Defending race champion Helio Castroneves was the speed demon of the day at Nazareth Speedway, topping the charts in both practice sessions for Sunday's Firestone Indy 225. His speed of 165.667 mph was shy of the qualifying record of 172.778 mph...
Defending race champion Helio Castroneves was the speed demon of the day at Nazareth Speedway, topping the charts in both practice sessions for Sunday's Firestone Indy 225. His speed of 165.667 mph was shy of the qualifying record of 172.778 mph set two years ago by his former teammate Gil de Ferran, but everyone still has tomorrow to work on going faster.
"Running here in the past obviously helped a lot," Helio said. "We have the performance of the Marlboro Team Penske. We have to keep working on it. The car handled pretty equal, and our team has a good setup. I am quite comfortable so far."
Sunday's race will be the 100th and final Indy car race at the unique one mile track. Helio's thoughts turned more toward memories of earlier days, and the nature of the track, rather than details of today's practice.
"I have up and down memories," Helio recalled. "Last year was the perfect moment, winning." He groped for words thinking of the years it took him to come out on top: "I thought the track owed me for a long time...it finally came last year.
"The traffic is different than Richmond and different than Phoenix, because the track has different levels of banking. Especially Turn 2 - it looks like off-banking. Turn three has a little banking. It's a trioval. It's very difficult to pass. You have only one little straight, the back straight.
"It's a great track, it's a lot of fun, especially when you have a great car. It's not so much fun when you don't have a great car, but that's what this place is."
Vitor Meira, visiting Nazareth for the first time, was second fastest for the day, at 165.301 mph. Unlike Castroneves - who has raced at Nazareth since 1996 - Vitor saw the track for the first time on Thursday.
"Buddy took me around in the rental car and showed me a few lines to run," he said. "It is a lot like a road course with just left turns. It has uphills, downhills, flat turns and banked corners. So it is very different than the other short ovals. You have to downshift and the car gets light on you. It is a very fun track. It isn't a track that you want to be at every week, but it is good to drive. It is a driver's track.
"The Centrix car felt very good from the start and a lot of that is because of Buddy's testing here a few weeks ago. That was a good test for the team. We have been quick in qualifying but I want to concentrate on the race setup. That is the moist important for me right now. Passing won't be easy here but there are a couple of places to pass. From turn three all the way to turn two is one big turn and you have to be hooked up for that big sweeping corner. Then you try to pass on the outside of turn two and the inside of turn three."
Third fastest was Tony Kanaan. Like Castroneves, he has raced here since 1996. The two have had identical appearances at Nazareth: two years in Indy Lights, four years in CART, and now two years in IRL Indy cars.
"I have good and bad memories," he recalled. I started dead last in both races here in Indy Lights. Actually, I started to turn around the championship against my buddy (Helio) here. It's a fun little race track, very challenging. You see a lot of people struggling. I think they all agree with me here. It's one of the most difficult tracks we race at. This is a driver's race track. It doesn't matter how much horsepower you have, you can still be competitive.
Focusing on the task at hand and his performance today, Tony said "We were just trying to get the setup right. We were working a lot of race stuff, and not really worrying about qualifying a lot. We've proved that we can lead a lot of laps, but it seems that we've struggled toward the end of a race a few times. Since the Milwaukee race, I've been working with Dario (Franchitti) a lot closer. He seems to dominate the one-mile ovals a lot more than anybody else on our team, so we're really working together."
Mile-master Franchitti was eighth fastest for the day, at 164.342 mph. "It wasn't a bad day," he said. "The track is a bit different from when we tested here, but we worked through some basic stuff and are making progress. We'll know more tomorrow when we go qualify."
Meira's teammate and track tutor Buddy Rice was sixth fastest, at 164.529 mph. "We were going though our setups today," he said. "Everything was good. Today was a practice day and we were able to work on many things. This is the first three-day weekend that we have had in a while and you get more time to work on things. Everything is similar to when we tested here a few weeks ago, so coming off the trailer this morning was not a lot different for us."
The Indy Car teams get one more hour of practice tomorrow morning, then line up for qualifying at 11:30 AM EDT.