Marco Andretti will start from the pole position in Saturday's Liberty Challenge, the sixth race in the 2005 Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship. The Liberty Challenge is the second Pro Series race to be held at the Indianapolis Motor...
Marco Andretti will start from the pole position in Saturday's Liberty Challenge, the sixth race in the 2005 Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship. The Liberty Challenge is the second Pro Series race to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year. Three weeks ago the series competed in the Freedom 100, a 40-lap, 100 mile event on the 2.5 oval track. The Liberty Challenge marks the first time the Infiniti Pro Series has competed on the 2.605-mile road circuit.
With the grid for Saturday's race set by the combined times from two practice sessions, drivers tried to get a good lap in the first session in case the Pro Series Firestone rubber was found to be incompatible with that of the Formula One cars. As it turned out all the best laps were set in the afternoon session.
"This morning was just dusting off the track," said Andretti, who went from a morning best time of 1:27.825 to an afternoon pole time of 1:26.236, a full second and a half quicker. "The second session was where it was at."
Andretti is making his third appearance in the Pro Series this weekend. He burst upon the scene at St. Petersburg, Fla., where he earned the poll and victory in his first race.
Nick Bussell will start alongside Andretti after setting the second fastest lap in both sessions. After the first session Bussell was two one-hundredths of a second off Andretti's time. In the afternoon session, while Andretti trimmed a second a half from his morning best, Bussell only cut a second from his time.
With the long straight leading to turn one, Bussell says he's thinking about "staying in second" at the start of the race. "The last thing I want to do is lose a bunch of spots. If there's an opportunity to slide into the lead, then that's good but more than likely I need to slot into second and then challenge Marco from there."
Limited track time for the Pro Series precluded teams from making numerous changes during practice. "The balance of my car changed from the first session to the second session," said Bussell. "We're going to have to counteract that and hopefully make the right adjustments for the race. There are going to be a lot more people driving on this track between now and tomorrow so it's going to be a little bit of a gamble on our setup."
Speculation that multiple car teams might benefit from group qualifying by providing teammates with a tow was unfounded as the top four qualifiers compete for single car teams. "You would have to luck into that," said Bussell. "Even with a three car team, it would be very hard to plan that.
"I never actually got behind anybody to get a sense of a tow. In the final two minutes of the last session I thought I might get a tow off Jon Herb but unfortunately he spun and the checkered came out. So I never got a chance to attempt that, but I don't think it would have helped."
"A tow is always an advantage," said Andretti, "but you can't plan for a tow. There's a lot of infield here" and it could cause you to be held up.
Despite missing the first practice session, Jeff Simmons will start third. "It was a crap day," said a clearly dejected Simmons. "I finally started getting a rhythm there at the end but I can't get the car to go deep into the corners without the brakes locking up. It's not an issue with the brakes because it's fine going into turn one. Going into (turn) eight it just keeps locking up the rears every single time. It's killing our lap every time."
With two Pro Series victories in 2003 Simmons is always a contender for victory, especially if his crew can cure the balance problem he experienced today. "We'll take a look at it and try to figure out what's going on. It's probably costing us three tenths of a second a lap."
Wade Cunningham will start fourth after nipping at Andretti's heels early in the first practice session. "I think we timed when to go out on new tires wrong," said Cunningham, who was third fastest in the morning. "It wasn't too bad until the last few laps. In the last few minutes we were second and then some people went out and we got bumped back a few places."
After earning the first three qualifying spots at Texas last week, the trio of Sam Schmidt Motorsports drivers will start fifth, sixth and ninth with Jaime Camara leading his teammates. Camara and teammate Chris Festa were separated by 0.084 seconds. Both drivers have a road racing background while Travis Gregg is more at home driving a sprint car on a dirt oval. Gregg, who will start ninth, was over a second from Festa's time and 2.399 seconds off pole.
Coming into this event Gregg leads the points battle (191-187) over Cunningham and will look to maintain that advantage. "Hopefully we can make a couple more changes to make it better for the race tomorrow so we can move up."
Marty Roth and Arie Luyendyk will start seventh and eighth, respectively.
Larry Connor was uninjured after careening off course and flipping his car in the gravel traps. "Somebody hit me in the right rear," said Connor. "The spotter said it was Luyendyk. I never even saw him. Apparently he got his left front just inside my right rear and catapulted me and I went for a big ride." Connor's crew was unable to repair the car for the second practice session. At press time the crew was continuing repairs.
Marco Andretti will compete in three more Menards Infiniti Pro Series races this year. Andretti is currently scheduled to compete at Milwaukee, Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen.