This afternoon and evening provided the first opportunities for all 22 drivers competing in Saturday's Bombardier Learjet 500 at Texas Motor Speedway to see what their cars do in traffic on the 24- degree banked 1.5-mile oval. The results show...
This afternoon and evening provided the first opportunities for all 22 drivers competing in Saturday's Bombardier Learjet 500 at Texas Motor Speedway to see what their cars do in traffic on the 24- degree banked 1.5-mile oval.
The results show that Tomas Enge's second place qualifying effort was no fluke last night; the #2 RockStar Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone racer nabbed the top spot with his final practice lap of 215.622mph.
Still the Czech star blew off the accomplishment: "I don't think practice and qualifying are a big deal. We've been concentrating on the race" after failing to finish all five contests held thus far in the 17-event season.
"Obviously it helps to get a good start here and it helps to be progressing through the day," Enge acknowledged. "Quite frankly I'd like to be here (in the media center) after the race. For me it's all about getting used to being up front instead of in the middle or back of the pack. I just need to not do anything stupid" and hope he doesn't get caught in someone else's errors as he did in Indianapolis.
Marlboro Pole Award winner Tomas Scheckter was second in final practice (third in the afternoon), amassing 40 laps on his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevy, running at 215.428mph on his 36th tour. "We're quite happy with the car today and we know we have a fast car. Thee was no need for us to run too much in practice, but I wish tomorrow was today because we're ready to go now."
2005 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was third on the speed charts at 215.072mph in his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda. Wheldon readily admitted he was working "on full tanks for sure. I'm trying to catch those Panther guys; they're pretty confident," Wheldon said. "My car works good in traffic but it's really difficult to predict these Texas races; they're mostly decided by an inch."
The IndyCar Series point leader did note the Texas track feels bumpier than it did last October. "You have to run high to win here so we've been working to make sure the car is good up there," Wheldon explained.
After a less-than-perfect qualifying session that forced him to practice with the ostensibly slower drivers, Tony Kanaan had the fourth best speed of 214.420mph this evening on his 35th of 43 laps in the #11 Team 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda.
Bryan Herta's 16th (of 40) lap yielded a 214.420mph speed for the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda, good for fifth on the afternoon. The veteran said he was pleased with the balance of his car and felt confident about the race.
The quiet member of Rahal Letterman Racing's three driver crew, Vitor Meira sneaked up on the competition with his third lap this evening (of 46) in the #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda to take sixth place at 214.265mph.
Helio Castroneves was seventh in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota (212.953mph) yet realized "we're not quite where we need to be; it's a challenge practicing in the heat yet tomorrow's [night race] will be much cooler."
Scott Dixon took eighth with the #9 Target Panoz/Toyota at 214.037mph on his 25th of 34 laps, showing steady improvement and teammate Darren Manning followed with ninth place in the #10 Target machine, using his final, 38th lap to post 213.999mph. Roger Yasukawa rounded out the top ten with his #24 Racing for Kids Dallara/Honda at 213.881mph.
All these very quick speeds were indicative of cooler weather as the sun receded after a sweltering, 90-degree and humid day. It was also due "pack running", which had Indy Racing League president and COO Brian Barnhart a bit turned off.
Barnhart had already warned the drivers not to work as one huge group but rather to break into thirds during the final half-hour all-skate practice held between 7-7:30PM CDT. When they didn't listen, Barnhart called a caution flag to calm them down.
The admonishment worked to Barnhart's satisfaction but later there was a second caution when Wheldon experienced cut rubber. Since the Indy cars unloaded, there has been no contact.
Although she qualified third, Danica Patrick did not have quite the afternoon she'd hoped for, experiencing any number of mechanical difficulties that had her #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda in 14th during the initial half-hour of practice (211.465mph) and 17th after final practice (211.680mph).
A.J. Foyt IV, who never made a qualifying attempt yesterday evening, had a far better day of it this afternoon. He placed 18th in practice #3 and 15th in the final session.
All 22 drivers entered in the Bombardier Learjet 500 take the green flags at 7:45PM CDT tomorrow evening. The sixth race - of 17 - in the Indy Racing League's 10th season is being telecast on ESPN.