IRL: Dixon on top as Indy 500 practice resumed

It was time to get back to work for drivers who have already qualified for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race today at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Scott Dixon goes out to practice.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
Just 13 laps into his run this morning, Scott Dixon served notice that he was the guy to beat on the speed charts and, lucky for Dixon nobody could wrest the top spot from the 2003 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion.

Dixon's lap of 220.576mph in his #1T Team Target Panoz G Force/Honda was the best of all 1812 laps turned today by 25 car and driver combinations. All but four drivers used their spare cars for this session, which ended shortly after 5PM when a rain shower passed through the Indianapolis area.

For his feat Dixon earned a $2500 check from Argent Mortgage, which rewards the top driver in practice each day leading up to the Indy 500 on May 30th. Dixon did some "back to back runs this morning. We put more downforce on the car and tried some aero stuff," the Kiwi said. "We still have issues with the rear end of the car but I am hoping to be able to take this Sunday off."

Neither Dixon nor anyone else knows whether Honda will have the fuel mileage to match the power they've displayed this month. "After Motegi," Dixon noted, "Honda's performance is not a big surprise but this race is going to come down to the final pit stops. Practice makes perfect, so we've been practicing lots of stops at the shop," he said.

While everyone appeared to be working on their race setups, Dixon agreed that it's "hard to tell now whether we'll be able to do a lot of green flag passing. The warmup before race weekend should tell more. I think it will be difficult to pass. Keeping consistency in the package will be very important.

Scott Dixon.
Photo by Earl Ma.
"The Panoz G Force started out with a little deficit at the beginning of the season but gained back a little," Dixon believes. "The chassis are very similar this month."

The dominant Panoz G Force/Honda package took the next three spots on the speed parade, with rookie Kosuke Matsuura second (219.417mph) in the #55T Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda. "This was the first time I ran with full tanks" at Indy.

"At the beginning my car had a big push in almost every corner; we went back to the setup from Saturday and my car was getting much better than when I ran this morning," Matsuura admitted. His quick lap came on the rookie's 109th of 111 total tours of the Brickyard oval.

Roger Yasukawa was third in the #16T Sammy Panoz G Force/Honda at 219.173mph on his sixth of 91 laps today, "working on race setup all day. We did two and a half long runs and the car felt really good.. Adrian Fernandez took fourth in his #5 Panoz G Force/Honda with his 21st (of 62) lap at 219.171mph, calling it "another good day. I need to run a little bit more in traffic tomorrow but overall, it was a good result for us."

Helio Castroneves turned the fifth quickest lap of the day in his #3T Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 218.706mph, on his 46th of 75 laps. Teammate Sam Hornish Jr. was sixth in the #6T Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 218.621mph. Hornish made 88 tours of the track and logged his speed on the 27th lap he made.

Tony Kanaan, who has been the fastest guy of the meeting with a lap of 223.224mph set on May 15thwas seventh today in the #11T Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda (218.544mph). Kanaan thinks his team has "come a long way. As the week goes by, we get further along on our race setup. We're trying to run together with our teammates and work with different people to see how the car will be on race day."

Polesitter Buddy Rice began to work on his race-day setup and was eighth in his #15T Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda. "With the rules changes, the cars are harder to drive than before," he emphasized. "We have to be better at adapting to the changes in conditions, compensating for them" than with the earlier package.

Dan Wheldon.
Photo by Dana Garrett - IRL.
Dan Wheldon was ninth in the #26T Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda, twin to the car he'll start second in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and said, "I think we are starting to hone in on a good race setup." Wheldon, along with teammates Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta punk'd Dario Franchitti just after rain stopped practice shortly after 5PM.

The Scot, celebrating his 31st birthday today got creamed with the traditionally gooey birthday cake as he joined John Kernan and Gil de Ferran on ESPN's SportsCenter at the Track TV program that airs from the IMS media center. For the record, Herta's #7T was 15th on the speed charts; Franchitti took his spare #27T to 15th place.

Ed Carpenter was among the few to use a primary car and logged the 12th best speed in his #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara Chevrolet, second best of the Bow-Tie Brigade behind teammate Alex Barron.

Robby Gordon tested his primary #70 Meijer/Coca-Cola Dallara/Chevy 18th and his engineer Thomas Knapp noted, "Everything we did today was designed to give Robby a well-balanced car for the race." Gordon will practice again tomorrow for the Indy 500 and then jet off to Charlotte for the NASCAR All- Star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Larry Foyt used his primary #41 A.J. Foyt Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota and was 19th for the day. Foyt said, "It's the fastest we've run here, so we're headed in the right direction. Marty Roth, having only one #25 Dallara/Toyota was 24th of 25 cars testing; Tora Takagi was today's caboose on the speed train.

There was one incident over the six hours of practice, when Mark Taylor lost it out of Turn 1 and tried to correct in the short chute. He backed the #2T Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy into the SAFER barrier in Turn 2 but walked away with minimal damage to the car. "We were just working on race stuff and hadn't quite enough downforce in the car," he explained.

Tomorrow at the track, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series practice takes place from 10:30 to noon EST, followed by six hours of practice for the IndyCar Series.