Eighteen cars and drivers presented themselves for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series' first open test today at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Working with new rules for both the 2004 season and on the 1.5-mile [now] banked oval, most went out...
Eighteen cars and drivers presented themselves for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series' first open test today at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Working with new rules for both the 2004 season and on the 1.5-mile [now] banked oval, most went out for the first time since the 2003 season ended last October.
"It is a tough undertaking to put together four cars," Wheldon acknowledged with a beaming smile, "and while this was a short day, the car was very, very strong. It's nice to be as quick as TK," he said, referring to teammate and morning speedster Tony Kanaan. "We're really trying to work together on this team," and that cooperation appears to have bred some synergy.
Red Bull Cheever Racing hogged the second and third slots on the time sheets, as Alex Barron's 24.5814-second (217.482mph) lap in his #61 Dallara/Chevrolet bested rookie Ed Carpenter's run of 24.6106 seconds (217.223mph) in the #52 machine. Barron turned his best time on lap 46 of 63 in the windy afternoon, while Carpenter's 68th of 78 laps total was his best, also in the afternoon session.
"We took a big step up this afternoon," Barron noted. "We had a debriefing at lunch and then changed some things, and things began to turn around for us. We haven't done as much testing as some of the other teams, but we're happy with the results."
While the NASCAR crew had tire troubles when they raced this stepped banking last November, Carpenter acknowledged, "Firestone really stepped it up" to make tires that were consistent in practice today. "The smaller fuel tank helps with our tire wear," which was right about what he expected.
One of Wheldon's three Andretti Green Racing teammates, Tony Kanaan took the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda to fourth on the speed charts in the later session at 24.6480 seconds (216.894mph) on lap 40 of 41; he was quickest in the morning three-hour practice run on his 56th of 63 laps.
Tomas Scheckter's 64th lap of 24.6859 seconds (216.561mph) was good for fifth overall in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet. Incredibly, Panther had only about four days to complete his racer and that of rookie Mark Taylor (#2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy) before heading south from Indianapolis for Homestead. Taylor turned the 13th quickest lap in practice today.
After changing chassis since the end of the 2003 season, Tora Takagi brought the #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota fielded by Mo Nunn Racing to sixth overall with a lap of 24.6868 seconds (216.553mph) on his 52nd of 76 total laps. Engineer Iain Watt admitted they are still learning a great deal about the chassis at this point, but was pleased with the team's progress.
First onto the track this morning, Helio Castroneves took seventh in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota (24.6938sec/216.491mph), followed by the returning Dario Franchitti in his #27 Archipelago Dallara/Honda at 24.7033sec/216.408mph. The Scot "felt good to be in the car and getting to do what I love. Everything is coming back to me," Franchitti said. Castroneves' new teammate Sam Hornish Jr. logged the ninth quickest lap in his #6 Dallara/Toyota, while Robbie Buhl's #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevy was tenth.
Buddy Rice and Team Rahal were very disappointed with their first test session in the #15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda, but are hoping they can learn from this test after being slowest in both the morning and afternoon sessions.
Bryan Herta was 12th quickest in his #7 Dallara/Honda from the Andretti Green stables, A.J. Foyt IV turned the 14th best time in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota, while Scott Sharp noted "a lot of new faces on the team" who have worked to prepare his #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota, which lapped 15th overall.
Tomorrow, the drivers have another six-hour opportunity to test their cars and skills here in Homestead before converging at another reconfigured track, the Phoenix International Raceway mile oval on February 11-12. There were 2291 laps turned today without incidents other than the customary track inspections.