PATRICK, RICE AND DANA CLAIM TOP-NINE SPOTS FOR SUNDAY'S INDYCAR OPENER HOMESTEAD, Fla. - After a frustrating day on track on Friday Rahal Letterman Racing's Danica Patrick nearly captured the pole position for the 2006 IRL IndyCar Series opener...
PATRICK, RICE AND DANA CLAIM TOP-NINE SPOTS FOR SUNDAY'S INDYCAR OPENER
HOMESTEAD, Fla. - After a frustrating day on track on Friday Rahal Letterman Racing's Danica Patrick nearly captured the pole position for the 2006 IRL IndyCar Series opener with a fast lap of 216.798 mph in qualifying at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Patrick the 2005 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, made her IndyCar Series debut at Homestead last year qualifying ninth.
"The Argent Mortgage Honda felt pretty good in qualifying, which is something I haven't been able to say at all this weekend," said Patrick. "I guess my engineer Ray [Leto] must have some magic in him because he solved most of the problems from this morning. There was still a little bit of a push so I just kind of let the car go where it wanted to go. Because there was a push in the car the front end of the car wasn't getting around the corner as well as I would have liked. Instead of fighting it and adding more understeer I just kind of let it drift to where it wanted to go. More than anything, I am a little bit relieved after this run, especially after the problems we had yesterday. A run like this helps you gain the confidence you need to keep your foot down. All we have focused on was getting the car to be balanced and to be at the point where I can really push the car hard and be confident in it."
Buddy Rice grabbed sixth on the starting grid with a fast lap of 215.913 mph. Rice started fourth at Homestead a year ago but mechanical troubles forced from to the sidelines after a strong early run.
"We picked up a tenth from practice and the car felt pretty good," said Rice. "I know we didn't have anything for the Penske cars in qualifying today, but I think our race setup is pretty good and we think we can race at the front on Sunday. The last two years here at Homestead we have been in the hunt and things have happened to the Argent Honda. In 2004, we started on the pole and led for about 40 laps before we had a tire puncture. Last year, we were moving up on the leaders when we had a mechanical problem. So our engineering staff has a good handle on the race day program. I think we'll have the usual guys up front on Sunday. but we will have to wait and see how the race plays out. The conditions here at Homestead are different than most races. With the wind and heat, the track changes. So you have to make adjustments with each pit stop. That is the key."
Rookie Paul Dana posted his top IndyCar Series qualifying effort by grabbing ninth on the starting grid with a fast lap of 215.593 mph. Dana started three IndyCar Series events last season before an injury ended his season. Dana started 21st at Homestead last season, but finished tenth for his top-finish.
"It was a good car today," said Dana. "I am so pleased to be with the Rahal Letterman team. It is exciting for me to have Team Ethanol with a first class operation like this one. There are so many variables for the race and I am still a rookie, so I just want to play it cool and go 200 laps on Sunday. I want to learn from Buddy and Danica and do a good job for the Ethanol folks. I feel great after a strong winter workout. I am fully recovered from last year's injury and I feel better than I have ever have. Sunday will be important to get through the event and learn more from this team."
Penske Racing swept the front row for the Toyota Indy 300. Sam Hornish Jr. established a new track record for Homestead with a fast lap of 218.539 mph, which is especially notable because the record came in the IndyCar Series first event with the new ethanol blended fuel. Hornish is joined on the front row by his Penske teammate Helio Castroneves who posted a fast lap of 218.087 mph.
Practice will resume tomorrow morning for the Toyota Indy 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC beginning at 3:30 pm EST.