IRL: Homestead: Rahal Letterman Racing Friday report

RICE QUICKEST ON FIRST DAY AT HOMESTEAD Homestead, Fla. - Rahal Letterman Racing's Buddy Rice picked up where he left off on the banked tracks of Homestead-Miami Speedway. Rice, the defending Toyota Indy 300 pole sitter, posted the fastest lap...

RICE QUICKEST ON FIRST DAY AT HOMESTEAD

Homestead, Fla. - Rahal Letterman Racing's Buddy Rice picked up where he left off on the banked tracks of Homestead-Miami Speedway. Rice, the defending Toyota Indy 300 pole sitter, posted the fastest lap of the first day of practice for the 2005 IRL IndyCar Series opener with a lap of 213.514 mph.

Rice's Rahal Letterman teammates Vitor Meira and Danica Patrick finished the day fourth and 16th respectively.

Rice led 40 laps at Homestead in 2004 before a cut tire dropped him from the lead and resulted in a seventh place finish.

"The Argent Pioneer car is pretty good, but we have some things still to work on, said Rice. "With the new undertray (of the car) and a few others added bits, we are still learning about the 2005 car. But then that is true for everyone here. It feels good to be fast again here at Homestead, but then we were good in the test too. The weather is different and the wind is more of a factor than we had at the test. It is a big difference coming to Homestead this year as opposed to last year. Last year, I was new to the team and we surprised ourselves by winning the pole. Now we come here with a solid team, engine and race car. We have more confidence this year. We made some mistakes last year that took us out of the championship, but I think we know more now and I feel really good about this team. The thought process is different this year and we are much more familiar with each other. That makes adjustments and changes a lot easier. The fastest lap was a draft lap as were most of the top laps today."

Meira piloted the #17 Rahal Letterman Team Menard/Johns Manville Honda/Panoz/Firestone to fourth on the practice chart. Meira narrowly missed victory in 2004 finishing second on two occasions.

"Everything is just getting started right now, but the Menards/Johns Manville Honda felt really good," said Meira. The conditions were a lot different than for the test last month. The air was heavier. It doesn't matter what the conditions are for us. This team is good and they can adjust to anything. We still have some work to do but probably not as much as some of the other teams right now. We did our homework for this race. There is a long way to go until Sunday afternoon, but I'm pleased with the progress with our team. Running three cars helps us gain information. Honda is still the engine to have and we feel pretty good working with them. The track was much different today with the rain and the other rubber from the sports cars. But it didn't matter since we had our homework done. This team is so good at making the right adjustments."

Rookie Danica Patrick made her highly anticipated IRL IndyCar Series debut by posting the 18th fastest lap in the #16 Argent Mortgage Pioneer Honda Panoz. Patrick, the 22-year-old American, is the only female in the IndyCar Series this season.

"Even though this was my first day in the IRL IndyCar Series, today seemed like any other day in a race car - I am just trying to go faster than everybody else. It doesn't matter if it is local people or the best in the world as a driver you are always just trying to find a way to go faster. I didn't think the Argent/Pioneer car seemed right this afternoon. Maybe it was a set-up issue, but the car was much better in the early session. We just have to figure out what went wrong this afternoon. This is where having a three-car team is an advantage for us. Obviously Buddy [Rice[ and Vitor [Meira] were quick today so we have a solid knowledge base to look at our car and make some decisions. I just wasn't able to hold the car flat and now we have to go back and figure out why."

Practice and qualifying for the Toyota Indy 300 is slated for Saturday afternoon with Sunday's race (2:00 pm EST) scheduled to be broadcast live on ESPN and ESPN2.

-rlr-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Buddy Rice , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira