IRL: Fontana: Chevy Saturday report

Meira leads Chevy charge at California Speedway FONTANA, Calif., Sept. 20, 2003, - After sitting out three races with a broken wrist, Vitor Meira came roaring back to post the fastest qualifying speed among the seven Chevrolet-powered drivers...

Meira leads Chevy charge at California Speedway

FONTANA, Calif., Sept. 20, 2003, - After sitting out three races with a broken wrist, Vitor Meira came roaring back to post the fastest qualifying speed among the seven Chevrolet-powered drivers for Sunday's Toyota Indy 400 at California Speedway. The Brazilian wheeled Team Menard's Johns Manville Dallara to a 225.042 mph lap around the 2-mile oval, earning the sixth spot on the grid and securing his besting starting position of the season.

"Driving a race car is just like riding a bicycle -- you never forget!" Meira quipped. "We expected to run a little quicker speed, but sixth is good. Qualifying near the front only helps you avoid problems at the start because it's going to be a long, hard race. We're the quickest Chevy qualifier and we're very competitive."

"The important thing is to have a comfortable car for the race, and we have a comfortable car," Meira noted. "It can run high, low, wherever. We've struggled with the setup on short tracks, but that's just a matter of learning. The big tracks like this are where we run most of the IRL races, so that's where we focus. We just have to be there at the end."

Alex Barron put Red Bull Cheever Racing's Chevrolet Dallara in the show at 224.229 mph and will start from ninth on the grid in his second race with the team.

"We had a good qualifying setup due to the test we had here last week," said Barron. "It paid off. We have a little work to do on our race setup. The first things to do are to look at fuel strategy and make sure you have a solid car in traffic. You don't need to lead every lap, but you want to be close to the front so you can gauge what to do at the end of the event. Fuel strategy and position 10 laps from the end are everything at this race."

Sam Hornish Jr. is the hottest driver on the IRL circuit after scoring two victories and two runner-up finishes in the last five races. Currently fifth in the points standings, Hornish will continue his quest for a third consecutive championship when he starts Pennzoil Panther Racing's Chevrolet Dallara from 10th on the grid with a 224.088 mph qualifying speed.

"We worked all day yesterday on our race setup, so this morning we were a little behind for qualifying," Hornish conceded. "We'd like to go a little quicker, but this track is so wide and so fast you can win after starting anywhere.

"It will be windy before the race is over, so the big thing is to get your car off of Turn 2 and down the back straightaway as fast as you can," he explained. "Yesterday in the windy conditions, our car worked as well or better than anybody else. The torque of the Chevrolet engine really helps us get down the back straight, so we're hoping for a lot of wind. We'll probably be shifting gears on every lap, because yesterday we were almost six mph faster going into Turn 1 with a tailwind than we were going into Turn 3 against the headwind."

Rookie Ed Carpenter again showed experience beyond his years, qualifying PDM Racing's Metabolife Chevrolet Dallara at 222.763 mph, 17th on the grid. Carpenter will make his second start in IRL competition on Sunday.

"We had a good practice this morning and I thought we were going to be a little faster in qualifying, but the track conditions changed," Carpenter reported. "We've been running full tanks all weekend, so I think we'll be able to take Chevy power to the front. I'm going to focus on improving my pit stops from the race in Chicago."

Fan favorite Sarah Fisher qualified Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's Chevrolet Dallara 18th at 222.599 mph. She will start 18th on the grid.

"We threw an extra turn of front wing in at the last minute to compensate for the weather and it seemed to make the car pretty good with no push," Fisher said. "I don't know what we could have done better. The Chevy engine is able to pull out some good qualifying times, but we're not 110 percent satisfied with my race car. We still have some work to do on it."

Richie Hearn, who substituted for Meira at the preceding race in Chicago and won the pole, is driving Hemelgarn Racing's Metabolife Chevrolet Dallara this weekend, replacing long-time driver Buddy Lazier. Hearn qualified 21st at 222.147 mph.

"It's tough to come into a race weekend with a new team," Hearn conceded. "They've been with the same driver for a long time, so we are both learning our way. We're conservative with our approach this weekend. We weren't too concerned with qualifying, given that we didn't get to test. We'll test before the Texas race, so hopefully we can be faster out of the box there.

"I knew we weren't going to qualify spectacularly because we just didn't spend any time on it," Hearn noted. "The race is more important. The guys who handle best in the corners are going to be the best in the race. If you have a decent car for the race, you forget all about where you qualified."

ABC will televise the Toyota Indy 400 live at 3 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Sept. 21. The 200-lap, 400-mile will be broadcast on the IMS Radio Network.

TOYOTA INDY 400 QUALIFYING SUMMARY:
Pos./Driver/Engine/Speed
1. Helio Castroneves/Toyota, 226.757 mph
2. Kenny Brack/Honda, 226.280
3. Scott Dixon/Toyota, 226.219
4. Dan Wheldon/Honda, 225.695
5. Tony Kanaan/Honda, 225.198
6. Vitor Meira/Chevrolet, 225.042

9. Alex Barron/Chevrolet, 224.229
10. Sam Hornish Jr./Chevrolet, 224.088
17. Ed Carpenter/Chevrolet, 222.763
18. Sarah Fisher/Chevrolet, 222.599
21. Richie Hearn/Chevrolet, 222.147
22. Robbie Buhl/Chevrolet, 221.647

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing