Experience usually tells at a place like Infineon Raceway Sears Point. When the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series first announced it would race on the 2.26-mile, 12-corner permanent road course north of San Francisco, it was Dario Franchitti...
Experience usually tells at a place like Infineon Raceway Sears Point. When the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series first announced it would race on the 2.26-mile, 12-corner permanent road course north of San Francisco, it was Dario Franchitti who essentially performed the feasibility studies last November.
After a day and a half of open practice amongst his peers, Franchitti topped the speed charts with his #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car at 108.767mph, set on his final of 36 laps this afternoon.
Franchitti spoke for all of the drivers when he remarked, "This is just such a physically demanding track that really pushes you to the limit. Although it will be far warmer here in August when we race, we learned a lot today that we can bring back with us then.
"The car changes as you go around the circuit and, while I've got a few more laps around this place, that advantage doesn't last very long," Franchitti explained. At one point he wandered to the grandstands above turn 2 where he noted, "the cars look so good at speed."
A late-afternoon speed battle between Helio Castroneves in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, Scott Dixon's #9 Team Target Panoz/Toyota and the #11 Team 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda of Tony Kanaan ended in just that order as none of them were able to catch Franchitti.
Castroneves' 46th lap (of 51) at 108.307mph was good for second and the Brazilian still believes the IRL Indy cars are "perfect with the current downforce on a track like this. My car is so good at speed on this track. I think we've got a good baseline for the race." Castroneves logged a total of 51 laps today.
Dixon used his 77th lap (of 82) to turn 108.279mph and noted the test was "very productive. We may have given up a bit too much speed toward the end, though. It's hard work out there," the Kiwi said. "I'm pretty worn out. You always have to give up something to gain something else on this track so it can get a bit frustrating sometimes."
Tony Kanaan had been second for the longest time but the flurry of fast laps to the end of the day pushed the reigning IndyCar Series champ back to fourth. He was visibly displeased by the situation after turning 108.276mph on his 34th of 56 total laps.
In all, 17 Indy cars ran 1000 laps today but, unlike Tuesday's abbreviated afternoon practice, there were incidents as drivers pushed the limit of adhesion. Sam Hornish Jr.'s day ended early, just past 2PM when he impacted the tire barriers outside turn 8.
Hornish exited his #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota without bodily harm but the car suffered wing damage front and rear. The two-time Indy Racing League champion had just set his best lap, moving to 11th but by the time the checkered flags flew he fell to 14th. He said the team was trying to improve the car in slow corners and ended up making it a wee bit too loose in the faster turns.
Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg winner Dan Wheldon was fifth for the day in his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda at 108.026mph, set three laps from the close of his 52 total tours of the track. "I'm struggling quite a lot with the balance of my car, to tell the truth," Wheldon noted. The Indy cars are using the AMA configuration here at Infineon, which utilizes a switchback at the end of the back straight designated turn 9A.
Teammate Bryan Herta's 57th lap of 107.987mph in the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda left the California resident sixth for the day. Ryan Briscoe fell to seventh place (107.637mph on his 15th of 54 laps) as his #33 Team Target Panoz/Toyota team went through its list of changes, some of which worked, he alluded, while others did not.
Vitor Meira was eighth with the #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda at 107.370mph, best of the three Rahal Letterman Racing entries. Teammate Buddy Rice was ninth in his #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda with a lap of 107.292mph, which the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner turned on his penultimate of 52 laps.
Rice had an "off" this morning at turn 6 and came back to the garage area on a tow truck hook with grass stains evident and a bit of nose adjustment. Scott Sharp rounded out the top ten with the #8 Delphi Panoz/Honda at 107.280mph, which he set on lap 59 of 61.
Kosuke Matsuura was 11th in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda and the Japanese driver admitted the Infineon track is "very different. It's quite a challenge physically and you really need big balls around here."
In 12th place for the day, Alex Barron acknowledged he watched teammate Patrick Carpentier's progress yesterday with his #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota. "I caught a glimpse of the attitude of the cars and the reactions each driver used to optimize the power. The track is really exciting to drive; set-up is always important but because of elevation and turning elements it will be especially important here."
Darren Manning was 13th in the #10 Team Target Panoz/Toyota, followed by Hornish Jr. and rookie Danica Patrick with the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda. "We're still trying to figure out the car," Patrick revealed. "I've never been here before. It looks like fun if you're going fast but right now I'm not going very fast."
Roger Yasukawa was 16th today in the #24 Investment Properties of America/Racing for Kids Dallara/Honda from Dreyer & Reinbold.
Of all drivers, Ed Carpenter improved the most, although he remained the caboose of the group in his #20 Vision Racing Dallara/Toyota. With tutelage from Roberto Moreno, Carpenter advanced by nearly four miles per hour over the course of 80 laps, finding a rhythm to his laps the sophomore Indy car driver obviously lacked in the morning session.
There were quite a few regular IndyCar Series teams notable by their absence, particularly the two-car Panther Racing squad of Tomas Enge and Tomas Scheckter, who are the sole users of the Dallara/Chevrolet combination. A.J. Foyt IV did not test here nor did Paul Dana.
As the session was completed, crews quickly packed away cars and equipment for the long haul back to their shops in Indianapolis and Reading, PA prior to leaving for Twin Ring Motegi and the Japan Indy 300, set for April 30th.
The Japan Indy 300, race #4 of 17 will be shown delayed by ESPN at noon EDT on April 30th, but a live radio broadcast is available through IMS Radio network beginning 11:30PM EDT April 29th. XM Satellite radio users can pick up the IMS broadcast on channel 152.