IPS: IRL: St. Pete: Friday practice summary

CASTRONEVES LEADS OPENING DAY AT ST. PETERSBURG ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Friday, March 30, 2007 -- Helio Castroneves turned his fastest lap of the day minutes before the checkered flag fell to lead practice as IndyCar® Series teams began ...

CASTRONEVES LEADS OPENING DAY AT ST. PETERSBURG

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Friday, March 30, 2007 -- Helio Castroneves turned his fastest lap of the day minutes before the checkered flag fell to lead practice as IndyCar® Series teams began preparations for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 1.

Castroneves, the defending winner of the event, lapped the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street circuit in 1 minute, 1.6016 seconds, 105.192 mph, in his No. 3 Team Penske Honda-powered Dallara. Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan, a podium finisher in each of the two previous events in St. Petersburg, was second-quick with a lap of 1:01.6892, 105.043 mph.

Overall, the top four drivers were quicker than Dario Franchitti's 2006 track record. Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon was third while Franchitti was fourth. Marco Andretti was fifth, and 2005 winner Dan Wheldon was sixth.

Single-car qualifying will take place Saturday afternoon followed by the Firestone Fast Six, a 10-minute shootout among the top six cars for the pole position.

Also on Friday, Bobby Wilson led practice for the Indy Pro Series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Wilson led the 24-car field with a time of 1:07.7336, 95.669 mph in his No. 1 Brian Stewart Racing entry. Robbie Pecorari, Stephen Simpson, Phil Giebler and Alex Lloyd rounded out the top five.

The Indy Pro Series will qualify Saturday morning and hold the first of two 40-lap races of the weekend on Saturday afternoon.

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This is the third IndyCar Series event on the streets of St. Petersburg. Helio Castroneves is the defending race winner. Dario Franchitti holds the qualifying record with a lap of 1 minute, 2.2753 seconds, 104.054 mph set in April 2006. This is the fourth Indy Pro Series event on the streets of St. Petersburg. Raphael Matos won both races last year. Matos also holds the qualifying record with a lap of 1:07.1409, 96.513 mph set in April 2006.

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Four Indianapolis 500 winners are entered: Sam Hornish Jr. (2006), Dan Wheldon (2005), Buddy Rice (2004) and Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002)

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In 2005, the IndyCar Series introduced a unique road/street course qualifying procedure in which the race for the pole began when the cars hit the track. All cars participate in the initial practice session of race weekend, with the times determining the two groups that will be used in the remaining pre-qualifying practice session.

Today's combined practice times determine Saturday's qualifying order, with the driver posting the fastest time having the option of driving first or last in single-lap qualifying. At the conclusion of single-lap qualifying the fastest six cars will participate in a 10-minute, European-style session to determine the first three rows.

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Members of the multi-platinum-selling band Live experienced the thrill of a high-speed ride around the streets of St. Petersburg, thanks to driver Stephan Gregoire and the Indy Racing Experience two-seater. Live opened its 2007 tour in St. Petersburg on Thursday.

CHAD TAYLOR (lead guitarist, Live): "Honestly, it's not every day you get to go this fast and not get potentially get pulled over. I think it's amazing the Indy Racing League invited us out here, and we got to go around this race course. Anyone who gets this opportunity should do it."

CHAD GRACEY (drummer, Live): "It's a little more instantaneous than a rock show. I'd like to get Stephan (Gregoire) to drive our tour bus on our next tour."

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Scarallo's grandmother to watch him race for only second time: Joey Scarallo, driver of the RLR/Andersen No. 15 car in the Indy Pro Series, will have a host of family members on hand for this weekend's events.

JOEY SCARALLO (No. 15 RLR/Andersen Racing GroupAWheels.com): "My grandmother lives down here, and I have a few uncles who live here, and they'll be out to watch. My grandmother only saw me race one other time; Montreal in a Trans-Am race. We finished fifth. My uncles and cousins have never seen me race."

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RLR/Andersen Racing race shop based in Palmetto, Fla.: Andersen Racing's Indy Pro Series engineers are brothers, Dominic and Nicholas Cape of Manchester, England, who have been based in Palmetto, Fla., about 20 miles from St. Petersburg, for several years. Their shop is located at Group Four Park, an 18-acre facility that includes a 1-mile test track. Although Andersen Racing is based in Fairfield, N.J., its Indy Pro Series cars are physically located at the Cape's shop at Group Four Park between races.

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Guthrie Racing competing in "loaner" car: Guthrie Racing's No. 4 Indy Pro Series car driven by Sean Guthrie was damaged March 24 during the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With many of the teams remaining at the facility to test on the road course on March 28, and with a doubleheader weekend coming up this weekend, there wasn't enough time to repair their car.

Team owner Jim Guthrie began approaching other teams about using one of their extras almost immediately. He reached a deal to lease Brian Stewart Racing's third car.

JIM GUTHRIE (owner, Guthrie Racing): "The story is how these guys basically inherited a roller, with no harness or anything, and built a car in a day and a half that's now running competitive times. Plus, they changed over Tom's (Wieringa) car, set everything up and were ready to test by Tuesday. We built and prepared three cars in two days, which I think is pretty amazing."

SEAN GUTHRIE (No. 4 Guthrie Racing Car Crafters Special): "Since the accident, we arranged to pick up a spare car from another team, and our guys put in a tremendous amount of work to get the car done, and then some. We even ran faster at this past week's test than at the previous Open Test in February. The car is really comfortable, and the good news is that there's a lot of time left in it. Not only am I excited about our testing results, but I'm really encouraged by my team's past results in St. Petersburg, winning both races last year as a new team. I certainly hope to duplicate those results this year. I don't think a "fourpete" has ever been done in the Indy Pro Series, but that would be nice for our team to claim."

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New aero package debuts in Indy Pro Series: Indy Pro Series officials introduced a triple-element rear wing and a larger front wing element that will be used on all short ovals and road courses in 2007. The package will be used in a race for the first time this weekend. The package increases the downforce on the car and changes the balance of the car, which should allow for more grip. The wing package will be used at 11 of the series-record 16 races.

BUTCH MEYER (Technical Director, Indy Pro Series): "We have an excellent aerodynamic package for the speedways and superspeedways. However, we found we needed to make a few changes on the short ovals and road courses. The new package will allow us to achieve more downforce on the car and to change the balance of the car. We're moving some of the downforce forward. Overall, the cars will have more grip on the short ovals and road courses, which will make the racing better."

CHRIS FESTA (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing): "With the new aero package, the cars seem to stick a lot better in the corners. You don't get as much slide as you used to get. I think it's a big upgrade for the car. We should see faster lap times."

ALEX LLOYD (No. 7 Lucas Oil/Isilon Systems/SSM): "The times in the first session were a lot quicker than the times in last year's first session, surprisingly quick. So, I think it's definitely having an impact."

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"Day at the Races" will host paralyzed race fans: Indy Pro Series team owner Sam Schmidt, the founder of the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, will host the organization's first "Day at the Races" event of 2007 on Saturday.

Every season, Schmidt hosts people with spinal cord injuries at many of the racetracks that the Indy Pro Series visits. The visit includes behind-the-scenes access in the garage area, a chance to meet Indy Pro Series and IndyCar Series drivers and a lunch.

Schmidt is a former race car driver who competed in three Indianapolis 500-mile Races. In January 2000, while testing for that year's edition of the race, he was involved in an accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation was founded in 2000 while Schmidt was still in the rehabilitation hospital. Its mission is to raise funds to support spinal cord injury research which also benefits stroke victims, people with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, ALS, and other neurological disorders. The foundation is active in advocacy efforts benefiting the disabled and funds organizations throughout the world that directly benefit people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities.

SAM SCHMIDT (team owner, Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "We invite patients and members of their families to the races and give them a truly 'behind the scenes' experience. Often, the experience represents the very first time away from the hospital for some patients, and the overall experience becomes quite therapeutic for everyone connected.

"When I was in a rehabilitation hospital after my accident, I had met a lot of awfully nice people but saw some things that disturbed me. During my rehab, I received thousands of cards and letters from well-wishers and visits from a lot of friends, family, and colleagues. Many of the other patients weren't as fortunate as me, and when visits from friends and family began to slow or were non-existent, I saw a lot of these patients affected psychologically. I vowed to try and change that when I was able to leave the hospital, and our 'Days at the Races' program has been able to restore the faith and hope in a lot of these patients because they again meet people who truly care about them."

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Drivers spend off week in Florida: With the first two races of 2007 coming in the Florida, drivers and team members stayed in the Sunshine State through the week. Indy Pro Series teams remained in Homestead through March 28 when they tested on the road course, but most of them had a chance to relax on March 29 before driving up to St. Petersburg.

Kenn Hardley Racing's team spent the day on the golf course near team owner Kenn Hardley's home in Naples.

Jon Brownson, driver of the No. 34 SWE car, also spent the day in Naples.

STEPHEN SIMPSON (No. 24 Kenn Hardley Racing): "I spent the day golfing with Kenn (hardley) and my engineer (Doug Forker). Then we went to Kenn's house for dinner that night. Being new to the team, it was a good way for us to get to know each other in a casual setting away from the track."

JON BROWNSON (No. 34 SWE): "My parents live in Naples, so it was nice to stay down here and spend some time with them."

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Get well soon, Pablo: Sean Guthrie's No. 4 Guthrie Racing Car Crafters Special Indy Pro Series car features 'Get Well Soon Pablo' on the sidepods. The well wishes are for Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Pablo Perez, who was injured March 24 during the season-opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway after his car made contact with Guthrie's on Lap 47.

SEAN GUTHRIE (No. 4 Guthrie Racing Car Crafters Special): "Since it was so close to home with us being involved with it, and he's just such a good kid, some support for him is definitely needed.

None of us knew the vinyl (sign) people were going to be here. When we found out they were here, we said, 'Let's do it.' They cut it out early this morning when we got in, put it on the sidepod. It was an empty sidepod anyway with this new car. We all hope he gets better soon."

