IRL: Patrick zooms to top speed in rookie class

IRL: Patrick zooms to top speed in rookie class

There were only five drivers on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval today during a second day of Rookie Orientation Program. Danica Patrick. Photo by Dana Garrett - IRL. At the end of the day it was the same driver atop the speed ...

There were only five drivers on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval today during a second day of Rookie Orientation Program.

Danica Patrick.
Photo by Dana Garrett - IRL.
At the end of the day it was the same driver atop the speed charts: Danica Patrick beat the pole qualifying speed of teammate Buddy Rice on her 32nd lap in the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda/Firestone entry by posting a tow-aided lap of 222.741mph. Patrick's quick speed Sunday came with assistance from Ryan Briscoe; today Tomas Enge led her around the track apiece.

Enge posted his quickest laps of ROP this afternoon in t he #2 RockStar Dallara/Chevrolet. Feeling quite a bit more discomfort after running all day Sunday, the Czech logged a full 74 laps and his 66th at 219.914mph was good for second on the speed chart.

Enge had to quit a bit early when his Chevrolet engine reached the end of its service life but he found the day's activities "much better. We're just trying to take it slow and work our way up to faster speeds. My ribs feel the same but I'm getting [more] comfortable and now we can start to work on the car."

After completing only two phases of his four-exercise Rookie Orientation Program on Sunday, Sebastien Bourdais got down to business in his #37 Team Centrix Panoz/Honda this afternoon. "The car simply was not ready to run yesterday," the 2004 Champ Car titleholder explained.

Today went much better as his Indianapolis and Lincolnshire, IL combined crew completed work on the car and placed it to Bourdais' liking. The Frenchman put up 77 laps and his 57th, at an un-aided 219.421mph stood as the third quickest time of the day. He passed phase #4 just before 3:30PM.

"This is a legendary place," Bourdais declared, "and we've been trying to get here for two years now. This racetrack you have to treat with a lot of respect and I had that feeling when I first went out on the track." His Newman Haas Racing team never did trim the Panoz and kept low downforce levels for Bourdais to become comfortable.

Even though the Indy Racing League's president Brian Barnhart agreed to waive ROP for Bourdais [and Carpentier], he felt the experience necessary for a productive month of May. "I personally consider us to have no experience in this. I really felt that I needed it so we really good our time and went through all the phases one by one."

Jeff Ward completed his refresher course in a #20T Vision Racing Dallara/Toyota over 41 laps this afternoon for a best of 211.200mph on his 34th lap. The #20T is the spare car for Vision's lead driver Ed Carpenter, who was on the pit wall watching carefully.

Jeff Ward.
Photo by Dana Garrett - IRL.
Ward admitted it had been a long time since he last raced an Indy car and "even if I went out with one of my old cars it would have felt weird. But it felt fine," the 7-time motocross champ admitted. "Right now the brain is trying to catch up with the speed, particularly in the corners but it's good so far. Hopefully tomorrow will be better."

Among those missing in action was Paul Dana, who passed his rookie test yesterday and immediately went home to rest. Apparently, the St. Louis native isn't feeling well and Dana was pleased to get the ROP completed without much ado. "Mission accomplished," Dana declared. "We did it real quick."

He expected to run today and try to see what he could do with some downforce removed from the #91 Ethanol/Hemelgarn Dallara/Toyota but there was no sign of Dana throughout the day.

Activity at the Target Ganassi garages is casual today as well, with Briscoe on the sidelines after running second to Patrick yesterday in his #33 Target/Pioneer Panoz/Toyota. Patrick Carpentier sat out the day as well in his #83 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota.

The French Canadian felt the experience of ROP worthwhile. "At first we were not sure we were going to do it but it was very important for me to [get some laps] before everybody was running. I loved it," Carpentier remarked.

Neither Larry Foyt nor Jeff Bucknum made it off pit road but Foyt was on hand to assist Scott Mayer, still having a bear of a time getting the #41 ABC/Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota up to speed. Mayer has passed three of his four phases.

A total of 34 drivers have submitted to physicals and passed them in order to be able to begin practicing tomorrow afternoon. The schedule includes track time between 12-6PM Indianapolis time, which is still EST. Although rain was forecast for today, it held off until just after the track closed for practice. There is a 30% chance of precipitation tomorrow, according to current forecasts.

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