RICE PACES RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING ON FIRST DAY OF HOMESTEAD-MIAMI PRACTICE HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Rahal Letterman Racing's Buddy Rice gave early indications he has recaptured his championship form by leading the RLR trio in practice with a fast lap...
RICE PACES RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING ON FIRST DAY OF HOMESTEAD-MIAMI PRACTICE
HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Rahal Letterman Racing's Buddy Rice gave early indications he has recaptured his championship form by leading the RLR trio in practice with a fast lap of 213.389 mph in the No. 15 Argent Mortgage Honda/Panoz/Firestone. Rice, Danica Patrick and rookie driver Paul Dana logged 228 practice laps in preparation for the 2006 IRL IndyCar Series season opener on Sunday afternoon.
Rice, the 2004 Indy 500 champion is entering his third year with Rahal Letterman Racing. In his first race with the team at Homestead in 2004 he captured the pole position and led 49 laps en route to a seventh place finish. Rice worked diligently in the off-season to bounce back from a disappointing 2005 campaign. Rice logged 94 laps on Friday, tops amongst the 20 IndyCar Series drivers.
"It feels really good to be back on the track," said Rice. "Conditions were different from the open-test earlier this month. We had a lot of rain yesterday and the temperature is cooler now, so the track was green and we needed to put some rubber on it. We ran with a lot of fuel this afternoon and the car was comfortable in traffic. We ran with Tony (Kanaan) side-by-side and we ran together for several laps. We are the only Panoz team out here now so we have to work together as a group. The series is going to be so competitive now with everyone having a Honda engine. I really expect the racing to be very close and good for the fans. It's going to be pretty wild at times with the field so tight. I am really pumped up for the 2006 season, especially after the frustration of the 2005 campaign. We would like to start strong here at Homestead."
Patrick, the 2005 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, wasn't thrilled with how the first day of practice unfolded. Patrick posted a fast lap of 212.143 mph in the No. 16 Argent Mortgage Honda/Panoz/Firestone. Last season Patrick started ninth at Homestead and was running solidly in the top-ten when she was caught in an eight car collision.
"We worked a lot on race setup today and we wanted to see how the car reacted in traffic," said Patrick. "The car was moving around too much to be comfortable. I had some trouble today hanging in there with the other guys in traffic. I think Buddy was a little better in traffic so I want to talk to him about what he felt. The conditions were much different from the open test when we had a lot of wind and hotter temps and that can cause the car to react differently. I think it is a little confusing right now, but we will look at it in the trailer and get a plan for Saturday. I know that we can sit down and go over our data and make some changes. It's good to have three drivers and engineers to talk out the problems and the emphasize good things. I'm confident we'll get the car back in the right mode for qualifying and the race."
Paul Dana piloted the No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing/Team Ethanol Honda/Panoz/Firestone to a fast lap of 211.512 mph, which was good for 17th overall. Dana is making his second IndyCar start at Homestead. Last year in the season opener, Dana finished tenth.
"The track is so much different today than at the open test (in early March)," said Dana. "It was hot and windy back then. Now it is cooler and the wind isn't much of a factor. That is good for the racecar. I was pleased how the car felt, especially in traffic. It is so different for me with a three-driver team. It is great to bounce things off of Buddy and Danica. They have more experience in these cars and I want to be like a sponge and soak up as much information as possible. Having people like Jim Prescott, one of the best mechanics in the business, and Al Bodey, a veteran engineer, behind me is extremely helpful. This is an excellent team and I'm thrilled to have Team Ethanol and Rahal Letterman with me. It is early right now, but I feel good about the direction of the crew and car."
Dan Wheldon, the 2005 IndyCar Series champion, kicked off the defense of his championship by topping the speed charts with a lap of 215.561 mph. Wheldon was followed closely by his Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon who posted a lap of 214.721 mph. Practice will resume tomorrow for Sunday's Toyota Indy 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC beginning at 3:30 pm EST.