Temperatures are down and speeds are up this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where 29 cars took part in practice prior to the noon start of MBNA Pole Day.
Danica Patrick again took the top spot in her #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda/Firestone racer at a heady 229.880mph, performed on her final and 31st lap. When she performed the lap and it was announced, the crowd exploded. Dario Franchitti was second at 229.422mph on his 28th of 32 laps in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda.
Teammate Tony Kanaan, who was forced to sit out the final 20 minutes of the all-skate final segment of practice when he didn't slow his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda in a timely manner for a yellow flag took third at 228.920mph on the 22nd of 27 laps.
Vitor Meira, doing a qualifying simulation in his #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda was fourth on the speed charts at 228.666mph on his 37th of 40 laps this morning. Showing no ill effects from his Fast Friday rollover, Sam Hornish Jr. took fifth in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, the first non-Honda in the list of fast drivers.
Scott Sharp, who is first in the qualifying line that begins in little under an hour posted a speed of 227.953mph on his penultimate of 29 laps in the #8 Delphi/Fernandez Panoz/Honda for sixth. Helio Castroneves was seventh in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 227.602mph, also on his next-to-last lap (of 25 total).
Eighth-place speedster Tomas Scheckter turned 27 laps in practice and his 25th in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet gave the South African eighth place this morning, turning 227.574mph.
Dan Wheldon regained form with a ninth-place result at 227.493mph on his 27th of 31 laps around the 2.5-mile Brickyard circuit in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda. Kosuke Matsuura was tenth in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda with his 31st lap (of 34) at 227.239mph.
Buddy Lazier continues to show promise this month; his #95 Byrd Brothers/Panther Dallara/Chevrolet took 11th this morning, the Colorado native hitting the bricks at 227.226mph on his 14th of 24 laps. Sebastien Bourdais earned the 12th best speed in his #37 Team Centrix Panoz/Honda with his 18th tour - of 27 - at 227.045mph.
Teams and drivers have a one-hour lag before MBNA Pole Day qualifications start in earnest.
Because of the chilly weather here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today, coupled with changing winds and cloudy skies, IRL president and COO Brian Barnhart is allowing a third warm-up lap prior to drivers prior to the start of their four-lap qualification runs.
The top 22 will be locked in for the weekend when the 6-hour session closes at 6PM EST this evening, leaving 11 slots available once the time trials begins again next Saturday, May 21st.