IRL: Indy 500: Day four practice report

WHELDON LEADS RAIN-SHORTENED DAY AT INDIANAPOLIS INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 9, 2007 -- Dan Wheldon took all of seven laps to lay down the fastest lap of the month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- 226.391 mph (39.7543 seconds) -- during a...

WHELDON LEADS RAIN-SHORTENED DAY AT INDIANAPOLIS

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 9, 2007 -- Dan Wheldon took all of seven laps to lay down the fastest lap of the month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- 226.391 mph (39.7543 seconds) -- during a rain-abbreviated second day of practice for the 91st Indianapolis 500.

Helio Castroneves certainly wouldn't allow that to go unchallenged, ripping off a 225.820 mph lap in the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, as Happy Hour wound down.

The procession of "top that speed" began in earnest as the May 12 run for the AAMCO Transmissions Pole Award and the first 11 spots draws neigh. Wheldon's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon, was third (224.902 mph) in the No. 9 Honda-powered Dallara, while Marco Andretti jumped to fourth (224.745). Tony Kanaan (224.112) was fifth in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven car, and defending champion Sam Hornish Jr. (224.054 was sixth).

Twenty-six driver/car combinations recorded 680 total laps during the two-hour window without incident. The No. 77 Chastain Motorsports Panoz/Honda/Firestone made a pit road appearance, but Stephan Gregoire didn't get on the track.

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POST-PRACTICE NOTES:

ESPN on ABC's live telecast of the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 will be in high definition via Sony high-definition broadcast technology, a first for "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." The race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be run on Sunday, May 27 beginning at 1 p.m. (ET).

In addition to the race telecast, coverage of both weekends of qualifying on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN on ABC also will be presented in HD. ABC will cover the Indianapolis 500 for the 43rd year in 2007, extending the second-longest relationship in television history between a sporting event and television network. Only The Masters and CBS have been together longer.

Sony is supporting the production of the 2007 Indianapolis 500 through its longstanding relationship with IMS Productions, which has and will continue to feature Sony state-of-the-art technology at its headquarters and will be expanding that technological reach into further HD efforts in the years ahead. The Sony broadcast and production equipment to be used includes a "matrix" flypack, designed by All Mobile Video and consisting of Sony HDC-1500 cameras, an MVS-8000A switcher, an array of Sony professional displays and SRW decks for storing HD content.

JOHN WILDHACK (Executive vice president, programming and acquisitions, ESPN): "The start of the Indianapolis 500 is one of the most dramatic moments in sports, and providing flag-to-flag coverage of 'The Greatest Spectacle in Racing' in high definition will add to our viewers' enjoyment of the race."

ROBERT WILLOX (Director of content creation group, Sony Electronics): "We consider the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race the kind of world-class event that will come to life like never before in HD technology. We are pleased to be working with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the IndyCar Series and IMS Productions to bring fans the brilliant video produced by Sony HD broadcast technology."

JOIE CHITWOOD (Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and chief operating officer): "One of the most frequent requests from our fans is a high-definition telecast of the Indianapolis 500, and we're thrilled to fulfill that demand," said "This will bring home the color, pageantry and excitement of 'The Greatest Spectacle in Racing' in vivid detail to the ever-growing numbers of homes with HD sets."

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The rain delay has given IndyCar Series drivers and teams some unexpected downtime today. Team Penske drivers Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves have been spending their time relaxing. Hornish watched movies in his motorcoach, while Castroneves watched "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" with his crew in the Team Penske garage. Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon was eating lunch at Honda Hospitality during the midday rainstorm with some Honda engineers while the Steve McQueen film "Le Mans" was being screened.

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Medical update from Dr. Michael Olinger, IRL director of medical services: Indy Pro Series driver Tom Wood sustained a compression fracture in his back during a private test at The Milwaukee Mile on May 8. Wood is being transported to Indianapolis today and will be attended to by Dr. Terry Trammell.

***

Members of the Indiana Ice hockey team got up close and personal with IndyCar Series driver Jaques Lazier and his #21 Playa Del Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone during the rain delay today. The players asked questions about the car, took photos and got autographs in the Playa Del Racing garages. The Indiana Ice is the primary sponsor of the Playa Del Racing car.

SCOTT McCONNELL (Assistant Head Coach, Indiana Ice): "I think this is pretty cool. For these guys to come down here and get the chance to see our logo plastered on the side of one of these big race cars is pretty cool. These guys are really like a bunch of kids in a candy store right now. They're just on cloud nine. It's pretty cool for us. There's a lot of them that this is their first time at the Speedway. I know I've only been here once, and none of us have ever been down in the pit area or the garage area. This is pretty eye-opening and pretty cool for us. We met Jaques (Lazier) at our game about a week ago, and he's just a great guy. He's a Colorado kid, and we're hoping he does pretty good in our car."

BRETT PETERSON (Forward, Indianapolis Ice): "It's great being out here. A good experience coming from Minnesota, coming down here is fun for everyone to get out. We've got the final four this weekend, so it's kind of a good team day to hang out." (About being sponsor of Playa Del Racing): "It's great to be a sponsor. It's cool see our car on the track. It's a cool thing to see when you're watching on TV or watching on the track."

JAQUES LAZIER (No. 21 Playa Del Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone): "This is pretty special, it really is. I grew up playing hockey, and I got to go see them play the other night. It's just a tremendous feat that they made the final four, and they have a game on Saturday night. If they win that, they go to the championship game, and I remember that growing up. Hockey was everything to me, so I can kind of understand these guys and what they're feeling right now. To watch them come into the garage, and they're eyes are great big, huge, wide open and to be able to, kind of, touch the car and get their questions answered, that's something that makes this Speedway so special. Like I said, I grew up playing hockey and I remember watching the Olympics in 1980, when the United States beat Russia and I thought that was the coolest thing I'd ever seen in my life, and it was really nice to go out there and watch them play the other night. It kind of brought me back to my youth and watching one of their goalies be a butterfly goalie, like I was, was really special. I'm obviously very proud to be able to give back to the organization and the town, as well."

***

Entry update: Brian Franzossi is now chief mechanic for the #55 car

***

Purdue University student Liz Lehmann, the first female to win the Purdue Grand Prix go-kart race, waved the green flag to start today's session.

LIZ LEHMANN (Today's honorary starter): "I knew there was some kind of craft, or art to it, but I thought, 'I'll just get up there and do my figure eights. Then I got up there and started getting a little of that anxiety, but it was awesome. I mean, it was so cool. It's just a great honor to be here and just to be at the track. Any day is a good day at the track, whether it's raining or the sun is shining, it doesn't matter. It's been a great afternoon." (About her emotions when cars came by): "The television and pictures can not give you the essence of how fast these cars are going. It certainly gives you the feeling of all the momentum and everything that is happening out there and how amazing it is at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway." (About women in racing): "It's definitely something new in such a male-dominated sport. I commented to my dad, when we were walking through the garages, that there aren't any women crew members. He said, 'Well, yeah,' but then I got to thinking about how the guys are on the cars, that probably gives you an explanation right there. But as far as females in racing, like I've said and echoed over and over, it really doesn't matter once the helmet is on and once you're in the cockpit. Certainly, it's great. Certainly, being the first woman to win the Purdue Grand Prix is great, but it would be awesome to be one of the three ladies who will compete in the 500 this year, as well."

***

The color scheme on Milka Duno's helmet is fashioned after the helmet of Mika Hakkinen, the 2001 United States Grand Prix winner, who is one of her racing heroes.

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Aldo Andretti, twin brother of Mario Andretti, is at the Speedway today.

ALDO ANDRETTI: "The team is just trying to get a good comfort level. Friday, that's when you start trimming back and so forth. Days like this (rain delays) put you behind, but it puts everybody else behind."

***

Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser and Sean Guthrie were the guests on today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Unser reflected back on his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory, which he garnered 20 years ago this month

QUESTION: Al, let's take a look back 20 years ago, and maybe you can kind of just recap that entire month. You came to Indy without a ride. Got into a car, I believe, with Penske that year, middle of the month, and walked away with your record-tying fourth win. Can you kind of recap that month for us?

AL UNSER: Well, it was one of those times when I came back here, I elected to come back without a ride because there wasn't a car that I really wanted to drive that I thought could win. All the good cars and the good teams were already taken. So I elected to kind of sit out and then go home after the first weekend of qualifying. And then my son, Al Jr., didn't qualify, so I decided to stay here and see if I could help him.

And then Danny Ongais had his problem, and they didn't release him. So Roger (Penske) called me and asked me if I would run his third car and I said, "Dang right," because that's the kind of team I wanted. And to be able to pull off what happened was just a terrific deal.

***

Guthrie detailed his hands-on experience as the lone full-time member of his Indy Pro Series team's crew.

QUESTION: Sean, I'm looking at, I guess you call it, a blog that you have on the Indy Pro Series Web site about how you have just taken over as parts manager at Car Crafters and before that you were a body tech for a while. Obviously you have people on your team that know Indy cars inside out. But as a driver, has it helped you to know the nuts and bolts, so to speak, as well as you do from your work at Car Crafters?

SEAN GUTHRIE: Not only do I do a lot of work at Car Crafters but really in the last couple of months I've been the only quote, unquote full-time employee at Guthrie Racing. A lot of our crew guys are out of Colorado. Some are here, have other jobs. Weekend-warrior crew. Every nut and bolt on my Indy Pro Series car I've touched. I've done everything from changing gears to rebuilding steering racks. Only thing I haven't done is take shocks apart.

I do know the ins and outs of the cars. In many ways it has helped me. In the past I've helped set up cars. That helps me the most, being not only be able to tell my engineers what's going on, but I kind of have a library of changes that we've made in the past on all different kinds of cars. I can say, 'When we did this last year at Chicago, we changed the shocks slightly and it improved, maybe we should try that again because the car feels the same.'

And that is a better resource maybe than being able to work on my car. Although it never hurts to be able to grab a wrench if you have to and help repair your car, my teammate's car.

At St. Petersburg, my teammate, Tom (Wieringa), actually crashed, and the team was slammed working on my car and his car getting my car set up for the next qualifying session. It just so happened I picked up a couple of wrenches and helped put the rear end back on the car.

So with our side of the team not having as many guys as some of the big-name teams, it does help quite a bit."

***

Earlier today, Danica Patrick discussed a potential prank played on her by her Andretti Green Racing teammates, a group known to initiate new teammates through various pranks.

QUESTION: We have heard stories from your teammates about the pranks and things, I think Tony's bike got chopped up; have they messed with you yet?

DANICA PATRICK: It was funny, this morning -- last night, I was getting on my bike to ride back to my coach, and my tire was flat. I'm like, God, that's the first thing they have done. They gave me a flat tire. So I went in and had it pumped up and rode off and then I had to run back to grab my phone. So I'm riding back, I'm like, this thing is still flat, what the heck. There's a hole, oh, my gosh.

So this morning I see Marco and I say: "So I got a flat tire on my bike, I filled it up and went flat again, and at that point I thought, you probably didn't do it." He goes, "No, we'll do something way worse than that." (Laughter).

You guys out there I'm sure have ideas of what they can do. I try not to imagine it. They keep telling me they want to shave my head when I win. (Laughter) See, this right here (indicating hair) has got to be six years' worth of work for me grooming and combing. I'm going to have wear a helmet for a few years."

***

Three-time Indianapolis 500 starter Larry Foyt has taken on a new role with A.J. Foyt Racing this year as team director. Foyt handles the day-to-day operations of the IndyCar Series team, which is fielding entries for Darren Manning and Al Unser Jr.

LARRY FOYT (Team director, A.J. Foyt Racing): (About the team's Indianapolis 500 program): "With the Darren (Manning) deal, we're obviously really excited about that. I've kind of been a fan of his just watching him at Ganassi, and I kind of felt like he got a bad rap over there and didn't really get to show what he could do. Obviously, I was excited that we were able to sign him up. We knew we were going to run a 50 car for A.J.'s 50th year. You just think of who the guys are that could come here to the Speedway and do this, and Al (Unser Jr.) jumped right into our mind. He's won the race here. He's got a lot of laps here. He's a legend in his own right at the Speedway. Having him drive the 50 car is really special." (About his new role with the team): "It's obviously not as exciting as driving, but at the same time I am enjoying it. I'm enjoying watching the changes we make and seeing how they play out. The biggest thing is that I feel like we are improving from week to week. We have high expectations now when we go to the road courses and at the same time, our oval program keeps stepping up. Here at Indy, we've got a lot of stepping up to do. I feel like we can really only go up, because we've really just not had very good race cars here the last few years. We're stepping up, and that's what we have to keep doing." (Regarding plans today): "We might not get Al out today, but I definitely want to get Darren out today and get his car shaken down. That's a brand-new car." (About plans for a third car): "It's probably a little premature at this time. We're just going to see how things play out. If we get both cars qualified on the first weekend, and there's some people out there to hire that are qualified mechanics to work on it. (In the past,) I feel like we've thrown extra cars into the field, and we've done that without the proper people to do it, and I just don't want to do that any more because it can take away from your primary effort, too. When you've been struggling and we're trying to get our cars where they need to be, that's where these two veterans really help out."

***

Vitor Meira was interviewed Wednesday evening by Ian Pool and Cody Murphy, students from Helmsburg Elementary School in Brown County as part of their National History Day project.

The topic of the competition this year was "Triumphs and Tragedies in History," and Ian and Cody chose the Indianapolis 500, which never had been used in National History Day competition. They advanced to the state competition at the University of Indianapolis on May 12, and interviewing Meira was the last part of their project.

Pool and Murphy hope their project will qualify for national competition this summer at the University of Maryland.

***

A total of 40 cars are at the Speedway. Thirty-nine have passed technical inspection. Twenty-nine drivers have been on the track to date, turning 680 laps today and 2,389 laps this month. Marty Roth turned 59 laps today, most of any driver. Milka Duno has turned 209 laps this month, most of any driver. A total of 95 IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series drivers have passed physical examinations at the Clarian Medical Center. There were five cautions today for a total of 36 minutes.

***

POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, sixth fastest of the day): "The Team Penske car was pretty good today. We ran the same amount of downforce as yesterday and tried to improve the handling and the grip. I think we're in good shape thus far, and I feel really comfortable in the car. Hopefully we'll find a little more speed throughout the month, but we're making sure we take our time and not rushing our progress. The Team Penske crew is doing a great job so far, and we're definitely building up to Race Day."

KOSUKE MATSUURA (No. 55 Panasonic Dallara/Honda/Firestone, 10th fastest of the day): "We had many problems yesterday so I couldn't really run much, but all the engineers including Honda guys, has solved the problems, and I was able to have a good productive day. We couldn't run until 4 pm due to the rain, but I was able to check the car and find the right directions today. I am very happy about today and looking forward to practice more until qualifying."

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone, ninth fastest of the day): ""I think today, unfortunately, we learned a few things about what wasn't quick, which sometimes is nearly as beneficial as learning what is (quick) just so you don't do it again. I don't think we really did anything today that made us faster."

TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 2 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, eighth fastest of the day): "Today went well. Actually I prefer it with a little less time so we can just get the job done in a two-hour span instead of being here the whole day. We're just chipping away. I think we know what we've got. We still need to find more speed. We're too slow. We've got too much drag on the car compared to these Penskes, Ganassis, but we're working hard at it."

DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fastest of the day): "Let me start with, if there are any more questions for Marco, he'll be happy to stay until the end. No, I think Target Chip Ganassi Racing has done a very good job. They've worked very hard leading into this month. It's been very difficult with the Japanese race and the Kansas race. The car is performing well. The biggest thing right now is that we're working toward qualifying. We're kind of in between the two. But at the same time, when you have a genuine shot at the pole, you need to make sure that mechanically the car is very good for when you take off some downforce. By the same token, I think I said this yesterday, I must be getting old because I'm much more concerned with the race than I am the pole. I learned last year that you can have a car; I think Sam (Hornish Jr.) dominated the month last year leading into the race. I think we definitely had a better race car, and we've got to continue with that mindset and not get into that whole scenario where you're throwing away tires and stuff like that to try and get on the pole. It's the race that counts. I certainly think coming back, forgetting Indianapolis, just coming back for a year with Target Chip Ganassi Racing has helped at a track where fine details make a difference and having the engineer know your particular style can be a big difference. Yesterday I didn't get into the draft, but today I did have a draft. I think that's part of it. Each day, we're learning a lot. Some people think we're running qualifying levels of downforce and to answer those guys, I haven't been slow in a race yet. We're just doing our own thing. Andy Brown is working very, very hard on making sure we are mechanically well-sound for the race."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, second fastest of the day): "Obviously, we were a little limited on track time because of the rain, but we learned a lot about the Team Penske car today. We're still focusing on our race setup at this point because that's really what's important. The fastest car doesn't always win. We improved the car's handling and ended up a little faster than yesterday, so we're happy with the direction we're heading."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Dallara/Honda/Firestone, third fastest): "Today was pretty decent. I think we still have a bit of understeer on the car, which is a lot of speed at the moment. We're pretty happy. I think we were the fastest no-tow lap. We tried to stay out of tows today, just gearing up for qualifying. I think a lot of the other guys are using a lot of tires, Dan's (Wheldon) on his sixth set. We've just started our third set, so we're trying to save engine miles and tires until we can start at the end of this week throwing in some good, consistent qualifying runs. I think the team, in general, has a ton of speed, and we're definitely looking at the front row." (How did the strategy change today with the rain?) "You kind of expect it, and it doesn't really change. You still have your strategies and plan of what you need to get through and it just sort of pushes it back. But, then again, it saves you tires and engine miles, which is good, as well."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fifth fastest of the day): "Everyone was out there drafting today, trying to look good on TV and be the king of the day. I really think today was a waste of time. As you are preparing for qualifying, you have five cars in front of you and you do a 226 (miles per hour). That doesn't mean anything, so I was really frustrated trying to get a clean lap but I got one out of my four-lap qualifying sim. We didn't have a lot of time on the track and we struggled a bit at the start, but we're still working on making the Team 7-Eleven car faster and I'm sure we'll get there."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone, seventh fastest of the day): "Obviously the day was cut short because of the rain, but with only two hours, the Canadian Club car wasn't bad today. The speed has improved in the Canadian Club car, but we aren't where we need to be. I am happier than I was yesterday, but we aren't there yet. Having five cars allows us to try five things, and as we get closer to qualifying, we'll migrate towards the quickest setup, which right now looks like Tony's (Kanaan)."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fourth fastest of the day): "Well I didn't think I was bad yesterday, so Dad's (Michael Andretti) like, 'Let me try it.' And he had to sweat out all my problems this morning. He got in thinking it was going to be good, and basically before he started feeling comfortable, he had to make a couple of changes. Then I lapped and made a couple of changes, but we're happy. Based on last year, I'm on cloud nine but I think do we have ways to go, I mean look at No. 10 (Dan Wheldon)."

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THURSDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local):
9 a.m. Public Gates Open
11:59 a.m. Honorary Starter: Archie Griffin, two-time Heisman Trophy winner
Noon-6 p.m. Indianapolis 500 practice
6 p.m. Track Closes

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The 2007 IndyCar Series season continues with the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 at 1 p.m. (ET) on May 27. The race will be telecast live by ABC and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The sixth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Freedom 100 on May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast as part of ESPN2's coverage of Carb Day at 4 p.m. on May 25.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Milka Duno , Mika Hakkinen , Darren Manning , Al Unser Jr. , Stephan Gregoire , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Jaques Lazier  , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Larry Foyt , Dan Wheldon , Mario Andretti , Danny Ongais , Marty Roth , Marco Andretti , Tom Wood , Chip Ganassi , Aldo Andretti , Sean Guthrie , Liz Lehmann , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Al Unser , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing