The Indy Racing League IndyCar Series teams began their initial open practice today in preparation for a 17-race campaign that will include road, street and oval circuits for the first time in the series history. Fast speeds in both the morning and afternoon sessions came right at the close of each practice on the 2.21-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.
In the morning Tomas Enge posted a quick tour of 71.5928 seconds (111.128 mph) on his 32nd of 33 total laps. At the time, his #2 Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone racer usurped newcomer Ryan Briscoe's 71.6959-second (110.969 mph) lap #26 of 36 in the #33 Target Chip Ganassi Panoz/Toyota car.
Helio Castroneves was third with his #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 71.6960 seconds (110.969 mph), Dario Franchitti took fourth in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda with a 71.7191-second (110.948 mph) and 2003 champion Scott Dixon was fifth in the #9 Target Panoz/Toyota with his tenth (of 25) lap at 71.7191 seconds (110.933 mph).
Enge realized "it's just testing, but the feelings of how people welcomed me and took me into the team are great. There were a few important things today: getting into the rhythm of the car and find out how to drive this kind of car on the road course and getting used to working with [engineer] Andy Borme. I'm very happy," he said.
There were track inspections during the morning duel, and just spins requiring tow-in.
That changed this afternoon as mostly sunny skies gave way to added clouds and wind, typical for this area. Castroneves received a tow-in after spinning at Turn 6 of the 12-turn course that incorporates part of the 1.5-mile oval. He ended up 8th in the afternoon session.
Danica Patrick had two tow-ins this afternoon for her brace of spins in the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda; still the rookie finished 15th in the afternoon (she was 11th in the morning run).
Briscoe slapped on new tires toward the end of the afternoon and took top slot for the day with his 70.4423-second (112.944 mph) penultimate lap of 88.
The young Australian, whose ride with Ganassi was announced officially earlier this week found the Homestead track "a challenging circuit. We had a good day and worked through our program," he explained.
"This testing doesn't mean much, but the car is quite good, actually. We can still improve it but as a starting point it's really good," Briscoe said. "The track got better all day."
The Indy Racing League is permitting the use of tire warmers for its three road-course events in this tenth anniversary season and Briscoe used warmed tires to set his quick lap, he admitted. "It was obvious that would be my better lap."
Behind Briscoe this afternoon, 2004 champion Tony Kanaan held sway in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda, holding top spot with his 70.8136-second (112.351 mph) 32nd lap of 40 total this afternoon.
Teammate Franchitti was third at 70.9617 seconds (112.117 mph), while the third (of four) Andretti Green Racing pilots Dan Wheldon, second to Kanaan in the 2004 standings took fourth with his 48th lap of 51 (70.9669 seconds, 112.109 mph) in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda.
That quartet would be the sole group in the 112 mph bracket, of the 19 cars that showed up to practice all but two came within 110 miles per hour. Fifth for the afternoon - and the day - went to Darren Manning's #10 Target Panoz/Toyota, followed by newcomer Patrick Carpentier in the #83 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota.
Bryan Herta's #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda (the fourth AGR driver) earned the seventh quickest lap and, due to his experience on road courses, the IRL decided to bring Herta to the interview room to discuss the events of the day. "It was a good day for me, even though I didn't turn as many laps as I'd like," Herta explained. "I'm still smiling; it's great to be back on a road course again."
Herta was quick to remind everyone," It's difficult to draw conclusions with our first day." He was "pleasantly surprised right away."
With primary emphasis today on how the Dallara and Panoz chassis handled the more extreme braking inherent with road circuits, Herta thought "the brakes seem to work quite well; the feel is good."
The use of tire warmers was new to Herta and he could feel the difference. While it was easy, he explained, to get up to speed with the Indy cars, "we're still looking to find that sweet spot."
Vitor Meira took ninth in the afternoon practice with his #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda behind Castroneves, whose stock car Meira intended to drive last summer before landing is current position with Rahal Letterman Racing. Tomas Scheckter rounded the top ten in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevy and thought, "We found a good baseline going into tomorrow."
Enge landed in 11th this afternoon, followed by 2004 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner Buddy Rice in the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda, who immediately jetted off to Dearborn, Michigan, where he'll receive his "Baby Borg" trophy tonight, as will team owners Bobby Rahal and David Letterman.
Sam Hornish Jr. was 13th in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, followed by Scott Dixon's #9 Target Panoz/Toyota, the Kiwi turning 55 laps throughout the day. Kosuke Matsuura was 16th behind Patrick in his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda, while Dixon stepped into Manning's car and took 17th place.
Scott Sharp turned his first laps in the #8 Delphi Panoz/Honda fielded by Fernandez Racing and his return to a road course gave him the 18th quickest lap. Manning was 19th in Dixon's car, Alex Barron's 25 laps in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota yielded 20th place while Roger Yasukawa had teething problems with the #24 Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Honda to end up caboose of the group.
There will be another full day of road-course flogging on Thursday, followed by media day activities on Friday. A sole day on the oval on Saturday will end the week-long visit by the IndyCar Series stars.