IRL: Dixon dominant in Phoenix practice

Two rounds of practice for Sunday's second race in the 16-event Indy Racing League IndyCar Series have been completed on the fast one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval. Held in under mostly sunny skies and in 90-degree plus temperatures,...

Two rounds of practice for Sunday's second race in the 16-event Indy Racing League IndyCar Series have been completed on the fast one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval.

Held in under mostly sunny skies and in 90-degree plus temperatures, the second of the two split sessions yielded slower times than the morning groups. And at the end, three protagonists for last year's championship stood atop the timing sheets.

Scott Dixon posted the fastest lap of 20.5208 seconds (175.432mph) in preparation for Sunday's Indy 200 Copper World Classic, on his 28th of 32 total morning laps in the #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone racer.

Dixon didn't get as much track time as the Kiwi wanted with as the team was working with a different skid plate that they had to change back. "I think it was a weight issue, but I'm not sure," he said. "The surface is a bit more grippy because of the downforce; I think it's about 500 pounds less than before."

Nonetheless, he found his car "good out of the box. We were working on long runs and tires this afternoon" after doing qualifying runs in the cool of the morning.

Second place went to Helio Castroneves, who won here in 2002 and finished second last year. Driving his #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota to a morning lap of 20.5555 (175.136mph). The Brazilian's afternoon lap - quickest of 20 drivers practicing today - was nearly 9/10ths slower than his morning run.

"We did a qualifying run this morning and the car was pretty good," Castroneves explained. "This afternoon we were playing with race setup. It's going to be a very difficult race, with the lower downforce and it's going to be very hot out there."

Last year's winner at this race, Tony Kanaan nabbed the third quickest lap of the day, also set in the morning session. Driving his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda to a tour of 20.6478 seconds (174.353mph), Kanaan had "a shaky run in the morning. We didn't get on the track" until 25 minutes had elapsed, leaving him with only 20 minutes running time.

Once underway, Kanaan's car was "good out of the box. The track was very slippery this afternoon, but it was the same for everybody. It will be a very difficult race for sure, for everybody." Regarding high heat in the Valley of the Sun Kanaan noted, "There's not much we can do in the car but drink a lot of water. We're all in good shape, because we work out hard when we're not in the race car."

Rookie Ed Carpenter was fourth overall for the day, driving the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet to a quick lap of 20.7593 seconds (173.416mph), also set in the morning. This is the fourth different type of racer Carpenter has driven at PIR, as he's competed in USAC midgets and sprints in addition to the Menards Infiniti Pro Series.

Double IRL champ Sam Hornish Jr.'s morning lap of 20.9786 seconds (171.603mph) was good for fifth in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. Like his teammate Castroneves, Hornish spent the afternoon working on race preparation, but "we did have the opportunity to work on the handling of the car. That's the most important thing," Hornish revealed.

Dario Franchitti, fastest in the first morning group in his #27 Arca/Ex Dallara/Honda ended up sixth with a tour of 21.0131 seconds (171.322mph). The Scot found it "a productive day. We had gearbox problems this morning but still made progress."

His Andretti/Green Racing teammate Dan Wheldon turned the seventh-quickest lap of 21.0684 seconds (170.872mph) in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda, struggling "to find mechanical grip."

Tomas Scheckter finished eighth for the day in his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet at 21.2284 seconds (169.584mph). Darren Manning was ninth in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota with a lap on this unfamiliar circuit of 21.2723 seconds (169.234mph) and noted, "There was a lot less grip than when we tested here so you really have to conserve your tires." Greg Ray rounded out the top ten at 21.3211 seconds (168.847mph) in his #13 Renovac Panoz G Force/Honda.

Alex Barron tried different settings on his #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy, ending up 11th, while rookie Mark Taylor's #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet earned the 12th quickest lap.

Homeboy Buddy Rice was 13th in the #15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda, setting his quick lap in the second, afternoon session. "It's a lot different than when we tested here last month," Rice said. "The combination of heat and the different rubber from the USAC Silver Crown and Midgets has made for a tricky track."

His goal is to have a "consistent car for the race," and having Kenny Brack watching from atop the Phoenix International Raceway tower, Rice has a good- luck charm on site.

A.J. Foyt IV was 14th in his grandfather's #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota, followed by a disappointed Bryan Herta in the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda. Scott Sharp's 15th place in his #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota could be chalked up to the fact t5hat "we just haven't quite found the sweet spot yet."

Newcomer Adrian Fernandez took his first IRL laps in the #5 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda this morning and was 19th in the early session. He improved to 17th this afternoon and noted, "Everything is different. There are a lot of buttons on the steering wheel that I have to learn!"

Tora Takagi had a tough day in Mo Nunn's #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota, taking 18th place while rookie Kosuke Matsuura was 19th in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda, while Robbie Buhl, who crashed here in the February test was last for the day.

The Indy cars are set to qualify tomorrow at the crack of noon after a morning practice session and the Indy 200 Copper World Classic takes flight at 4PM EST on Sunday with live coverage from ABC TV.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Greg Ray , Robbie Buhl , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske