Twenty-one IndyCar and 16 Infiniti Pro Series entrants gathered at this 1.549-mile circuit for the Indy Racing League season opener, scheduled for Sunday, March 2nd. With two Friday sessions dedicated to practice, it was finally time to...
Twenty-one IndyCar and 16 Infiniti Pro Series entrants gathered at this 1.549-mile circuit for the Indy Racing League season opener, scheduled for Sunday, March 2nd.
With two Friday sessions dedicated to practice, it was finally time to move away from testing and into competition. For the IndyCar troops, it was immediately apparent that speeds would be quicker than last year, where Sam Hornish Jr. and the Pennzoil Panther team were class of the field, qualifying and finishing first. This year, Sam's got even more competitors looking to foil his efforts to three-peat.
With the infusion of Toyota and Honda's engine expertise, together with many of their former CART runners, the old guard, such as it is, expected to be handicapped in 2003. On this hot and windy Friday, the predictions didn't hold true, for the most part.
Helio Castroneves was second quickest in morning practice and his tour of 26.7371 seconds (201.967mph) held for P2 overall. As with most of the drivers, Castroneves worked on race setups this afternoon in his #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. "Tomorrow should be more competitive and, hopefully we'll be in the ball game," the two-time Indy 500 winner suggested. "A lot of guys worked on race setups this afternoon because you have to be as well-prepared as possible." The afternoon wind was a "big factor. These were pretty tough conditions," Castroneves noted after practicing 6th in the afternoon.
Entering his first Indy Racing League event, Roger Yasukawa was third for the day - and quickest in his group during the two separated sessions - for the new Super Aguri Fernandez Racing team. Driving the #55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda, Yasukawa carried the day for that engine maker and his country, wearing two Japanese coins on his neck of 50 yen and 5 yen, adding up to his car number. Yasukawa's lap of 26.8758 seconds (200.924mph) came in the morning. "The team is great and we're working well together. I have to credit my engineer John Dick and spotter Alex Barron (IRL winner at Nashville in 2002), but practice and qualifying are one thing and finishing this long race is another."
Scott Dixon was fourth in the #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota and was the only G Force driver in the top ten, the final driver over 200mph at 26.9876 seconds and 200.092mph. He said the team "changed everything and didn't really make it better" this morning; the Target group, too, worked on race setups this afternoon, when Dixon was only 15th. Michael Andretti was fifth for the day in his #7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. Andretti has two CART victories at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the 1997 and 1998 season openers. Teammate Tony Kanaan earned 6th place in his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda; both drivers achieved their marks in the morning.
Sarah Fisher carried the banner for GM Motorsports, placing her #23 WeGotGear Dallara/Chevrolet 7th in the time sheets, followed by the afternoon's quickest driver, 1998 IRL champ and 1999 Indy 500 winner Kenny Brack in the #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda. Sam Hornish Jr. earned 9th best lap, based on his morning session in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet, followed by the steady Gil de Ferran in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota.
Tomas Scheckter had fuel pressure problems that limited the South African to only three morning laps; he made up for that this afternoon with a total of 46 tours of the 1.549-mile oval and third in practice session #2. That gave the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force driver 11th place for the day. Dario Franchitti was 12th in his #27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda.
During the morning session 12 drivers practiced within one second; this afternoon 15 practiced within Brack's best lap. For the combined session results, there were 13 within one second, with Al Unser Jr.'s #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota the final car within one second of his Kelley Racing teammate Sharp.
The Infiniti Pro Series is starting its second season at the same time as the IndyCar Series with the running Sunday morning of the Western Union 100.
Times were quicker in the cooler morning, when winds were not nearly the factor they would be in the afternoon test session. While rookie Paul Dana was quickest in the later session, it was another first-timer, Brazilian Thiago Medeiros who was the fastest of the 16 competitors on hand, touring at 32.6014 seconds (165.637mph).
Medeiros, who joined Genoa Racing during Test in the West, comes to the Infiniti Pro Series from South American Formula 3. He admitted the team spent much of the morning working on qualifying set-ups and the afternoon prepping for the 100-miler. "I come from a road racing background and we tend to overdrive on ovals," Medeiros admitted. "It is very different to drive on an oval for me and it's still early" in terms of his experience.
Canadian veteran Tom Wood, who ran three Infiniti Pro Series races in 2002 has joined with Sam Schmidt Motorsports and has sponsorship from Super 8 motels, which is where the team is ensconced for the weekend meeting. Wood's fast lap, also in the morning, of 32.7319 seconds (164.977mph) was good for second place overall. "the track changed in the afternoon," Wood noted. "It slowed quite a bit and the wind moved me around a lot more."
Arie Luyendyk Jr., who finished second in the inaugural point chase, was third in the morning and for the day. His lap of 32.7722 seconds (164.774mph) was set on a circuit he considers "unique. It's quick but you don't run much downforce and the wind affects you a lot. It's quite hair- raising," Luyendyk said, "when your car isn't right here. You have to get it dialed in."
In the morning session, the top 13 cars were separated by one second; during the afternoon, Dana led the time sheets (at 33.0590 seconds - 163.344mph) and 14 Infiniti Pro Series drivers practiced within a second on the 1.549-mile circuit.
Single car qualifying is set for noon for the Infiniti Pro Series tomorrow, while the IndyCar set forms their qualifying line at 1:15pm, immediately following. The Rolex Sports Car Series will contest their Nextel Grand Prix of Miami immediately following Indy Racing League qualifying, utilizing the 2.4-mile infield road course.