Not only has Danica Patrick set the fastest lap in full-day practice for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race (at 229.880mph) and stolen headlines away from MBNA Polesitter and reigning Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan, but the rookie again set the best speed in the final one-hour Carburetion Day test this afternoon, once again beating the boys.
Like most of the drivers Patrick didn't want "to put more than 15-25 laps on the engine before race day. I got a feel for the pit-in and pit-out as best I could, but we really weren't trying to come out here and be the fastest." That said, "It's always good to be fast." Patrick earned her second $2500 check from sponsor Argent Mortgage.
Patrick's Rahal Letterman Racing team "put some more downforce on the car now as opposed to qualifying conditions." Patrick ran "a majority by myself and that's good for us just to get a reference on where the gears are at." She thought the car felt a little "different", as she put it so came in for an adjustment that appeared to work.
While she knew the media push would be tough over this month, particularly if she had the kind of performance Danica's had this month. "As I told many reporters, I would try just as hard if you guys weren't even here. That's just me," she declared. "I was told that if I did well this kind of thing would happen. I worked so hard for the ability to drive for good teams and good sponsors that are always with you and to elevate this series."
Dan Wheldon, leading the IndyCar Series point standings took third with his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda at 225.260mph on his sixth of 25 laps this afternoon. Sam Hornish Jr. was fourth in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota that starts second in the Memorial Day classic after spending "the final practice session making sure the car is mechanically sound. The race is a lot about execution on pit stops and if we well in those two areas we should be in good shape."
Tomas Scheckter set the fifth best speed with his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet, giving parity to the top five this afternoon. Scheckter's 11th of 12 laps came at 224.646mph and the South African thought that was "fine. Most of the work was done the week before," he acknowledged.
Realizing Carb Day "is not a time to go out and try something even a little bit different, we knew what kind of car we had and didn't want to put a lot of laps on the race engine." Scheckter's car sports a special silver paint scheme for this race only.
Starting third on Sunday Scott Sharp was sixth on the speed chart with his #8 Delphi Fernandez Panoz/Honda with a 224.472mph run on his fifth of 17 laps; tenth-starter Tomas Enge posted his 15th (of 18) lap at 224.368mph to give the #2 RockStar Dallara/Chevy seventh place for the hour-long practice.
Eighth place today went to Adrian Fernandez, making his sole 2005 IndyCar Series appearance with the #5 Investment Properties of America Panoz/Honda with the Mexican ace's eighth lap at 224.254mph.
Vitor Meira was ninth in the #17 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Honda at 224.039mph while Sebastien Bourdais got back into the swing of Indy style racing with his sixth lap of 223.791mph in the #37 Team Centrix Panoz/Honda. Bourdais hoped his car remained the same as it had been two weeks earlier, "but the track has changed and I can't say we were really happy with the balance. It's not perfect but it will be different again on Sunday," he shrugged.
The sole incident of the practice occurred when Buddy Lazier, simply warming up his #95 Byrd Brothers/Panther Dallara/Chevrolet hit the SAFER barrier in Turn 4 with the right side of the car, then slid down the front straight before coming to a halt near the scoring pylon.
"We were just warming up so I can't tell you what happened but it's clear," the 1996 Indy 500 winner remarked, "you can see sparks from under the car. I'm coming up to speed, the car was feeling good and I entered Turn 4 on my first at-speed lap. I heard a click, a big snap and it just took off to the wall." After being examined by IMS/IRL director of medical services Dr. Henry Bock, Lazier was cleared to drive.
All 33 drivers were on the track for the hour-long practice and turned 688 laps around the historic oval. While most drivers kept it under 25 laps, Bryan Herta (#7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda), Bruno Junqueira in the #36 Team Centrix Panoz/Honda, Roger Yasukawa (#24 Racing for Kids Dallara/Honda) and rookie Jeff Bucknum (#44 Investment Properties of America Dallara/Honda) performed a group-high 28 laps each.
Tomorrow's public drivers meeting and 500 Festival Parade complete the list of pre-race events before the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, which takes the green flags at noon EST on Sunday.