IRL: Usual cast on top at test in Phoenix

The penultimate day of open testing for the Indy Racing League's tenth season of IndyCar Series competition took place today on the fast Phoenix International Raceway mile oval. Twenty cars and drivers appeared for the two-day test; 3248 laps...

The penultimate day of open testing for the Indy Racing League's tenth season of IndyCar Series competition took place today on the fast Phoenix International Raceway mile oval.

Twenty cars and drivers appeared for the two-day test; 3248 laps yielded nothing out of the ordinary but track inspections for cut rubber, a common occurrence during tests of this nature.

If the result of this brace of practices is any indications, the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 set to take place on Saturday, March 19th could be the same-old, same-old. Tony Kanaan was quickest overall in his 2004 IRL championship winning #11 Team 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone from the Andretti Green Racing stables.

The Brazilian's 112th lap (of 155) this afternoon yielded a fast speed of 173.918mph, a 1.5mph margin from the second best driver. Sounding almost like Sammy Sosa, Kanaan related: "Phoenix has been very, very good to us. We have been testing a lot of pieces today and sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but we've got to keep improving."

Position two went to Kanaan's teammate, runner-up in the 2004 point standings and last year's polesitter here, Dan Wheldon in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda, who used his 84th of 92 total lap to clean up with a tour of 173.759mph. Pole position for last year's race was 174.779mph, set with a 3.5-liter Honda engine just one race before that machinery became obsolete.

Wheldon thought the speeds today were "not representative of what happens in March. When we come back it will be a significantly different track, which changes the way the car handles. We all worked through separate programs today" under optimal running conditions.

Just as he did in Homestead, Florida a few weeks ago, Scott Sharp silenced critics who claimed he was washed up with a lap of 173.324mph in the #8 Delphi Panoz/Honda he's running out of the Fernandez Racing shops this season. "This whole package suits my style," the veteran said. "I spun here the last two years but I'm comfortable with this car out of the box." Sharp's quick lap came on his 101st of 143 laps.

Sam Hornish Jr., wearing a brace on his right wrist to combat tendinitis was fourth in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 173.239mph on his 147th of 157 laps. Dario Franchitti's #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda earned the fifth best speed of 172.863mph; the Scot is turning into a short oval specialist.

In order to learn what his new racer does over long and short stints, rookie Ryan Briscoe lapped the PIR oval 242 times and was sixth-quickest in the #33 Target Panoz/Toyota with his 167th tour at 172.784mph, impressing many in the paddock with his smooth assault on this handling oval.

Tomas Scheckter held the honor for his engine maker, seventh in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet at 172.677mph. Helio Castroneves' 156 laps in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota yielded the eighth best speed of 172.478mph; 2003 IRL champ Scott Dixon was ninth in the #9 Target Panoz/Toyota at 172.401mph while newcomer Patrick Carpentier rounded out the top ten with his 132nd (of 157) lap at 172.369mph. The French Canadian was wearing a back brace after suffering a snowcross training injury.

Of the rookie field, Tomas Enge was 11th in the #2 Panther Dallara/Chevy and Danica Patrick continued to learn about her #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda, logging 247 laps and ending up 19th.

Although the #91 Ethanol Hemelgarn Dallara/Toyota of Paul Dana was expected to appear at this test, it was not completed in time and the rookie will have to get baptism by racing in the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway March 4-6 instead.

It was expected to be mostly sunny today but the skies turned dark at the noon hour and cooler, as well. The same sort of seasonable weather is expected tomorrow and a sprinkle or two might invade the Valley of the Sun before IndyCar Series testing is complete.

Hornish Jr. summed up the sentiments of most drivers practicing here today: "Phoenix is a real driver's track; you have to have the car handling well and you have to be able to work well in traffic." The track, though, will be far different in mid-March than it is now and Hornish, like the rest of the field will "make our best guess when we come back."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Ryan Briscoe , Paul Dana , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick
Teams Team Penske