IRL: Wheldon in the zone as 500 practice begins in earnest

IRL: Wheldon in the zone as 500 practice begins in earnest

Practice for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race began in earnest today on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval as 39 car and driver combinations took laps 1506 mostly trouble-free laps in preparation for the May 29th...

Practice for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race began in earnest today on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval as 39 car and driver combinations took laps 1506 mostly trouble-free laps in preparation for the May 29th classic.

Dan Wheldon.
Photo by Dan Boyd - IRL.
By the time six hours of practice were completed, it was runaway point and race-win leader Dan Wheldon atop the speed charts in his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry, using his ninth of 11 total laps to turn an impressive 226.808mph.

In all, 22 cars surpassed 2004 polesitter Buddy Rice's 222.024mph lap today. Wheldon said he was "fortunate on my quick lap because I got a good draft." Wheldon believes this will be a "fantastic race and if you've never seen the Indy 500 this is a great year to come" and watch the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Scott Sharp was second in the #8 Delphi/Fernandez Panoz/Honda at 226.609mph on his 24th of 32 laps.

Birthday boy Helio Castroneves used 80 laps to get comfortable with his #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, setting 226.062mph on his penultimate tour.

Tony Kanaan's 20th lap of 225.629mph in the #11 Team 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda was good for fourth place; the 2004 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion only ran 32 laps today as he and his three teammates, Wheldon, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta worked on both their primary and spare race cars.

Kosuke Matsuura tried some qualifying simulations in preparation for Saturday's MBNA Pole Day; his 32nd of 33 laps in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda (225.620mph was good for fifth place on the speed chart.

Rookie Ryan Briscoe is utilizing the coaching talents of two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk to get acclimated and was quickest of the eight-driver rookie group at 225.266mph in his #33 Target/Pioneer Panoz/Toyota.

Tomas Scheckter.
Photo by Dan Boyd - IRL.
Tomas Scheckter's 18th lap (of 20) in his newly liveried #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet at 225.189mph was good for eighth place today. Scheckter and his team are helping Pennzoil launch their new Platinum full synthetic motor oil with a complementary color scheme, rather than the traditional yellow.

Earlier in the day Wheldon took his #26T out for 12 laps; his fifth gave the Briton ninth place to go with his P1 standings in the primary car.

Vitor Meira completed a total of 41 practice laps with the #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda; his 39th lap of 224.172mph gave the Brazilian tenth place overall.

Racing an unusual Panoz/Chevrolet combination during the month of May, a package no other driver is undertaking, Richie Hearn still placed 11th with his #70 Meijer/Coca-Cola machine from Sam Schmidt Motorsports (223.824mph). This is the first time since Hearn finished third in 1996 that he has had the luxury of practicing during the first week of preparations for the Indy 500.

Coming off her fine showing in Rookie Orientation Program, Danica Patrick used a new Honda engine in her #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz to post the 12th fastest lap today of 223.694mph; she also took laps in her T car, placing that machine 25th at just over 221mph.

Sharp's 12 laps in his T car yielded 13th position; Buddy Lazier found the sweet spot in his #95 Byrd Brothers/Panther Dallara/Chevy and logged the 14th quickest tour of the day at 223.443mph.

Bruno Junqueira turned the most laps of any driver - 118 - in his #36 Team Centrix Panoz/Honda and rated 15th best; teammate Sebastien Bourdais backed up his fine ROP run in 22nd position, the final driver to eclipse Rice's pole-winning speed. Bourdais ran 113 laps today. The two Newman Haas Racing drivers must qualify this weekend; they have a Champ Car race in Monterrey on May 22nd, hence the large number of laps completed.

Pitlane activity.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Matsuura's T car held 16th place while Darren Manning brought the #10 Target Panoz/Toyota to 17th overall. 2004 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner Buddy Rice took 18th with the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda; Herta took 19th in his #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda and Sam Hornish Jr. ended his day well before the close of "happy hour" in 20th place with the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota.

Among the balance of the field, Tomas Enge was 27th in the #2 RockStar Dallara/Chevrolet, still taking it easy to help his sore ribs heal; Alex Barron logged the 29th best lap in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota. Barron's teammate and Indy 500 newcomer Patrick Carpentier was 30th in his #83 Red Bull machine.

Scott Dixon is continuing to practice with a #9 Target Dallara/Toyota as his Ganassi team experiments with that package; he was slowest of the three Ganassi entries in 31st place.

A.J. Foyt IV got 50 laps under his belt and was 33rd in the #14 ABC Supply Dallara/Toyota; Roger Yasukawa took 35th in the #24 Racing for Kids Dallara/Honda; Ed Carpenter took 37th with his #20 Vision Dallara/Toyota.

Adrian Fernandez made only three laps in the #5 Investment Properties of America Panoz/Honda for 38th and Jeff Ward suffered through a boring afternoon with a "broken" car. The motocross star logged a single lap with his #22 Vision Dallara/Toyota.

As is customary, there was a lot of drafting as drivers began to get a good feel for how the repaved IMS surface is working. Wheldon believes the track "doesn't seem quite as bumpy and it's in pretty good shape. Tire wear will get better as the month goes along," he explained. "It was somewhat abrasive to start."

Today's weather was picture perfect, warm with only mild winds and a good deal of sunshine throughout the afternoon.

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Series INDYCAR