IRL: Sears Point: Friday practice report

DIXON LEADS OPENING DAY AT SONOMA SONOMA, Calif., Friday, Aug. 25, 2006 -- Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon led the opening day of practice for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. Dixon, who currently sits fourth in the IndyCar Series ...

DIXON LEADS OPENING DAY AT SONOMA

SONOMA, Calif., Friday, Aug. 25, 2006 -- Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon led the opening day of practice for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Dixon, who currently sits fourth in the IndyCar Series championship point standings, turned a lap of 107.662 mph; 1 minute, 16.9073 seconds in his No. 9 Honda-powered Panoz on the 2.26-mile, 12-turn road course. Dixon's fast lap allows him to determine if he will be the first car out or invert the order for Marlboro Pole Qualifying on Aug. 26.

Helio Castroneves ranked second in combined practice speeds with a lap of 107.279 mph in his No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Honda-powered Dallara.

Rounding out the top-five were Dario Franchitti (106.907), his Andretti Green Racing teammate Marco Andretti (106.890) and Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon (106.718).

IndyCar Series point leader Sam Hornish Jr. was seventh quick with a lap of 106.524 mph.

DAY 1 NOTEBOOK:

The Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma is the second IndyCar Series event at Infineon Raceway. Tony Kanaan is the defending race winner. Ryan Briscoe holds the qualifying record with a lap of 1 minute, 16.4913 seconds, 108.248 mph set on Aug. 27, 2005. The Carneros 100 and Valley of the Moon 100 are the second and third Indy Pro Series events at Infineon Raceway, respectively. Marco Andretti won the inaugural event in 2005. Andretti holds the qualifying record with a lap of 1:24.2261, 98.307 set Aug. 27, 2005.

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Four Indianapolis 500 winners are entered in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma: Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002), Buddy Rice (2004), Dan Wheldon (2005) and Sam Hornish Jr. (2006). The 18 drivers entered in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma have combined for 70 IndyCar Series victories, 68 pole positions and 949 starts.

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Two IndyCar Series rookies are entered in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma: Marco Andretti (Andretti Green Racing) and Jeff Simmons (Rahal Letterman Racing). Both are eligible for the $50,000 Bombardier Rookie of the Year title. Jeff Bucknum (A.J. Foyt Racing) is making his first appearance at Infineon Raceway, but is not eligible for Rookie of the Year. Andretti will clinch the award if he starts the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.

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The Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma will be the 133rd IndyCar Series event since the series' inaugural race in 1996. In the 132 previous events, 26,400 laps of competition have been completed. In 12 races thus far in 2006, there have been five winners. Sam Hornish Jr., Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves are the only multiple winners. Castroneves won at St. Petersburg, Motegi, Texas and Michigan, Hornish won at Indianapolis, Richmond, Kansas and Kentucky, and Dixon won at Watkins Glen and Nashville. Dan Wheldon won at Homestead-Miami and Tony Kanaan won at Milwaukee. In those 12 races, 16 drivers have finished in the top five in at least one event.

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The Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma will be the third of three events in 2006 contested on a road or street course. Winners in 2006: Helio Castroneves (Streets of St. Petersburg) and Scott Dixon (Watkins Glen International).

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In 2005, the Indy Racing League introduced a unique road/street course qualifying procedure for IndyCar Series events in which the race for the pole began when the cars hit the track. All cars participate in the initial practice session of race weekend, with the times determing the two groups that will be used in the remaining pre-qualifying practice session.

Friday's combined practice times determine the qualifying order, with the driver posting the fastest time having the option of driving first or last in single-lap qualifying. At the conclusion of single-lap qualifying the fastest six cars will participate in a 10-minute, group session to determine the first three rows.

During the 2005 season, drivers Bryan Herta and Helio Castroneves both improved starting positions during the 10-minute session to capture pole positions on the streets of St. Petersburg and the road course at Watkins Glen International, respectively.

Earlier this season at St. Petersburg, only one position changed during Firestone Fast Six Qualifying. Scott Dixon went from fourth to second. All six drivers did improve upon their times from single-lap qualifications. Qualifications were not held at Watkins Glen due to weather.

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IndyCar Series driver Scott Sharp is the only driver entered in both the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma and the Grand American Road Racing Series Sonoma 250. Grand Am driver Hoover Orsi, who was named as substitute driver for the #51 Cheever Racing Formtek entry in the Indy Pro Series, has decided to focus on the Cheever Racing Grand Am effort. The team has withdrawn the #51 car from the Carneros 100 and Valley of the Moon 100,

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Buddy Rice didn't get any business in McCovey Cove on Aug. 24.

Rice's No. 15 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Argent car was placed on a barge that was anchored in McCovey Cove -- outside right field at AT&T Park -- before the San Francisco Giants hosted the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds won 6-3.

"It was pretty cold out in that cove," the Phoenix resident said. "Unfortunately, they hit some homers but the wind was blowing to the east and left field. So, in the first inning, the homers went to left field. I saw some nice folks on a yacht in the cove and a lot of guys on kayaks trying to get a home run ball, too. Many fans were nice and were yelling at me.

"I was able to get in and see (part of) the game. It is a very nice stadium."

Rice has been in the Bay Area much of the week, taking part in media activities to promote the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway on Aug. 27.

"It has been an interesting week with the grape stomping on Wednesday and then the McCovey Cove on Thursday," he said. "But everybody has been very nice and pretty knowledgeable about IndyCar racing. I think last year was one of the best promotions ever when we (Rice and teammate Danica Patrick) drove our cars around the streets of San Francisco. I will always remember that day."

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Few people stand taller than Mario Andretti in the eyes of George Foreman -- though the former world heavyweight champion towers over the 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner.

Foreman had an opportunity to meet Mario, Michael and Marco Andretti during a tour of the garage area at Infineon Raceway. His visit, however, wasn't solely social.

Foreman is seriously interested in becoming involved in the IndyCar Series -- first aligning with an existing team and eventually forming his own team. Foreman and his eldest son, George, toured the Infineon Raceway facility, getting a look at the cars and drivers in action from various vantage points around the 2.26-mile, 12-turn course. He lunched with Indy Racing League officials and Infineon Raceway president Steve Page, and met with a few IndyCar Series team owners "to pick their brains."

Foreman, who won a boxing gold medal in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, became interested in Indy-style racing when he attended the 500-Mile Race the following May. He has since followed the sport, and said this is the perfect time to "get involved."

"Just the name IndyCars brings back so many thrills to me because I cut my teeth on that name," Foreman said between IndyCar Series practice sessions. "It has changed so much (from 1969), like from the wild, wild West to having computers in cars. It is unreal. Hopefully, soon I'll get a chance to be a part of it.

"We are exploring starting a team. I wanted to meet everybody first of all. This is a good family atmosphere, and that's what I love about it. Then you see a generation of children coming up behind the ones who were in the winning position. This is something I need in my life; I'd like to be a part of it."

A competitor at heart, Foreman said he'd expect to be the owner of a winning car.

"You want to make certain you win," he said. "I want to win. I like to win. I'd like to be associated with some good drivers and see them cross the finish line first. I have a lot of fans and they can't find me in the ring anymore, so this would be a place where they could find me."

Indy Racing League vice president of league development John Lewis said Foreman's group contacted the league about the exploratory visit.

"As interested parties approach the league like George and his son have, the league tries to introduce them to each and every one of our partners because we believe the family atmosphere within the league is good, is true, is strong, and we encouraged George and his son to base their decisions on their impressions," Lewis said. "We have utmost confidence in our owners and partners that somebody will align with what George's needs are, and we encourage them as capitalists to take it to new heights."

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POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone, quickest of the day): "For us, both Target Chip Ganassi Racing teams, we've come here with the attitude of just trying to win the race. I was dissappointed this morning that we didn't get to run on new tires. This afternoon we got a new set, and we had good speed. We're pretty happy, but there's still a ways to go to get through qualifying. We can't hold back anything; we have to win this race."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, second-fastest): "We were trying a lot of things today, which is good, because we know what's good and we know what's bad. We just ran out of time. One more lap, and it would have been perfect. It's OK. Tomorrow is when it counts."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Klein Tools/Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone, third-fastest of the day): "I think the improvements we made to the Klein Tools/Canadian Club car helped. We're still struggling with the car a bit, but we've made some improvements on the first session so we'll think about it overnight and hopefully go in the right direction."

DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone, fifth-fastest of the day): "It was a relatively good day. We're just trying to be as quick as we can here for the IndyCar Series Championship. It's always difficult to pass here so you have to concentrate on qualifying well. I think we're definitely competitive. We're just going to fine tune some stuff tonight so our Target Chip Ganassi cars will be quick tomorrow."

BRYAN HERTA (No. 7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda/Firestone, sixth-fastest of day): "I'm very pleased with the changes we made today to the XM Satellite Radio car. We started with a good car, and I think we've made it better. We have another session to try and improve, and I still think we have a shot at the pole. We didn't use our new tires in the second session and a lot of guys did, so we know we've got some speed that we haven't shown yet."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, seventh-fastest of the day): "We're still looking to get the Marlboro Team Penske car exactly the way we want it. I think we're close, but we still have a little work to do. Part of the track's challenge is the elevation changes and corners so we want to make sure we get the car to where it needs to be on race day and that I'm comfortable for all 80 laps. I'm really happy with where we're at speed-wise, but we still have a little work to do on the set-up of the car."

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The next IndyCar Series event is the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) on Aug. 27 at Infineon Raceway. The race will be telecast live by ESPN and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 145 "IndyCar Racing" and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Sonoma 100 doubleheader on Aug. 26-27 at Infineon Raceway. ESPN2's coverage of the doubleheader races will be televised at 2 p.m. on Aug. 31.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Hoover Orsi , Dan Wheldon , Mario Andretti , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Jeff Bucknum , Marco Andretti , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , John Lewis , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing