Come Rain or Shine (Well, Almost) Howard Again Sets the Pace
Alton Va. (October 7, 2005) -- Cooper Series champion elect Jay Howard once again was the pacesetter during today's pair of practice sessions at the fast and challenging VIRginia International Raceway.
The 24-year-old Briton posted the quickest time during wet conditions this morning, guiding Marshall Aiken's #1 www.newhoneys.com Van Diemen RF03 around the undulating 3.27-mile parkland road course in a time of 2:16.259, an average speed of 86.394mph.
West Coast interlopers J.R. Hildebrand and Alan Sciuto set the second and third quickest times aboard their pair of Napa Auto Parts/Denso/Pro Series Starters and Alternators/P-1 Racing Van Diemens.
This afternoon's session began on a drying circuit, with everyone venturing out on dry weather Cooper Zeon slick tires for the first time, although the 22-car field completed only a couple of laps before the heavy rain once again put a dampener on the proceedings.
Englishman Howard used his wealth of wet weather experience to excellent effect, turning a lap at 1:58.270 (99.534mph) before the rains returned. His effort was to remain comfortably the fastest lap of the day.
"Quite luckily, I had some clear track [without slower traffic]," said Howard modestly.
"I didn't really learn much, to be honest" he claimed, "Obviously I got some idea of what gears to use in the corners [in the dry], but the track was just filthy dirty and the car was slippin' and slidin' all over the place. I'm sure if it was clear and dry, it would be really good."
Chris Meredith, from Potomac, Md., also took advantage of a clear track to emerge with the second quickest time this afternoon in the #79 MII Security/Comprent Motorsport Van Diemen.
"It was great to finally get out and run in the dry," said Meredith. "The track's unbelievably fun in the dry. We made some changes to the car [setup], tried to get out in front [of the other cars] and the car was great."
Chris Guerrieri, from Pickering, Ont., Canada, was third quickest in the second Aiken Racing Van Diemen.
"We only got two laps in the dry so it's really hard to judge how to set up the car," said Guerrieri, "but overall it felt fairly well balanced and I'm sure we'll have a good car for qualifying."
Gerald Kraut, from North Oaks, Minn., was fastest of the Cooper Masters Series contenders (for drivers over 35 years of age), fourth fastest this afternoon in the #5 Dougherty & Co./JDC Motorsports Van Diemen.
"The surprising thing was how much speed you can carry around this track in the dry," said Kraut. "You're flat out through the uphill esses. It's really fast, but the track was really slippery off line, so you have to be extremely smooth or you'll be off [the road]. It's a lot of fun."
The weekend's sole qualifying session will take place tomorrow (Friday) at 4:45 PM. Race #1 will take place Sunday at 11:00 AM, with the green flag for Race #2 set for 4:15 PM.