IRL: Action on and off Indy track

IRL: Action on and off Indy track

It's been a very interesting day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway both on and off the track. In preparation for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, qualified drivers spent much of the time running in packs to determine the cars' ability under ...

It's been a very interesting day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway both on and off the track. In preparation for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, qualified drivers spent much of the time running in packs to determine the cars' ability under passing maneuvers.

Kosuke Matsuura.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Off the 2.5-mile oval track there were announcements of new partnerships, some appearing to be marriages of convenience, others the kind of liaisons that would make one ask: "What took them so long?"

Rookie Kosuke Matsuura took the fastest lap of the afternoon in his #55T Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda: 220.784mph on his 96th of 101 laps. Teammate Adrian Fernandez took second place on his 10th of 85 laps in the #5T Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda at 220.007mph, holding top spot until Matsuura blew him in the weeds.

Still Matsuura had to bitch: "The car is not like my primary car. There is something strange," he said. "You have more understeer sometimes and then a loose car, and sometimes we are influenced by the wind and the car changes so much." Get used to it, kid. It's Indy!

Fernandez was a bit more circumspect: "Even though we are the fastest two guys, in race trim we are still not as I would like to be, but it is not bad also."

Helio Castroneves.
Photo by Earl Ma.
Helio Castroneves broke up the Honda parade by taking third in his #3T Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 218.676mph. Running nearly half- distance of the Indy 500 by putting in 98 laps, Castroneves noted, "We've been running with other cars as much as possible. We want to make sure we have a well-balanced, consistent car."

Vitor Meira used the #15T Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda normally assigned to polesitter Buddy Rice today (there is no spare #17 Team CENTRIX entry) and was fourth with his 27th lap of 218.617mph.

Tony Kanaan took fifth on the speed charts with his 19th (of 95) lap at 218.485mph in the #11T Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. Kanaan admitted his Andretti Green Racing teammates decided to lock step on the historic oval. "As teammates you can really work together and we're just really trying to do a lot of different things to just find out what will work best for conditions we get on race day."

Of a total 2027 laps - run in less time than usual as the Menards Infiniti Pro Series took over the track first thing this morning - the guy turning left most often was Darren Manning in the #10T Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota. The Brit logged 146 laps today and was 15th of the 25 car/driver combinations.

Four drivers used their primary cars: Ed Carpenter (10th), Robby Gordon (11th), Larry Foyt and Marty Roth. The latter is still locked on a 212mph- lap and unable to get faster in his Indy Racing League IndyCar Series debut.

Still missing in action on the Brickyard oval, Greg Ray's trio of garages at least had his car #13 identifying what lies behind closed doors. The team seems no closer to solidifying their attack at Indy.

While they announced the intent to field a #98 CURB Records Dallara/Chevrolet for second generation driver PJ Jones last Sunday, Beck Motorsports continues to prepare the car in their nearby Brownsburg shops, away from the mayhem of the Speedway. They are hoping to get the blue-and- white racer on track tomorrow, but Saturday might be a better bet. According to team personnel on site at 16th and Georgetown, Beck is putting the final pieces together and expending long hours in the process.

Buddy Lazier.
Photo by Earl Ma.
Just after the track closed for practice, Dreyer & Reinbold held a press conference to confirm a cooperative venture in fielding Buddy Lazier in a #91 LifeFitness Dallara/Chevy. While the car will carry familiar DRR colors (blue, orange and yellow), Ron Hemelgarn's crew and his longtime partners will be active in fielding the entry.

"We began discussing the idea of working together a few weeks ago and the further we delved into it, the more it really made sense," Dennis Reinbold explained. Hemelgarn, who marks his 28th year as a participant put it simply: "I'm a racer and so is Buddy. I thought it was very, very important for Buddy Lazier to race at Indy in 2004. I've been busy with other projects but this was a natural match-up. Not being here would be a heart-breaker."

Lazier was "disappointed not to have anything for the season. Unfortunately there are not a lot of driving positions available. I think this was a good decision (he did have other options) and I've felt we're all working to put things together and it takes time." Lazier will start practicing in the #24T tomorrow - Giaffone has been driving it the past couple of days - while the team prepares his #91. They are still waiting for some essential parts for the car after Giaffone's pair of shunts last week.

Robby McGehee.
Photo by Earl Ma.
PDM Racing finally settled its search for a driver at this year's Indy 500 at it's Robby McGehee, who obtained backing from a number of local St. Louis businessmen who have worked with him in the past. The 1999 Indianapolis Rookie of the Year will pilot the #18 PDM Racing machine with primary support from Natoli Engineering. Wanforce, Royal Spa, Lodging Hospitality Management and National Studios are auxiliary partners for the effort.

Marking his 27th year at the Speedway, team owner Paul Diatlovich said, "We have been working extremely hard to come up with a program and it came down to the 11th and a half hour." While it's possible McGehee might get on- circuit tomorrow, more likely the car won't make its first appearance until Saturday morning. Obviously, PDM and McGehee are hoping the weather cooperates.

"I certainly would have preferred to get on the track earlier. The Indy 500 has been important to me since I was a child and I'm very excited with the program we have put together. I'm ecstatic. We don't need to put up a 220mph lap; we need a good car that's comfortable for me to drive for 500 miles," 30-year-old McGehee said.

With the Menards Infiniti Pro Series sharing the track with the Indy cars tomorrow, practice will begin later and be punctuated by Pro Series qualifying. Teams have Friday, Saturday and some time on Sunday to complete the majority of their preparations, with Carburation Day final practice the final tune-up for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Robby Gordon , Robby McGehee , Greg Ray , Buddy Lazier , Helio Castroneves , Adrian Fernandez , Tony Kanaan , Larry Foyt , Buddy Rice , Marty Roth , Kosuke Matsuura , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske