Wheldon Leads Opening Practice in California
Andretti Green Racing's Dan Wheldon led the field in opening practice Friday for this weekend's penultimate event in the 2004 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, a 400-mile feature at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Wheldon, currently second in the IRL points standings, scorched around the two-mile oval east of Los Angeles at an average speed of 217.225 mph to lead the 22-car field as Honda drivers posted seven of the top eight speeds.
Following Wheldon on the speed chart Friday was Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice for Rahal Letterman Racing, who currently lies third in the championship. Championship leader Tony Kanaan ran fourth fastest, followed by his Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti.
One of a handful of drivers to go quicker in the heat of the afternoon, Adrian Fernandez ran sixth overall, followed by Vitor Meira in the second Rahal Letterman Racing Honda. Rookie points leader Kosuke Matsuura also improved in the afternoon to round out the top eight for Honda and his Super Aguri Fernandez Racing team.
A fourth-place finish or higher on Sunday will clinch the 2004 IRL Drivers' Championship for Kanaan, regardless of how his competitors finish. Honda, which has already clinched the 2004 Manufacturers' Championship, will be seeking its 14th consecutive race victory in Sunday's 200-lap feature.
Dan Wheldon (#26 Jim Beam/Klein Tools Andretti Green Racing Honda): fastest in practice: "Today's gone well for us. Obviously, we worked on our race setup in the afternoon, and made our speed runs in the morning. It was relatively cool this morning, and that helps both downforce and the engines. Then it gets hotter in the afternoon, and that accentuates any problems you might be having. Fortunately, I had a good draft, and a 'big' Honda in the back -- once again we had lots of power from our friends at Honda -- and we ended up putting up a pretty big number [217.225 mph] that no one was able to match."