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Dan Wheldon, the 2005 Indianapolis 500 champion and 2005 IndyCar Series champion, will re-launch a newly designed website at www.danwheldon.com today

Wheldon's new website will allow racing fans and media alike to get up close and personal with the IndyCar Series driver for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. In addition to the latest news and notes of Dan's 2007 IndyCar Series campaign, the new site will include in-depth interviews about Dan's life both on and off the racetrack, as well as detailed racing and lifestyle photo galleries.

In late April, Wheldon will launch Phase Two of his website, which will include extensive downloads and interactive activities for fans, as well as enhanced site functionality.

INDY PRO SERIES POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

BOBBY WILSON: (No. 1 Ocala Gran Prix, fastest of the day): "The car is really good right now. Up until I spun (in the second session), I was a tenth of a second quicker and I still had half a lap to go. I know I could put a good lap together, so the second session doesn't really matter. I'm just excited for qualifying, so I can put the car at the front." (About the importance of winning the pole): "I think it's really important to get a good start and have a clean race. It sets you up for Sunday. The key is finishing up front on Saturday. You don't want anything to happen where you have to come up through the rear."

ROBBIE PECORARI: (No. 13 Cabo Wabo Tequila, second fastest): Going into the weekend, I knew that the team had a good road course set up. We did a little bit of testing and that was great. I was definitely looking forward to going to a street course after racing only street courses last year in the Atlantics series. We struggled a little bit with a few problems in the first session, but we got it together for the second session. We were able to get one clear lap and put it up.

ALEX LLOYD (Lucas Oil / Isilon Systems / SSM, fifth fastest): "We had a little trouble with the brakes today. We vetted a new set this morning, but they aren't feeling quite right yet. We're struggling just to be aggressive with the stopping power. We'll fix it overnight and should be fine. Our Lucas Oil car is fast as it is. Once we got the braking situation solved, we'll be great."

HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 55 Panther Racing, seventh-fastest): "I couldn't get a clear lap during the second session so I couldn't practice things I wanted to do in that session. We tried the setup I wanted but my time didn't improve, so we put the car back to the previous setup and it was better. I wanted more time to practice but after the car in front of me spun at the end, I spun as well and the session was over. I am looking forward to the race tomorrow and hope to show a good performance in the race."

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Cheever Racing bounces back from electrical fire: Cheever Racing's No. 51 Indy Pro Series car missed the morning practice session after an electrical fire in pit lane. The team repaired the car in time for the 30-minute afternoon session.

RICHARD ANTINUCCI (No. 51 Cheever Racing): "We are on a steeper learning curve, but I like this kind of track. It's difficult to get consecutive laps in with so many inexperienced drivers out there, too many cars together in the curves, but it feels good. We're looking forward to a good race."

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INDYCAR SERIES POST PRACTICE QUOTES:

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fastest of the day): "It was a good run for Team Penske. We put everything together this afternoon that we weren't able to this morning. It seems like we've found our way. The car is becoming more tight, but it's fun to drive. There's no question that every practice is becoming more important. The competition on the road course is closer this year, and it seems like everyone understands the car better. I'm just happy that we did a good job."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, second-fastest): "It's always good to go at the end because it gives you a better chance to improve your time. There's going to be more rubber on the track, and you get to watch everybody so you can judge what you can and can't do. Today was a good day for us. The 7-Eleven team did a great job. We wanted to be in the top-three, but today doesn't matter for anything. I know we have a strong car, and I'm not too concerned with what position we had. What counts is Sunday."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, third-fastest): "This morning we were just trying to get up to speed with running the Dallara on the street course for the first time. We got a really good time in the first session to get to the top of the timing sheets. We were working on getting more speed in the second session, the Team Target car was pretty decent, and when we put it on new tires, we were just two tenth off the fast time. We're pretty happy. I think we could have done that time, so we're looking fairly decent for qualifying. "

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fourth-fastest): "We've got work to do. I'm not really happy with the car yet and on certain parts of the track I'm not happy with my driving either. I know I'm working hard, but I've got to start with those parts of the track that I'm not doing my job."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fifth-fastest): "I think we're a couple of changes away. The car's not there yet. I'm having to work really hard. I'm sure everybody is, but I'm having to work really hard to get the time out of the car. We're in the top five just barely, but like I said, I think we're still a couple of changes away."

DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, sixth-fastest): "It was an OK day.We struggled a little with the balance of the car but even we were struggling, we were still pretty strong. It gives you a lot of confidence that if we make some improvements, which I think we will, we should climb up the order. We'll just work on getting a good car for qualifying and see what happens, but certainly it's good to see Scott (Dixon) up front."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, eighth fastest): "We're reasonably happy with how the Team Penske car is performing, we're just making sure we save tires for the race and have the best equipment for Sunday. I feel we definitely could've been higher on the speed charts, but we're using a little strategy so we are in good shape for race day. We're looking forward to qualifying tomorrow, and I think we'll be strong all weekend."

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Stephan Gregoire , Jim Guthrie , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Sam Schmidt , Jon Brownson , Buddy Rice , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Alex Lloyd , Robbie Pecorari , Phil Giebler , Stephen Simpson , Bobby Wilson , Sean Guthrie , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing