There are five drivers still in contention for this year's IndyCar Series championship and four of them were among the top five in practice for Sunday's Toyota Indy 400 at the two-mile California Speedway.
"We mostly worked on race setups today, but in the morning we got a chance to a qualifying run and put a good lap together." Kanaan was polesitter at this track last year for the CART 500-miler and won the Indy Lights championship here in 1997, so he has a good feel for the circuit. "We struggled a bit with setups earlier in the year because it's our first IRL season. There's no room for errors in this title fight and I think we'll have to be careful."
Rookie Roger Yasukawa, who grew up in nearby Ontario, CA turned the second- quickest lap in the heat of the afternoon, when temperatures hovered at the 93-95-degree level. His lap of 32.0528 seconds (224.629mph) in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Dallara/Honda turned quite a few heads in the paddock. Yasukawa leads Bombardier Rookie of the Year standings by ten points over Dan Wheldon.
"It's a good feeling to be racing in my hometown. The team did a great job to prepare the car and, while we usually focus on race setups, we worked a bit on qualifying and were quick," Yasukawa smiled. "We qualify a bit earlier tomorrow but I still think it'll be hot like today, so we're fairly happy with that."
Scott Dixon, second in points and just 12 behind Castroneves, turned a tour of 32.0849 seconds (224.405mph) in the #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota this morning. "We worked on race setup this afternoon and on these circuits a (fast) lap is pretty easy to get with a big tow."
Team Target hasn't tested at this two-mile California Speedway venue and Dixon noted, "We had a few problems today with our race setup. The car wasn't too good in traffic. The key is to have a solid race car and we still have a lot of track time left to make it better. We need a good finish to stay in the championship."
Point leader Castroneves was fourth in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, also in the heat of the day. Hoping to win his first title in the United States, Castroneves is simply trying "to focus on the job and not anything else. It's not over yet. We had a good day today and the car is handling well. I think we'll see some competitive racing on Sunday," he noted.
Fifth for the day when to Sam Hornish Jr., who happens to be fifth in points, 41 behind Castroneves. The Ohioan took his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet to a top morning lap of 32.0969 seconds (224.321mph). "The wind picked up like we thought it would, but we didn't lose that much speed so everything is going pretty good," the two-time IRL champ said. "We're just working on the race car and we'll see what we have for tomorrow in qualifying. It's going to be quite a showdown in the race, because it looks like all the top five in points are right up there."
Rookie Dan Wheldon took sixth in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda at 32.1354 seconds (224.052mph). "We're quick on our own and should feature pretty strong in qualifying," Wheldon said. "We're happy with the car; we just want to make it better. You need to be confident in your car when you are out there mixing it up."
Kenny Brack has a lot on his plate this weekend. Not only is he racing the #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda, the Swede also fronts Kenny Brack and the Subwoofers, who played a gig last night at a CARA Charities function and will perform again Saturday evening at the track.
Brack's afternoon lap of 32.1938 seconds (223.646mph) was good for eighth place: "I haven't run an Indy car here other than testing. It was hotter today than when we tested so track conditions were different. We still have some work to do before the race," he admitted.
Bryan Herta was the sole IndyCar Series driver to cause a yellow today after he crashed in the morning practice. Bringing out the spare #27 Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda, Herta didn't skip a beat and was ninth for the day, based on a morning lap of 32.2281 seconds (223.408mph).
After making contact with the Turn 2 outside retaining wall, Herta said, "I don't know what happened, I really don't. The car got a little loose the lap before and it just came around." After that shunt, Herta felt "We just haven't found a setup that I'm happy with yet."
Tomas Scheckter rounded out the top ten in his #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, turning a morning lap of 32.3284 seconds (223.336mph). Vitor Meira returned to the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet with an 11th-place run. Rookie Ed Carpenter was 12th in the #18 PDM Dallara/Chevrolet, making his second IndyCar Series start.
Carpenter is also competing in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series 100-mile race this weekend and is learning a lot. "The weather conditions really changed a lot out there and it made us come with a completely different approach. With the heat coming up so much, the track loses a lot of grip. The cars need twice as much downforce with this heat. It is unbelievable," he related.
It was a day of struggles for Felipe Giaffone and the #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota team. They had problems with the front of the car in the morning and "never got a chance to go fast." In the afternoon, they were in and out of the pits chasing a fuel system difficulty and he ended up 13th.
Gil de Ferran, currently fourth in the title chase was 14th for the day, once again driving a #6 Marlboro Team Penske Panoz G Force/Toyota. Explaining the team was "working on race setup all day, we've still got a lot of work to do. We got some good pointers there toward the end of the day that should give us a direction to start tomorrow."
In his second drive for Red Bull Cheever Racing, Alex Barron was 15th today in the #52 Dallara/Chevrolet. Recognizing his second session was better than the morning run, Barron noted, "We were able to have a pretty good run and tomorrow morning we'll focus more on our qualifying setup."
Taking over the #91 Metabolife/Delta Faucet/Life Fitness Dallara/Chevy, Richie Hearn was 16th in practice and explained, "The car is getting better. We're taking it one session at a time. We'll improve for tomorrow."
Kelley Racing continues to struggle and were 17th (Al Unser Jr.) and 18th (Scott Sharp). Both explained they're trying to find consistent race cars.
Qualifying for Sunday's Toyota Indy 400 is scheduled to take place Saturday morning at 11AM PDT. It could be cooler than the afternoon practice today and winds like the 10mph gusts the 22 IndyCar drivers experienced today usually aren't a factor until later in the day. Who will get pole? That's anyone's guess.