IRL: Indy cars take over Homestead oval

IRL: Indy cars take over Homestead oval

The Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series went back to its roots today for the first open test on an oval circuit, the 1.5-mile banked Homestead-Miami Speedway. At the end of nearly six hours of pounding around, the driver who was fastest in ...

The Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series went back to its roots today for the first open test on an oval circuit, the 1.5-mile banked Homestead-Miami Speedway. At the end of nearly six hours of pounding around, the driver who was fastest in qualifying for last season's opening Toyota Indy 300 was again atop the speed charts.

Buddy Rice.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Buddy Rice took his #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda/Firestone racer to the quickest lap of the day at 24.9185 seconds (214.539mph) on his 64th of 114 total tours and the 2004 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner "wasn't surprised by the car's performance. We were able to go through a lot of things on the chassis and setups today and I know we learned a lot about the new Panoz," Rice explained.

In a final half-hour of drafting Scott Sharp worked through traffic to secure second place for the day with a tour of 24.9528 seconds (214.244mph) and was wearing a huge grin as he exited his #8 Delphi Panoz/Honda at the close of the day, which ended a bit earlier than expected as showers passed through the Homestead area.

"What a great day," Sharp declared after turning a total of 173 laps. "I felt comfortable right away" in his first drive of this Fernandez Racing machine on an oval circuit. "We worked through some handling changes as the team got the car to my liking. "That last half hour almost felt like warmup, didn't it? I love to run up high and so does this car."

Dan Wheldon was third in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda with his lap of 24.9816 seconds (213.998mph). Wheldon went around the track 168 times, turning his quick one on his 151st lap. "This race will be won in traffic so we worked a lot in those conditions. We just need to find a little bit more speed, but overall it was a very productive test."

2004 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Kosuke Matsuura, second this morning used that lap of 24.9906 seconds (213.920mph) to take fourth in the #55 Panasonic/Autobacs/ARTA Panoz/Honda. While his car was "good in the morning, I think we had engine trouble" in the afternoon three-hour session. "I think it's a good sign for the first race; I think we have a good chance here" after both he and Sharp practiced within the top four.

Rookie Danica Patrick pushed hard in the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda to take fifth place at 24.9953 seconds (213.880mph) on her 98th of 190 laps as she learned what these cars do in traffic. "I am inexperienced running in the pack and with pit stops," she acknowledged. "The day went really well for our crew. I wanted to get up to speed and learn the different grooves. I know I have a lot to learn."

Tony Kanaan.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Reigning IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan was sixth with the #11 Team 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda at 25.0325 seconds (213.562mph), attaining that mark on his 76th of 142 laps this afternoon.

Tomas Scheckter used the high line in his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet to earn seventh on his 81st of 137 laps (25.0341 seconds/213.549mph) and the South African veteran was "very happy with the car all day. There weren't any unforeseen problems and our Chevrolet was right up there most of the day in terms of speed."

Bryan Herta took eighth in the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda at 25.0360 seconds (213.533mph) on his 71st of 140 laps today. The Indy cars ran a total of 3099 tours of the Homestead oval with stoppages for cut tires (track inspection) and two bouts of showers in the late afternoon.

Vitor Meira, ninth in the #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda with his morning lap of 25.0487 seconds (213.424mph) said, "It was a difficult day for our team. We experienced several little problems and that kept us from getting as much track time" as his teammates Rice and Patrick. "I'm very excited for the 2005 season," Meira admitted.

Helio Castroneves' lap of 25.1016 seconds (212.974mph) in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota was best of the Toyota runners. Not only was he pipped by the Honda brigade but had one of only two Chevrolets ahead of him.

After being fast on the road course, Dario Franchitti took only 118 laps in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda and his 41st was good for 11th place today. Sam Hornish Jr. worked the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota through his test program to 12th place, while rookie Ryan Briscoe got the hang of running his #33 Ganassi Panoz/Toyota in traffic as he posted the 13th best speed.

Patrick Carpentier.
Photo by Steve Swope - IRL.
Patrick Carpentier is learning the nuances of his #83 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota: "I was able to get my feet wet and start to see how everything works," the Canadian explained. "Now that I understand more I can work with my engineers to make things better." He was 14th, followed by rookie Tomas Enge in the #2 Panther Dallara/Chevrolet who "learned so much in this one day today."

Sixteenth on the speed charts belonged to 2003 IndyCar Series champ Scott Dixon in the #9 Team Target Panoz/Toyota; teammate Darren Manning's #10 Team Target Panoz/Toyota took 17th and both drivers were hampered by cut tires in the morning. Roger Yasukawa was 18th in the #24 Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Honda, Alex Barron tried a variety of setups in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota to take 19th.

The number of cars practicing grew by one as A.J. Foyt IV's Dallara/Toyota rolled onto the track for its initial 2005 oval practice session this morning. He turned 152 laps but stopped early and was the 20th and final driver on the speed charts.

The Indy cars will return to their shops for evaluation of progress and reconvene at the very fast Phoenix International Raceway mile oval on February 9-10. It is possible the field will be enlarged by at least one car as Hemelgarn Racing expects to return to the IndyCar Series with Menards Infiniti Pro Series graduate Paul Dana next month.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Darren Manning , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Kosuke Matsuura , Paul Dana , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske