoon and allowed drivers to accomplish some full tank running around the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval. Track temperatures reached their maximum around 3pm at 100 degrees, according to Firestone tire engineers; ambient temps remained in the low 70s.

Toyota drivers captured the top six positions in practice today. Gil de Ferran was second on the speed charts in his #6T Marlboro Team Penske Panoz G Force/Toyota at 229.178mph, on his 33rd of 83 laps. "This was our first day of race preparation and we focused on setup. I'm happy with the progress we made," de Ferran said.

Next up was Felipe Giaffone's #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota at 228.635mph, who took a total of 63 laps on-circuit, posting his best on lap 10. "I think that was our best day of the month so far. We had a few problems last week and it feels very good to be near the top after a big struggle."

Polesitter Helio Castroneves was fourth in his #3T Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 228.252mph, logging a total of 105 laps in his spare car. "After winning the pole, my schedule has gotten quite hectic, but I'm not complaining. It felt good to get back in the car. We ran most of the day, working on our race setup." Castroneves will continue to work with his spare car as the team rebuilds the primary Dallara for the race.

Team Target twins Tomas Scheckter (#10T Panoz G Force//Toyota and Scott Dixon (#9T Panoz G Force/Toyota) were fifth (227.825mph) and sixth (227.746mph), setting their quick laps early in the afternoon. Scheckter ran 79 laps, turning his quick one on his 30th early in the day and noted, "We turned a lot of laps and got a lot accomplished, experimenting with different minor setup changes." Dixon made his best tour on lap 18 of 98 total. "The car was pretty good," the Kiwi noted, "but we still have a lot of work left to do this week."

Roger Yasukawa.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
Brack, in seventh place and Roger Yasukawa (#55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda), who practiced ninth were the lone Honda drivers in the top ten today. "We just concentrated on the race setup," Yasukawa said. "We're making a lot of progress."

Toyota owned the balance of the sharp end of the time sheets. Scott Sharp was eighth in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota with his 63rd lap of 226.859mph of 92 total. "this was our first chance to get serious about race setup today. We're working to perfect the balance on long runs," Sharp noted. His teammate Al Unser Jr. brought the #31T Corteco to tenth place on his 24th of 57 laps, recording a lap of 226.062mph. "It was an okay day. We were out making long runs, trying to get nice and consistent for the race."

With their cars already in the field, the top ten have the luxury of preparing for the big race on the 25th, but not so for Vasser, Hattori, Billy Boat (#98 Pedigo Dallara/Chevrolet), Airton Dare (#5T Panoz G Force/Toyota) or for the newest driver nominated for the 87th Indianapolis 500, Alex Barron, who takes over the #20 Meijer Panoz G Force/Toyota vacated by Arie Luyendyk tomorrow.

Practice resumes tomorrow afternoon after the Infiniti Pro Series drivers get their first practice laps in preparation for Saturday's Freedom 100, the first support race ever held in conjunction with the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. For the IndyCar Series drivers, the stakes get higher as the month goes on. Weather permitting, practice will grow more intense in the lead-up to Bump Day and the final nine spots in the field wait to be filled.

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