Wheldon Leads Practice

FONTANA, Calif., Friday, Oct. 1, 2004 -- Dan Wheldon led the opening day of practice for the IndyCar® Series Toyota Indy 400. Wheldon recorded a lap of 33.1453 seconds, 217.225 in the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, at 33.1875 seconds, 216.949 mph, and Helio Castroneves, at 33.2393 seconds, 216.611 mph, were second and third, respectively.

Qualifying for the Toyota Indy 400 is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 2.

INDYCAR SERIES POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

DAN WHELDON (No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "It's always good to be back in sunny California. I used to live here, so this is one of my home races, so to speak. It's a different race for us this weekend. Everyone is talking about the championship outside of our team, but I don't think anyone in our team is focused on that. We're focused on winning. Each individual in Andretti Green Racing is focused on winning the last two races. I think (teammate) Tony (Kanaan) can't run a strategy as aggressive as us, but you can never discount him. We focused on race setup in the second session, and this morning, I did a qualifying (simulation) with a good draft and a good Honda in the back. I think Honda is instrumental in the success of the team. It's been a good day, but on a superspeedway, you never read too much into practice times on Friday."

BUDDY RICE (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Racing Pioneer/Argent Panoz G Force/Honda/ Firestone): "It was pretty much a drafting exercise this morning. It's funny. We usually aren't at the top of the charts on Friday since we try to run by ourselves, but the track was very good this morning with good, cool air. This afternoon was much different with hotter conditions. It feels good to come to California and race this time. We were out on new tires first thing this morning and just trying to get a feel for where our car was at. It was good, though. The air was a lot cooler out there this morning, so I think that helped as well. Last year, I wasn't driving, so it's nice to be able to come here and actually drive and not stand around and watch everyone else.

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "We were working on the race setup basically the whole day. It's a great result, but we have to keep working. Toyota keeps working and Marlboro Team Penske is working, so it's a combination of a lot of things."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "We were just working along and trying to find the best balance for the Team 7-Eleven car. We tried a lot of things and ran with Dan (Wheldon) a lot. It was just a normal Friday. It's difficult. I think this place is the most difficult of all the superspeedways. I don't know why, but it's hard to read the car, so we're having a little bit of a dilemma with what we want to do. Thank God we have four guys. We're working together really closely, so hopefully, we'll figure it out."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (No. 5 Quaker State Telmex Tecate Panoz G Force/Honda/ Firestone): "We had a good day, actually, a great day, with myself second and Kosuke (Matsuura) third (in the afternoon session). The car still doesn't feel as good as I would like it to, but I think it is the same for everybody. In general, I feel confident, and I hope we can fight for the pole for the first time this year. I feel that we have a strong car and we'll see tomorrow."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "Everything went according to plan today. We worked on the race setup during both sessions, and I'm happy with how the Marlboro Team Penske car is handling in traffic, as well as when I'm running by myself. Tomorrow we'll work on our qualifying setup, and hopefully, we'll be able to put it in the top seven."

TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "Our Pennzoil car was better in the morning than this afternoon. We've got some work to do to get the car to where it needs to be. Chevrolet has made some great improvements for this race, which is going to be great for us. Now we'll just work on getting more mechanical grip, and we'll be fine."

KOSUKE MATSUURA (No. 55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "The team did a really good job with the setup and the car has much less drag. In the first session, the car was a bit draggy but on new tires, it was quick. For the second session, we improved a lot, and the car had much less drag, and it was really fast. What is missing is in the draft because the car has a really big push in the draft. If we can find a good setup in the draft, I think we can fight for a win. The track is really good. Before Turn 3, there is a big bump, but that is the same for everyone. I have a lot of confidence for the race."

DARREN MANNING (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/ Firestone): "This is my first time running here at the California Speedway, and I got to know her pretty quickly in this morning session. We did some qualifying simulations this afternoon, and we're pretty pleased. The No. 10 Toyota-(Panoz) G Force was right on, but we still have a little left to go. We ran in traffic this afternoon, and I'm pretty happy because the Target team did make the car better. The bump on the backstretch caused us a bit of grief, but all in all, we had a good couple of runs today."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Centrix Panoz G Force/ Honda/Firestone): "We could have had a better day overall, but we learned quite a bit today. This track is pretty tricky. When I am by myself, the car feels a lot like Michigan. But with the cars in traffic, the Centrix Honda wants to slide around. It is a very different car when you fill the tanks up and run in traffic. The track became hotter this afternoon, too. That is where we have to work on the setup. The engine is very good. The Honda has been great all year. The big thing right now is to be comfortable in the car for the race, and to be honest, we aren't right now. It is good to have a three-day race, and we'll have Saturday to get it ready for the race. I'm sure that Rahal Letterman Racing will have a good change for Saturday. It is tough here to run three-wide during the race. You need to have three good cars racing side-by-side to make it work. If one car goes bad when you are three-wide, it is a bad deal. I don't think we want another situation like what happened to Buddy (Rice) in Chicago."

<pre> SATURDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local): 11:30 a.m. IndyCar Series practice (two groups/30 minutes each) 1:45 p.m. Menards Infiniti Pro Series warmup (all cars/15 minutes) 2:30 p.m. IndyCar Series MBNA Pole Qualifying 4:30 p.m. Menards Infiniti Pro Series California 100 (ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. EDT, Oct. 7) 5:45 p.m. IndyCar Series warmup (all cars/30 minutes)

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