A cool California morning contributed to quick speeds in the first practice session as 22 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series drivers prepared for Sunday's Toyota Indy 400, race #15 in a 16- event campaign that will crown the 2004 IndyCar Series champion.
Wheldon, who earlier today proclaimed his desire to win the IRL championship (if teammate Tony Kanaan has difficulties) and, hopefully, to win more races this season than any other driver currently stands second in points with 463, 75 fewer than Kanaan. Because he spent time in Newport Beach, Wheldon considers this a "home" race.
Focusing on his qualifying setup in the cool of the day and his race setup this afternoon, Wheldon noted, "This track does get exciting racing and I think Sunday's race will be very, very close."
Second to Wheldon this morning and lying just 20 points behind him in the standings with 443, 2004 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner Buddy Rice was second on the speed charts today with his fifth morning lap of 216.949mph (33.1875 seconds) in the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda.
Helio Castroneves' #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota was the quickest Toyota-powered car and fastest this afternoon at 216.611mph (33.2393 seconds) on his 21st of 41 laps in the mid-afternoon practice. "Yeah," he said, "Toyota has made progress from Chicago to here but so has our team. They just keep working 24/7, always looking for solutions to problems whether they know what those problems are or not!"
Point leader Tony Kanaan's #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda took third in the morning and fourth overall with his lap of 216.545mph (33.2494 seconds). Kanaan said he was "just working along and trying to find the best balance. It was just a normal Friday." Dario Franchitti's lap of 216.129mph (33.3135 seconds) in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda was good for fifth overall after the two-time 2004 winner was fourth in the morning practice.
Adrian Fernandez was among the few to better his morning lap, running 216.107mph (33.3168 seconds) in his Delphi Indy 300-winning #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda. The Mexican was one of three drivers in the top ten who improved in the heat of the day and he found it "a good day.".
Sixth on the speed charts, Vitor Meira's lap of 216.096mph (33.3186 seconds) came on his 12th of 22 laps in the #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda this morning. The Brazilian believed he "learned quite a bit today; this track is pretty tricky."
Tomas Scheckter's #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet produced the ninth best overall time of the day at 215.096mph (33.4734 seconds) on his 17th of 33 morning tours of this California track. Stating the obvious, "The car was better in the morning and we've got some work to do to get it where it needs to be."
Tenth overall went to Darren Manning in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota at 215.057mph (33.4795 seconds), also in the morning. Manning's first time on this circuit left him "pretty pleased. The car was right on, but we still have a little left to go," Manning revealed.
Stating "everything went according to plan today," two-time California Speedway IRL winner Sam Hornish Jr. earned 11th in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota in the afternoon session, while Scott Dixon took 12th in the #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota this afternoon. Dixon's car is sporting a hot pink paint job for the final two races as he team supports Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Alex Barron was 13th with the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet this morning on "a smooth practice day," followed by Bryan Herta's #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda. Herta ran five extra laps this morning to gauge his fitness after a bicycle accident September 16th left the Californian with a small fracture to his left wrist.
Rookie Mark Taylor hustled the #13 Access Motorsports Panoz G Force/Honda to 15th on the speed chart this afternoon, while Townsend Bell's afternoon lap gave him 16th place. Felipe Giaffone set his best lap in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevy this afternoon for 17th, and first-timer Tomas Enge, making his initial laps in the #20 Patrick Racing Dallara/Chevy used his morning lap to take 18th overall.
Scott Sharp was 19th in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota, Ed Carpenter took 20th with the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy, A.J. Foyt IV brushed the wall and ended up 21st in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota. Tora Takagi was again the slowest IndyCar Series driver, 22nd in the #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota.
The day was notable for its lack of drama with Foyt's wall-brush the sole incident of these two practice sessions. Wheldon's profound statement most everyone in the paddock would concur with stated, " Today has gone reasonably well. On these superspeedways," Wheldon noted, "you never really look too deep into Friday practice."
Qualifying takes place Saturday afternoon at 2:30PM local time after late morning practice and will set the field for Sunday's Toyota Indy 400, a 200- lap chase around this track which was the site of last year's closed course record of 207.151mph in a contest won by Sam Hornish Jr.