IRL: Homestead Open Test road course Thursday report

PENSKE, GANASSI DRIVERS TOP FIRST DAY OF HOMESTEAD TEST HOMESTEAD, Fla., Thursday, March 2, 2006 -- Marlboro Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing picked up from where they left off from testing at Phoenix International Raceway, leading the...

PENSKE, GANASSI DRIVERS TOP FIRST DAY OF HOMESTEAD TEST

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Thursday, March 2, 2006 -- Marlboro Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing picked up from where they left off from testing at Phoenix International Raceway, leading the first day of Open Testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 2.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves turned the fastest lap of 1 minute, 11.0146 seconds, 112.033 mph, on the 2.21 mile road course in his No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Honda-powered Dallara. His teammate, two-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr., was second fastest with a lap of 1:11.1228, 111.863 mph, in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Honda-powered Dallara

"We're feeling pretty happy with today's fast session," Castroneves said. "It's always a good sign when you are at the top of the speed charts. It was good to get out there and get back into a rhythm with the new engine. I'm happy with the Marlboro Team Penske car, and I'm looking forward to the next two days of testing."

Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Dixon (111.503 mph) and Dan Wheldon (111.196 mph) were the next fastest drivers of the day in their Honda-powered Panozes. Wheldon's first day driving the Panoz chassis ended early when he struck the tire barrier in Turn 3 with less than 30 minutes left in the session. He was uninjured in the accident.

"I put my right front off of Turn 2, and I just couldn't slow down in time," Wheldon said. "I clipped the right front into the tire barrier, and I crashed. The Panoz is different. It's still not quite to my liking. We're still working on I, and we'll get it there."

Vitor Meira, making his debut with Panther Racing, posted the fifth-fastest lap of the day (110.999 mph).

Road-course testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway continues on March 3. IndyCar Series teams will move to the variably banked 1.5-mile oval on March 5.

DAY 1 TEST QUOTES:

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, second fastest): "The Marlboro Team Penske car ran well today. We really don't get to do many road course tests so we have to take advantage of the opportunity to run here. I need the time, and I need the experience. These guys have a lot more laps in these kinds of cars than I do. I've run a lot of road courses in my day but I haven't done anything with this much horsepower. It's a step in a different direction from what we had last year.

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone, third quickest): "It was a pretty good day. We went through a lot of the options that we have. We tried to take care of our tires because the track on the first day is pretty aggressive. You can go through them pretty quick. We went through two sets today. We learned some things today, and we'll keep at it all week."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Panther Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fifth fastest): "It was a good day. Everything that we should have done at Phoenix, we had to do today, so this is my first day of the year. It's a good start. I'm getting to know the team, and the team is getting to know me. For the engineers and the mechanics working on the car, it's their first day of the year too. Fifth-quick is not a bad start at all."

***

DAY 1 TEST NOTES:

Experience dictated Target Chip Ganassi Racing decision to test drivers Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon in Panoz chassis during the opening day of the IRL Open Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The team spent the last three seasons in the IndyCar Series with the Panoz chassis.

"It was a team decision," said team managing director Mike Hull. "We have a lot of information about the Panoz car, and we think the Panoz on a road track is a great race car. We've committed ourselves to running a Dallara car on all the ovals, but with the limited amount of testing we have with the series, we felt we should take things one step at a time."

***

Delphi Fernandez Racing Co-Owner and Managing Director Tom Anderson today announced that The Patron Spirits Company has joined the team as an associate sponsor on the No. 8 Delphi Panoz/Honda/Firestone driven by Scott Sharp in the IndyCar Series. Patron Tequila is the world's No. 1 ultra premium tequila, outselling its nearest competitor by eight times in the United States alone.

"We are very excited to announce our new partnership with Patron Tequila and to welcome them to Delphi Fernandez Racing," said Anderson. "Patron is a leader in their category. We look forward to helping them maximize their involvement with Scott, the team and the IndyCar Series and to increasing their brand awareness as we challenge for the championship this year."

Headquartered in Las Vegas, the Patron Spirits Company was founded in 1989 by Paul Mitchell Systems co-founder John Paul DeJoria and entrepreneur Martin Crowley. In 2004 and 2005, Patron became the first spirits brand ever to receive the prestigious American Academy of Hospitality Sciences Five Star Diamond Award.

"Our alignment with Delphi Fernandez Racing was a natural fit," said Ed Brown, President of The Patron Spirits Company. "Scott Sharp and this team are proven winners. They provide the perfect platform to expose the Patron brand to a key demographic audience for us, and afford us the opportunity to entertain distributors and customers at events such as the world-renowned Indianapolis 500. We are extremely excited about our new partnership and look forward to an exciting season."

Sharp is the IndyCar Series' most experienced driver with a record 115 career starts and is the only driver to have competed in every season since the IRL's inception in 1996. He is currently tied in second for IndyCar Series career wins with nine, and ended the 2005 season fifth in the championship with a win at Kentucky, 13 top-10 and six top-five drives.

"I am thrilled to welcome Patron aboard our 2006 IndyCar Series program," said Sharp. "Patron is legendary for its exceptional quality. All that Patron does, whether it's in manufacturing or on the promotional side, is top notch. I believe the IndyCar Series fan is the target consumer for Patron, and I'm excited to expose their brand as we strive to win together this season."

***

The IRL IndyCar Series opens the 2006 season with the Toyota Indy 300 at 3:30 p.m. (EST) on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC Sports and the IMS Radio Network. The IMS Radio Network broadcast is also carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition opens with the Miami 100 at 12:30 p.m. on March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be telecast at 1 p.m. on March 31 by ESPN2.

-irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Dan Wheldon , Tom Anderson , Chip Ganassi , John Paul , Mike Hull , Sam Hornish Jr. , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing