RICHMOND, VA, June 27, 2003 - After nothing but heat and sunshine during the first two practice sessions for Saturday evening's SunTrust Indy Challenge 250 at the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway, storm clouds greeted the IndyCar Series ...
RICHMOND, VA, June 27, 2003 - After nothing but heat and sunshine during the first two practice sessions for Saturday evening's SunTrust Indy Challenge 250 at the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway, storm clouds greeted the IndyCar Series qualifiers at 5:30PM local time.
Of 22 drivers, 14 were able to get their timed laps in before skies erupted for a quick rainstorm, and it was Sam Hornish Jr. fastest. Unfortunately for Hornish, it didn't matter as the lower temperatures and added grip meant a shuffle in the order by the time qualifications were complete. There were some big surprises in the tight starting order, with all but the slowest car of A.J. Foyt IV qualifying within one second.
Scott Dixon, winner of last week's Honda Indy 225 at Pikes Peak International Raceway garnered pole position in the #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota with a lap of 16.0582 seconds (168.138mph). But that was no shocker as he'd led both practice sessions.
"We've been fast all week but I had a little more. We ran out of gas in turn 3 on my second lap," the Kiwi admitted. "We might have had another two hundredths in hand." Dixon believes his car is suited for this type of circuit and, certainly, likes the shorter ovals. "This is much more fun" than the longer tracks, he said.
Starting outside row one is Sarah Fisher in the #23 GMAC/AOL Dallara/Chevrolet with a lap of 16.1673 seconds (167.004mph). Fisher jumped into the top three during the second practice session and was extremely comfortable in her car. "We started from square one this morning because we didn't test here. I've been frustrated this year but we've all been working hard together and not blaming one another" for their problems.
This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of Sarah's affiliation with Dreyer & Reinbold engineer Mark Weida. "This is the first time in my Indy Racing League career that I've had an engineer and we just work so well together. Our methodology is alike in sorting out the car and he's great to work with." While Fisher prefers to start on the inside for a short track like Richmond, she said (with a grin) she doesn't foresee any problems starting on the outside of Row 1.
Tora Takagi earned third starting slot in the #12 Pioneer Panoz G Force/Toyota with a lap of 16.1944 seconds (166.724mph) and found the cooler conditions "were better for the car. We had more grip after the rain and all we did was change tire pressures for qualifying. The race will be very interesting. This is a very short track, so it will be very challenging."
Hornish retained fourth on the 22-car grid with his lap of 16.2360 seconds (166.297mph) in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevy. Hornish knows "what we need to do to make the car go fast on the handling tracks" like Richmond. "It's definitely a track we like and yeah, we might have to run less downforce in the race tomorrow (than Toyota and Honda drivers) but we really have to make sure we have a good setup that will keep the tires on the car all night long."
IndyCar Series points leader, Tony Kanaan earned fifth starting spot in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda at 16.2516 seconds (166.137mph). Despite getting "sideways at the end, our run was pretty good. I don't think I had any more than what we showed," Kanaan shrugged. "We've been strong everywhere this year, so we'll just worry about the race car now."
Recovering from a first-session collision at the hands of rookie Dan Wheldon, Greg Ray turned the sixth-quickest lap this evening in the #13 TrimSpa Panoz G Force/Honda and remarked, "The car was good but I think I definitely left something out there on the table." He drove a little too hard, the Texas said, but "for us to come back at a track like this, that's really good for us," referring to the early day problems.
This year's Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner, Gil de Ferran starts seventh in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, qualifying when the wind was at its height prior to the rain delay at 16.2686 seconds (165.964mph). "I think the car is comfortable for the race." During practice, de Ferran's car was pushing, but the track changed for qualifying and "suddenly, the car was loose."
Felipe Giaffone earned eighth in the #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota after a "tough morning when our setup just wasn't there. We changed for qualifying and it worked. I'm happy," the Brazilian smiled after running at 16.3057 seconds (165.586mph).
Newcomer Bryan Herta, now signed for the remainder of the year in Andretti Green Racing's #27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda took ninth with a lap of 16.3233 seconds (165.408mph). "We used Tony's [Kanaan] qualifying setup tonight because I concentrated on race setup today. I'm sure there's more in it but I didn't know what to expect," Herta remarked. "It's especially tough just doing things here and there to come in and run," he said.
Vitor Meira starts tenth in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet, touring the D-shaped oval at 16.3340 seconds (165.299mph) and thought his run was "good but not good enough. Because of the rain, the track cooled down and the tires took a long time to warm up. I had a little bit of understeer everywhere, mostly in turns 3 and 4, but that's the way it is."
A disappointed Helio Castroneves, first to attempt qualification starts 11th in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. "It was the best I could do because I didn't want to take a chance. I hope it rains," he laughed, nearly predicting the weather. Dan Wheldon brings up the top 12 in his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda noting, "It's been a difficult weekend and I'm not entirely comfortable in the car. I guess that's part of being a rookie."
As the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series teams and drivers get into the meat of the 2003 season with emphasis on shorter oval tracks where good handling is at a premium, it appears parity is finally setting in. Will the 22-car field be equalized tomorrow night?
The SunTrust Indy Challenge 250, a 187.5-mile dash around this .75-mile bowl of an oval begins at 8PM EDT and will be shown live on ESPN. If past history is any indication, it should be fun.
Final practice update: 10:24pm EDT:
Following the third and final practice for the third annual SunTrust Indy Challenge, a 250-lap contest scheduled for 8PM Saturday evening, the grid of 22 cars has been re-arranged.
There were four incidents during what was intended to be a 30-minute session. First Sarah Fisher hit the wall coming out of Turn 2, brushing the left side of the car. She radioed to her team and said, "Sorry guys, I'll stay up with you all night to fix it." It is assumed, at this time, that she will be able to use her primary #23 GMAC/AOL Dallara/Chevrolet tomorrow night and start second.
Then teammate Robbie Buhl hit the wall in nearly the same spot, emerging with minimal injury to his #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet, in which he qualified 16th. Buhl, along with Fisher was cleared to race.
The third hit, however, cost Tora Takagi and his #12 Pioneer Panoz G Force/Toyota their third-place starting slot in tomorrow evening's race, as the team must use their backup car, relegating Takagi to 22nd and final grid spot.
The final punt of the night practice brought it to a close, as Sam Hornish Jr. smacked the Turn 4 wall and rode the barrier down the front straight. Hornish was fine and his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet looks reparable.
Polesitter Scott Dixon was quickest in final practice, followed by Hornish, Greg Ray's #13 TrimSpa Panoz G Force/Honda, Tony Kanaan's #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda and Kenny Brack, the latter making vast improvements to his #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda, a car with which he qualified only 15th.
Further updates concerning possible use of back-up cars will be furnish when we are provided with this information by the Indy Racing League.