Raphael Matos led preparations for the Firestone Indy Lights St. Pete 100. Matos, who swept the doubleheader races in 2006, lapped the circuit in 1 minute, 7.4950 seconds, 96.007 mph.

J.R. Hildebrand, Richard Antinucci, Jeff Simmons and Dillon Battistini rounded out the top five. Race 1 of the doubleheader is Saturday afternoon.

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For three Firestone Indy Lights teams, the doubleheader weekend at St. Petersburg is more than the only street course race on the 2008 schedule. American Spirit Racing, Team E and RLR/Andersen Racing call the west coast of Florida home, so it's a chance to shine in front of their friends and family.

American Spirit Racing is owned by Jon Lewis, a resident of Cape Coral, Fla. The team's driver, Swiss rookie Cyndie Allemann, also resides in Cape Coral.

Team E is based in Odessa, Fla. Team owner Neil Enerson is the president of Marlin Gas Transport, a provider of compressed natural gas transportation services located in New Port Richey, Fla. The team's driver Bobby Wilson is a resident of Ocala, Fla.

RLR/Andersen Racing is based in Palmetto, Fla., and many of its team members live in the area. The team fields the Best Friends Animal Society No. 5 driven by Andrew Prendeville and the Allied Interior Products No. 25 driven by J.R. Hildebrand, who used to live in the area before relocating to Indianapolis last year.

Among the RLR/Andersen Racing crew memebers who live in St. Pete are:
* Dominic Cape, chief engineer, lives in St. Petersburg;
* Nicholas Cape, engineer and assistant manager (and Dominic's brother), also lives in St. Pete;
* Jake Ware, the team's data acquisition specialist, lives in Bradenton;
* William Paul, the chief mechanic on the No. 5, lives in Bradenton;
* Francisco Navarro, second mechanic on the No. 25, lives in St. Pete;
* Brandon Deagle, transporter driver, also lives in St. Pete;
* Michelle Kish, Andersen Racing's overall team manager, lives in Palmetto, Fla.

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Robbie Pecorari, who is racing in the Firestone Indy Lights St. Pete 100 doubleheader for Michael Crawford Motorsports, is pulling double-duty this weekend. Pecorari is also competing in the Acura Sportscar Challenge for van der Steuer Racing, meaning he will race in three of the four races scheduled this weekend, including both Saturday races.

ROBBIE PECORARI (No. 6 Michael Crawford Motorsports): "It's going to be interesting and a lot of back and forth (between paddocks). It's really my first time to drive a LMP2 car, but my main goal is the Firestone Indy Lights races. If we could get a podium or even a win, that would be great. We had some great results here last year and on the other road courses, so I'm looking forward to the weekend." (About the rest of the year): "It's always been the goal to put something together for the whole season, especially after the season we had last year. I would love to be in the series for the full year, but the focus is getting a good result here."

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IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights forge promotional partnership with Raybestos Brand Brakes: Indy Racing League officials today announced a two-year promotional partnership with the Affinia Under Vehicle Group, manufacturers of Raybestos brand brakes. The partnership designates Raybestos as the preferred competition brake friction of the IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights at all road and street course races through 2009. The announcement renews a relationship between Raybestos brand brakes and IndyCar racing that dates back decades.

As part of the partnership, Raybestos will become the preferred brake friction run by every IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights team for every road and street course race on the schedule. The Raybestos Road and Street Course Challenge will award a cash payout to all street or road course race winners throughout the season provided he or she used Raybestos brakes. The payout will be $5,000 per race in the IndyCar Series and $2,500 per race in Firestone Indy Lights. In addition to these individual race incentives, Raybestos brand brakes will award $25,000 to the IndyCar Series driver who achieves the best average finishing position across all 2008 road/street course events. The season-long Firestone Indy Lights award is $10,000.

In addition to its support of the series and its teams with ongoing technical assistance and development, there are plans to showcase the new IndyCar Series relationship, competition imagery, and the league's premiere drivers in Raybestos® brand advertising, consumer promotions, and point-of-sale marketing materials.

TERRY ANGSTADT (President, Commercial Division, Indy Racing League): "The IndyCar Series is always looking to associate itself with respected brands that have earned the trust of the American consumer. Raybestos is one of those brands. Not only are they a great fit to help us promote the IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, but we'll also be able to count on quality brakes for our race cars to help maintain our high safety standards."

JOSH RUSSELL (Vice President of Marketing, Affinia Under Vehicle Group): "We are thrilled to announce the return of Raybestos brakes to the highest levels of competition in open wheel racing. Raybestos has an extraordinary legacy in motorsports, and a history of continuous technical development of its products through firsthand experience on both proving grounds and the world's most demanding racetracks. "It will be exciting to have Raybestos once again exceeding the braking needs of the world's most demanding open wheel teams and drivers," Russell continued.

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Cyndie Allemann is wearing a brace on her right wrist when she is not racing due to tendonitis. Allemann aggravated the injury during the Open Test at Sebring International Raceway. Though the injury is not severe enough to keep her from racing, she said it does fatigue her more quickly.

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FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., fastest): "The day went pretty smooth. We were able to be the quickest in both sessions. In the first session, it was very slippery. I definitely thought the performance of the car was better in the second session when we had more grip in the track. We were able to try different aero configurations and setups for qualifying. The AFS/Andretti Green team did a great job. I think we'll have a strong car for qualifying and the race tomorrow." (About street course racing): "The last two years I raced in a series with a lot of street courses. I had to learn how to adapt quickly. You have to take your time and remember there's walls around you. You can't make a mistake. You can't drive 100 percent, but you may drive 95 percent. You just ne ed to get a car that is comfortable for you so that you can go fast."

J.R. HILDEBRAND (No. 25 RLR/Andersen Racing, second fastest): "Like Raphael, I raced in (Champ Car) Atlantics, so I have some general road course experience. It's my first time here, and it's a little different from what I'm used to. It's a good showing for us and a good showing for the team. I'm really proud of the guys. We've come out the gates really strong, and there's no reason that we can't keep getting better." (About the hometown race for the team): "It's a big race for the guys on the team since they are so close to home. Half the team is sleeping in their own beds and just going home at night. We have a lot of people here and a lot of people are here from Allied, one the biggest sponsors for the team. It would be great to have a great showing here for all of them."

SATURDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local):
10:05-10:35 a.m. Firestone Indy Lights SWE Pole Qualifying
4:15 p.m. St. Pete 100 Race 1 pre-race
4:45 p.m. St. Pete 100 Race 1 (40 laps/72 miles)

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The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 6 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast in High Definition live at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) by ESPN and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season continues April 5-6 with a doubleheader weekend at St. Petersburg. The race will be telecast at 2 p.m. (EDT) on April 10 by ESPN2.

-credit: irl