IRL: Homestead test draws to a racy close

The much-rumored "Race Simulation", whose origins trace back to a reporter's questions during an Indy Racing League teleconference nearly a month ago, finally came to roaring life in South Florida Thursday night as pre-season testing for the...

The much-rumored "Race Simulation", whose origins trace back to a reporter's questions during an Indy Racing League teleconference nearly a month ago, finally came to roaring life in South Florida Thursday night as pre-season testing for the IndyCar Series drew to a fast-paced, packed- tight conclusion.

Running three-wide under the artificial lighting at Homestead/Miami Speedway, at near-race speed, nineteen drivers brought race fans gathered for the second day of the open test to their feet as they sped around the oval at night, and kicked off the winter doldrums with competitive vigor.

Dan Wheldon led the field on both days despite destroying his car in a hard, non-injury accident Wednesday evening. Sam Hornish and Tony Kanaan followed, with Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves rounding out the five fastest.

Wheldon's lap of 214.858 mph in the very first on-track session Wednesday proved the quickest of over four thousand laps total turned in by the IRL teams. Hornish's 214.178 mph and Kanaan's 214.119 mph were the only other competitors to top the 214 mark during the test, though Andretti's 213.944 mph and Castroneves' 213.869 mph were close.

"It was a very good test in terms of outright speed, but I did destroy a car the first day," Wheldon said. "I'm performing well, but there are still some improvements that we can make."

Of his accident, the first Wheldon has experienced since 2003, and its several-hundred thousand dollar damage, he added: "I was working in traffic, and I just lost too much of the car too soon. You're going to make mistakes. I never said that I was perfect. But when you race on ovals and you make a mistake, it can be expensive."

Hampered again by mechanical problems that struck during last month's pre- season testing in Daytona, Scott Dixon turned enough quick laps to earn sixth spot on the time sheets. Dario Franchitti, Buddy Rice, Vitor Meira and Tomas Scheckter made the top ten complete.

The results are both news that's new and old as Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing continued their duel for top spot in the IndyCar Series. Andretti Green Racing's promising results, putting both Kanaan and Marco into the mix, may finally herald the "head of the pack" return of the league's largest multi-car team.

"I have to hand it to the team," commented Marco afterward. "They did an awesome job getting the car ready and finding exactly what we need. I didn't always look forward to coming to one-and-a-half mile ovals last year but if this test is any indication, I think we'll be in good shape this year."

The emergence of a competitive Buddy Rice at Dreyer & Reinbold comes as a pleasant surprise, creating a three-team "middle-class" of Panther Racing and Vision Racing, any of which could challenge for victory if the "Big Two" falter at any of the seventeen venues on tap for 2007.

Danica Patrick continued to feel her way slowly with a thirteenth-best 212.195 mph lap Thursday evening. None of the six cars finishing behind her could muster a lap better than 212 mph for the combined test sessions.

Wheldon goes into the IndyCar Series season as the plausible championship favorite, with a leg up on the contenders when he returns to this 1.5 mile oval where he has appeared three times in his career, winning twice and finishing third on another occasion.

The two-night test foretells the opening of the IRL regular season at the track on March 24th, broadcast live on ESPN2 at 8PM EST.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Marco Andretti , Danica Patrick , Sam Hornis , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing