IRL: Hornish hare at Michigan

IRL: Hornish hare at Michigan

BROOKLYN, MI, July 25, 2003 - Even before practice began for the IndyCar Series' second visit to the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI, all eyes have been on Sam Hornish Jr. and the ...

BROOKLYN, MI, July 25, 2003 - Even before practice began for the IndyCar Series' second visit to the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI, all eyes have been on Sam Hornish Jr. and the #4 Pennzoil Panther team. The first designated driver of Chevrolet's new Gen IV Chevy Indy V8, Hornish has put upwards of 800 test miles on the new power mill in preparation for its use by all the Chevrolet teams within the month.

Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by Michael Kim.
As the 21 drivers took to the track in preparation for Sunday's Firestone Indy 400, round #10 of the 16-race campaign, Hornish became the man to beat once again. Just as he was in 2001; just as he was last season. Now armed with firepower, Hornish answered the call by setting the time time in practice today, logging a lap of 32.1977 seconds (223.618mph) with the Dallara/Chevy, set in the morning session on his 32nd and 34 total laps.

Of course this quick lap came with a good tow, customary in practice sessions, but the Indy Racing League champion turned 221.5mph on his own. "there is a long way to go," Hornish admitted. "This is just a practice session but it sure is more fun to be fast." During the second, afternoon session Hornish and the Panther team spent time scuffing tires for the race and he was "pretty happy. I can make the car handle the way I want and we're not really worried about pole anyway. We'd rather win than take pole."

Kenny Brack took second for the day, setting a lap of 32.2894 seconds (222.983mph) in his #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda during the morning session.The Swede "tried different things, mostly working on our race setup. We're pretty happy but there's still work to do. This track is in good shape and I think we'll have an interesting race. In practice today, we were running three wide in the corners and I think you'll see the same thing in the race on Sunday."

In a definitive show of parity, Scott Dixon was third, turning his quickest lap in the warmer afternoon session. Kiwi Dixon drove the #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota to a lap of 32.3605 seconds (222.493mph) on his 32nd of 35 laps and shrugged it off. "Everybody was on full tanks this afternoon. It's pretty tough to gauge this circuit, but our package has been right everywhere we've gone so far." While Dixon hasn't had luck here in his two prior visits, he thinks Sunday's race should be "quite challenging and fun." Will he get his fourth consecutive pole position? Only tomorrow will tell.

Bryan Herta's lap of 32.4066 seconds (222.177mph), set in the morning on his 8th lap (of 33) in the #27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda benefited from the tow and Herta was unable to match it in the afternoon. Working to gain some downforce on his car, Herta felt his machine worked well on its own but needs a few tweaks to handle the torrid traffic. "I don't think it matters where you start on this track. It's a long race on a nice wide track with plenty of opportunities to pass."

Last year's winner at Michigan, the IndyCar Series' first visit to this seminal circuit in the Irish Hills of Michigan, Tomas Scheckter was fifth in practice today, leaning on his #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota until he got a lap of 32.4510 seconds (221.873mph) this afternoon. "The car is reacting well" to changes his team gave him through the day. "We're working in clean air through most of the second session. I'm pretty happy with where we are right now."

In his second race substituting for Felipe Giaffone, Alex Barron was sixth for the day (4th in the afternoon) in the #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota, setting his best time of 32.4711 seconds (221.736mph) in the morning session. "The car is very strong," Barron said. "We spent a lot of quality time in traffic during the second session and made some gains."

Helio Castroneves, looking for his first win since Indianapolis in 2002 in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota was seventh for the day at 32.4920 seconds (221.593mph), working on his race setups and looking for "more downforce." Castroneves worked on race setups in the afternoon and tried to get his car handling well in traffic.

Rookie Dan Wheldon took the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda to eighth overall with his afternoon lap of 32.5374 seconds (221.284mph), "working on race stuff most of the day. This is such a big track that it going to be tough to get on pole tomorrow," Wheldon said.

Texas winner Al Unser Jr. was ninth in the #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota at 32.5593 seconds (221.135mph), also set in the afternoon. "It's great to be back at Michigan. It's been a long time since I've run here," Unser noted. His most recent race at this track was in 1999. "The car is running great and we'll keep working on it tomorrow. Sunday will be a big drafting game so we'll see how things sort out in the race."

Points leader Tony Kanaan rounded out the top ten in his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda at 32.5751 seconds (221.028mph), admitting his team was "working on race setups, so it's hard to evaluate where we are right now. We're making some changes to see what we need for the race and I can't really say that I'm happy or unhappy. Qualifying," he said, " doesn't really matter here. You can start out last and be leading in three laps, so we're working full time on race setup."

Underscoring the need for more power in the Chevrolet camp, Vitor Meira was the next quickest Chevy runner, in 17th and the balance of the Chevy troops lined up behind him. Buddy Rice, at this time next in line for the Gen IV at Gateway in two weeks noted, "We're trying to get through this weekend without any problems and score some points" prior to taking on the more powerful engine.

With scattered showers predicted for Saturday afternoon, these two practice sessions, along with tomorrow morning's final practice could be crucial for the Indy cars. If qualifying is rained out, they'll line up on Sunday in order of combined practice times - Sam Hornish Jr., Pennzoil Panther and GM Racing would like that scenario. "I'm glad that things are going as well as they are," Hornish said. "It is really great for the guys as they have done an awesome job."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Vitor Meira , Michael Kim
Teams Team Penske