IRL: Fernandez feeds need for speed at Indy

IRL: Fernandez feeds need for speed at Indy

Day 11 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway found familiar names atop the timing sheets and added intrigue in the garage area as teams continued to prepare for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Adrian Fernandez. Photo by Ron McQueeney...

Day 11 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway found familiar names atop the timing sheets and added intrigue in the garage area as teams continued to prepare for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Adrian Fernandez.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Adrian Fernandez set the pace for the 1518 laps turned by 27 car and driver combinations in separate practices sessions, sandwiched between Menards Infiniti Pro Series qualifying and final practice this afternoon.

Fernandez, who ran 111 laps in his #5T Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda turned his 13th lap at 218.257mph to capture $2500 from Argent Mortgage. "I'm pretty confident," the Mexican ace revealed. After having doubts about his car's veracity in traffic yesterday, Fernandez said, "We made some good changes and the car was absolutely more consistent through the day, even when it got windier."

Marlboro Team Penske's Helio Castroneves was second quick on his 45th of 74 laps in the #3T Dallara/Toyota at 218.040. Scott Dixon managed only eight laps in the #1T Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota but his seventh was good enough for third at 217.640mph.

Rookie Kosuke Matsuura, fastest yesterday in the #55T Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda grabbed fourth place today with his 89th (of 98) lap at 217.520mph. Matsuura was pleasantly surprised by his results today and said, "Today our car is more consistent. We improved a lot because of Adrian's [Fernandez] feedback, but I think we still have a couple more things we'd like to try."

Pitstop practice for Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
While the weather remained clear, it was quite hot and muggy in central Indiana today. At midday the ambient temperature reached 90 degrees and, while the track reported humidity at 77 percent, it sure felt worse than that. As the afternoon wore on, the west winds at 9mph seemed a bit more potent and were affecting cars' stability.

The sole major incident of the day came shortly before 3PM EST when Bryan Herta, running tandem down the back straight with teammate Dario Franchitti had his right rear suspension collapse, tossing his qualified #7T XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda into a 180-degree spin.

Bryan Herta.
Photo by Steve Snoddy - IRL.
Herta made heavy contact with the SAFER barrier at the entrance to Turn 3, impacting the left rear and right front of the car. He slid along the barrier and finally came to a stop at the exit of the turn, with heavy damage to the side of the car but none, thankfully to Herta.

"I was going down the backstretch," the Californian said, "and it felt like the right rear part of the car let go. I tried to save it and thought I could for a second. I thought I'd let the car brush up against the wall, but it whipped around and we took the hit." Herta was checked, released and cleared to drive by Dr. Henry Bock.

After a day performing on four morning radio shows, shooting the opening segment for ABC TV's race telecast and holding a 20-minute interview with the network's Jack Arute for the pre-race show, MBNA polesitter Buddy Rice was glad to get back into his #15T Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda.

The former high school second baseman/shortstop also took batting practice with the Indianapolis Indians, a AAA baseball team yesterday, but today he was back at work, readying his car for the 500-mile classic on May 30th. Rice did 100 laps for the afternoon for fifth place at 217.249mph and was "really happy with the car. We are just going to get ready for the race now. I'm done on the track for the weekend."

Rice will get a round of golf in tomorrow and head for Nashville to do some tire testing for Firestone. "This will get us back to the standard tracks we normally run. It will be nice to get away from Indy for a few days, to unplug a little even though we're going to another track."

Rookie Darren Manning used both his primary and backup cars today in preparation for the 200-lap marathon. He was sixth in the #10T Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota (216.587mph) and eighth in the qualified car at 216.215mph). Sam Hornish Jr. was seventh in the #6T Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 216.459mph.

Panther Racing crew members.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Vitor Meira practiced in Roger Yasukawa's #16T Sammy Panoz G Force/Honda and was ninth today was a 216.065mph lap as Yasukawa watched and listened on pit road. Tomas Scheckter rounded out the top ten in his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet, holding honors for the Bow-Tie Brigade with his lap of 216.019mph.

Scheckter thought it was "another good day. We just looked hard at what we did yesterday and tried to improve. We'll just carry on and get back out there on Sunday," he revealed.

Making his first appearance in the #24T Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet, Buddy Lazier logged 66 laps and turned his best of 215.513mph on his 13th lap of the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, good for 15th overall. "It was a great day for me," he declared. "I'll be able to be comfortable from today forward. I feel good - the car is excellent."

Brother Jaques Lazier ran ten laps in the A.J. Foyt Racing #14T Dallara/Toyota and turned a best lap of 212.340mph. He explained his appearance: "A.J. asked me to shake down the car and get comfortable. I got a good feel for what it likes and the car feels good. I honestly don't know what's going on."

Foyt rumbled in response: "I've got two cars in the race and I don't need three. It was just a shakedown, just let him feel the car. I don't really have three crews to do it proper and, if I do something, I like to do it proper and I wouldn't want to cheat him [Lazier]."

Although never officially proclaimed as the driver of a #33 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Panoz G Force/Toyota leased from Roger Penske, Richie Hearn was on-site today in preparation to drive such a vehicle tomorrow, it's been said.

And in the Beck Motorsports garage, a large contingent of black-shirted men worked to prep the #98 CURB Records Dallara/Chevrolet for on-track action. The team pushed the car through tech inspection in the early afternoon and were on the set-up pad tweaking the car as the day ended.

Many red-shirted Access Motorsports crewmembers were seen shuttling about the garage area, but still there's been no sign of team co-owner and driver Greg Ray. Time is drawing short for the Texan to take preparatory laps on the Brickyard oval if he intends to put his car in the show.

There's one more protracted day of practice tomorrow before Bump Day on Sunday to set the field for the 88th Indianapolis 500. PDM Racing has said it is trying to get a deal together to run a second car for Jimmy Kite, who drove from 32nd to 13th last year for the local squad. Will they make it? Will there be bumping? Nobody seems to know, but the tension is surely building here.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Darren Manning , Greg Ray , Buddy Lazier , Helio Castroneves , Jaques Lazier  , Jimmy Kite , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Bryan Herta , Richie Hearn , Sam Schmidt , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Roger Penske , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske