IRL: Fast times at Indy 500 Opening Day

IRL: Fast times at Indy 500 Opening Day

Haze, heat and humidity in Indianapolis greeted the opening day crowd who came to celebrate the start of practice for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Reba Fisher, mother of Sarah Fisher, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during Opening...

Haze, heat and humidity in Indianapolis greeted the opening day crowd who came to celebrate the start of practice for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Reba Fisher, mother of Sarah Fisher, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during Opening Day of the 88th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.
Photo by Dana Garrett - IRL.
The first driver on-circuit at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was, appropriately Sarah Fisher on this Mother's Day, shortly after her mom Reba Fisher waved the green flags to commence the session.

With temperatures so very different from those encountered during the open test at the end of April, speeds were bound to be lower and they were.

Top speeds for the opening day of practice never managed to reach the 220mph mark but it was 2003 IndyCar Series champ Scott Dixon who came awfully close in the #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, taking the top slot with his penultimate (of 22 total laps) tour of the oval at 40.9537 seconds (219.760mph).

Helio Castroneves was second in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 40.95542 seconds (219.752mph) on his 28th of 39 laps. Adrian Fernandez, who didn't even bring his #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda onto the circuit until midway through the session was third on the speed charts at 41.2197 seconds (218.342mph)

A total of 33 car/driver combinations took to the track for this five-hour session (including 12 "T" machines). It was the greatest number on circuit for opening day since 1999, when 38 cars turned laps. Some teams and drivers were conspicuous by their absences.

Sam Hornish Jr., who turned the fastest laps in open testing this past April, cited upper respiratory difficulties for his decision not to take to the track for practice. He had seen Dr. Henry Bock for these symptoms yesterday and the IRL's medical director advised Hornish to abstain.

Hornish did suit up in his Marlboro Team Penske uniform to introduce the Indy Choppers custom motorcycle that goes to the winner of this year's race. One hundred copies of this beautiful Indy race-centric chrome and airbrushed custom will be constructed, each one with a dedicated serial number.

The Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series 1999 champion Greg Ray, too, was absent from practice for undisclosed reasons. The 2000 Indy 500 polesitter was at the circuit, as was his entire Access Motorsports team. Their #13 Panoz G Force/Honda racer was in the assigned garage space. Maybe tomorrow?

The Panoz G Force drivers did have a difficult time of it today as the skid plate designed to fit the new Indy Racing League rules for the balance of the season didn't easily fit the template assigned to it from the time technical inspection opened. A good deal of wrestling went on with the undertray before most teams using this chassis were able to take to the circuit.

Tomas Scheckter.
Photo by Todd Hunter - IRL.
Showing that parity may be present this month of May, Tomas Scheckter took fourth in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet with a lap of 41.2261 seconds (218.308mph). Twin Ring Motegi winner Dan Wheldon needed only nine laps (of 10 total) in his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda to notch fifth for the day at 41.2831 seconds (218.007mph).

The fastest rookie, Mark Taylor turned the sixth best lap (41.3578 seconds/217.613mph) on his 49th of 50 tours in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy. Another rookie, Ed Carpenter logged the seventh quickest lap of the day toward the end of Happy Hour, bringing the #52T Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy to a 41.3973-second, 217.405mph lap.

Bruno Junqueira logged 38 laps in the #36 PacifiCare Panoz G Force/Honda, beginning his practice shortly after three in the afternoon and ending up in eighth place for the day. The 2002 polesitter did "my best lap time while I was running by myself without a tow," on his 36th lap of 41.4147 seconds (217.325mph). Tony Kanaan "slowly got up to speed" and was ninth in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda at 41.4233 seconds (217.269mph) while Indy rookie Darren Manning rounded out the top ten in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota at 41.4330 seconds (217.218mph).

Robby Gordon, who will be on sufficiently different circuits throughout the month as he contests NASCAR's NEXTEL Cup, Busch Series and the Indianapolis 500 didn't turn many laps this afternoon but expressed pleasure with his results. "We tried one new setup on the backup" and immediately went back to the specs he used during the open test, when Robby was third on the first day with only 24 laps in action.

This Renaissance man sorted out his T car initially and, in 11 laps managed only the 32nd best lap. Getting into his primary #70 Meijer/Coca-Cola Dallara/Chevy well past the 5PM start of Happy Hour, Gordon logged six laps, his fourth good for 20th position. "Today's goal was to run both cars and not have any problems. It was a good function-check day."

A total of 913 laps were completed this afternoon and the few cautions called were for debris. "Today doesn't mean anything," Dixon shrugged after the day was done. "We just wanted to get both cars up to speed and we really didn't change very much on either."

As the wind came up during the late afternoon, more drivers were left to travel solo on the 2.5-mile oval as they looked for speed. "I'm still thinking it'll be 225mph for pole position on Saturday," Dixon noted. "The difference in speed [between last year and this] isn't important. The IRL took away downforce for safety and I wouldn't necessarily say the cars are harder to drive."

Helio Castroneves.
Photo by Jim Haines - IRL.
Castroneves thought his team "pretty much started the way we left the open test. We just pushed a little harder. We were waiting for the track to change and we'll just wait and see closer to qualifying day where we are." He thought the "driveability of the car is fine, same as it was in the open test. We'll get serious about speed on Friday but until then we'll see what works and what doesn't."

After a nine-year absence from the Brickyard oval, Fernandez couldn't really be blamed for not recalling how his car worked in 1995. He did remark that you "have to drive the car here. It moves around and commands your attention. We went for a baseline when we first got on the track and then put on another set of tires.

"The track doesn't have yet the grip it will, but the car is getting better. The speed was there," Fernandez said. The Mexican ace was utilizing a brand new chassis this afternoon, a good explanation for why he wasn't on circuit until midway through the day.

Teams will use practice sessions from Monday through Friday to hone their racers in preparation for Saturday's MBNA Pole Day. During the week, practice runs from 11 to 6PM EST.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Robby Gordon , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Helio Castroneves , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter
Teams Team Penske