Rain scuttled Fast Friday practice just past the midway point as the first round of many severe thunderstorms expected much later this afternoon arrived shortly after Paul Dana's hard hit of the Turn 2 SAFER barrier at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Just 24 car/driver combinations completed 462 laps total over the 3.5 hours of practice before the skies erupted. Scheckter's best lap came on his penultimate of a meagerly 12 tours.
This "bad luck boy" finally had some good luck on this Friday the 13th and Scheckter affirmed he actually did four laps in the 227mph range. "This is the right time of the week" to post a quick lap. "Both our Panther team and Chevrolet have done a great job. I knew there was a little bit left in the car but I didn't know it was this much," he grinned.
Marking his fourth appearance in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing Scheckter has learned, "With this oval you have to have respect. It changes by the minute and anytime you think it's easy, the track catches you.
"All the changes we made seemed to work out," Scheckter continued. "We went slowly at it, making some major changes in the car at the beginning of the week. Some of them worked, some didn't," he said.
Continuing his strong effort for this month of May, reigning IRL champ Tony Kanaan took second on the chart with a lap around the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval at 227.191mph, achieved on his eighth of 16 laps. The #11 Team 7- Eleven Dallara/Honda driver admitted to not getting much track time but feels "we're confident."
Danica Patrick took third today in the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda on her penultimate of 34 laps, turning a heady 226.769mph. "We knew the rain was coming just like everyone else did," and did her laps early to beat the storms.
Hornish had been on a qualifying simulation when the incident occurred. "I think I ran over a large piece of his gearbox. Now we'll have to go back to our primary car and try and get it ready.
"Hopefully we'll be close to where we were with the 6T this afternoon and put it in a good spot during qualifying," the dejected two-time champion said. Hornish used his primary car to set the sixth quickest lap of the day t 226.286mph on his 34th of 38 laps. He has a cut on his right knee that occurred when he bumped against a side bolster in the cockpit. "We're going to pad that area," Hornish declared.
Fifth place went to Dario Franchitti's #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda with his fourth lap (of 12) at 226.454mph. Despite his appearance to the sharp end of the time sheets, the Scot hoped for more time on the track and wasn't terribly pleased with his run today. He'll be back on track with the second practice group for a half-hour tomorrow morning.
Helio Castroneves took seventh for the day in his #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota with a lap of 224.950mph. While the two-time Indy winner was pleased with his improved slot on the time sheets, "We were looking forward to continuing working on our qualifying setup this afternoon. It is too bad rain shortened the day."
Sebastien Bourdais continued to get a feel for the Brickyard oval's nuances, bringing his #37 Team Centrix Panoz/Honda into the ninth quickest spot with his seventh of nine total laps at 224.764mph.
Bourdais was only able to make one qualifying simulation before the rain came. "Obviously it wasn't the kind of speed we expected but the balance was good. Realistically," the 2004 Champ Car titleholder said, "we took enough drag out to expect a bigger improvement."
Scott Sharp rounded out the top ten in the #8 Delphi/Fernandez Panoz/Honda at 224.640, taking 38 tours of the IMS oval and earning his best speed on lap #15. The veteran is "excited for qualifying tomorrow. We know we have quite a bit of speed yet to show and I am pretty confident."
Tomas Enge's 11th place lap in the #2 RockStar Dallara/Chevy came on his eighth of ten laps and his team indicated the Czech really needed another ten laps of running before the rains came. Unfortunately, he never got them.
It's been a "really good week" for rookie Ryan Briscoe, who took 12th today in his #33T Target Panoz/Toyota, completing 16 laps and banking his best on lap #13. Teammate Scott Dixon was 13th in the #9T Target Panoz/Toyota. "It's hard to tell where we were at today as we found ourselves chasing the track a bit."
Bryan Herta logged the 14th best speed in his #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda, followed by Kosuke Matsuura's #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda. Matsuura completed the race setup portion of his afternoon and never did get a chance to simulate qualifying.
Sixteenth went to current IRL point leader and triple race winner Dan Wheldon in his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda who had a "very strange day. We were running pretty slow after being pretty quick all week. I'm not exactly sure why," Wheldon remarked.
Bruno Junqueira took 17th with the #36 Team Centrix Panoz/Honda. The Brazilian "only ran three laps at speed and the car didn't feel right so we came back to the garage. We were fixing [the problems] when it started to rain," scotching any chance to improve further.
His teammate Patrick Carpentier earned 19th for the day in the #83 Red Bull machine and called this Fast Friday "a difficult day. We weren't able to determine whether the adjustments we made have us going in the right direction."
Larry Foyt rounded out the top 20 with the #48 Foyt Racing Panoz/Toyota, admitting "we're gaining on it. Foyt was followed by Jeff Ward's #22 Vision Racing Dallara/Toyota, Marty Roth in his #25 Dallara/Chevrolet, Dana's #91 Ethanol/Hemelgarn Dallara/Toyota and Jaques Lazier, who took only one lap with the #21 Playa Del Racing Panoz/Toyota.
Shortly before 6PM EST Dr. Henry Bock announced Paul Dana has been admitted to Methodist Hospital with a spinal fracture and concussion. Further tests are expected Saturday, leaving Dana out of the first weekend of qualifying and questionable for the balance of the month of May.
With another set of squalls set to hit the Indianapolis area Saturday afternoon, drivers with an early qualifying number look to have a good chance to place their cars amongst the top 11 in the 33-car field tomorrow. MBNA Pole Day qualifying commences at 1PM EDT.