Cioci fastest Ii Infiniti Pro Series testing at Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, April 18, 2003 -- IRL Infiniti Pro Series newcomer Marco Cioci led a field of sixteen drivers during testing April 18 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the inaugural Freedom 100 on May 17.

Cioci, a veteran of European Formula 3000 competition, topped the speed charts with a fastest lap of 47.8385 seconds, 188.133 mph in the No. 6 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

"The car is very, very fast," said Cioci, from Rome. "It's very consistent. I hope to be more comfortable in the car for the race, because it's my first time here.

"We worked a lot during the day to improve the car, and when I felt the car was very good, I said to my engineer, 'The car is perfect. We are ready to push.' We didn't use fresh tires, so I'm happy, because the car is ready for the race."

Teams completed a total of 1798 incident-free laps in preparation for the third round of the 2003 Infiniti Pro Series championship, the Freedom 100. The event will mark the first time in IMS history that another automobile race will share the famed 2.5-mile oval with the Indianapolis 500 during the month of May.

Western Union Speed Team/Duesenberg Racing driver Jeff Simmons was second fastest overall at 47.9359, 187.751, while Infiniti Pro Series veteran Matt Beardsley rounded out the top three at 47.9595, 187.658 in the No. 12 Alpine Bank/Old Republic Land Title Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

"We were just doing our thing and not messing around with everybody else out there," said Simmons. "We wanted to stay out of the draft because we wanted to learn on our own. It's a little tough here with the wind when it changes directions. For the most part, we had a really productive day."

The one-day test marked the first time the 450-horsepower cars had run in earnest at the famed Brickyard.

"It was an extremely successful day," said Roger Bailey, executive director of the Infiniti Pro Series. "I was delighted with the speed and reliability that we saw today. We completed almost 4500 trouble-free miles, which leads me to believe that we have optimized the aerodynamic package for this race.

"The drivers showed great restraint along with the speed. The top six drivers were within three-tenths of a second, and the top 10 were covered by half a second, which bodes extremely well for an exciting Freedom 100 on May 17."

The IRL Infiniti Pro Series, which will conduct 12 events in 2003, serves as an essential stepping-stone for drivers striving to reach the pinnacle of open-wheel, oval-track racing in America -- the IRL IndyCarTM Series.

Tickets for the inaugural Freedom 100 are $5, which is the normal Month of May practice day ticket price. The day will include the final IndyCar Series practice leading up to Bump Day, the final day of qualifying for the 87th Indianapolis 500.