There were some very familiar faces at the top of the scoring sheets today at Phoenix International Raceway, as the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series stars took to the reconfigured one- mile oval, many for their first stab at the PIR circuit...
There were some very familiar faces at the top of the scoring sheets today at Phoenix International Raceway, as the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series stars took to the reconfigured one- mile oval, many for their first stab at the PIR circuit since a tunnel was placed under Turn 4, eliminating the Turn 2 crossover that tied up traffic here since the track was built.
By the time the dual sessions were run, Helio Castroneves nabbed the top slot in his #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, using his 21st morning lap of 20.3095 seconds (177.257mph) to top the timing charts. "We tested here in December, but took our time to get started today. Since the IRL reduced downforce from last year, we needed to make sure everything worked well. This afternoon we concentrated on race setup," Castroneves said.
Champion Scott Dixon, whose affinity for shorter ovals has become his calling card, also relied on his quick 67th morning lap (of 68) to log the second quickest tour in his #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota. Dixon, who admitted he was "trying to go for speed all day," turned a lap of 20.3126 seconds (177.230mph). "We had balance issues most of the day," he explained. "The car is getting a little better, but the tunnel bumps seem to have gotten a little worse" since his December test.
Dario Franchitti broke up the Toyota monopoly by leading the afternoon session in his #27 Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda with a lap of 20.3518 seconds for 176.889mph, making him third for the day. The Scot, in only his third day behind the wheel after sitting out much of 2003 following a motorbike accident last April while on holiday admitted, "It's taking a while to come up to speed; it's been a while since I've been on a mile oval. I'm pretty happy," Dario said. "It's been a good day for us."
On a beautifully brisk, windy and sunny day in the Valley of the Sun, only one incident marred the dual practice sessions. Robbie Buhl smacked the Turn 4 wall in his #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet around 11:20 this morning, making the bulk of his contact with the SAFER barrier. There was significant damage to the rear of the car and the Dreyer & Reinbold team had to pack it up and head back for Indianapolis, as they had installed the required update kit only on one of their three cars.
Buhl, of course was extremely disappointed. "It's frustrating," he said. "This is a long way to come for two and a half hours of practice and now we've lost about a day and a half." He was trying to get the rear of his car working well, and the changes the team made created movement at the rear. He had about 60-70 laps on his Firestone Firehawk tires but noted that would be about the amount of laps he'd put on during the race set for March 21st. Buhl was 16th on the combined timing sheets.
Tony Kanaan took fourth on the speed charts in his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda, a team car to Franchitti's. The Brazilian, who won last year's IndyCar Series race at this track, turned 20.4816 seconds (175.768mph) in the afternoon. He was also fourth quickest in the morning session, when the winds were not quite as blustery as they were this afternoon but temperatures were much cooler.
Sam Hornish Jr. appears to be settling into his role at Marlboro Team Penske, urging the #6 Dallara/Toyota to fifth overall using his 55th morning lap (he turned 62 total) of 20.5015 seconds (175.597mph), which gave him third place before lunchtime.
The IndyCar Series' 2003 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Dan Wheldon took the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda to sixth overall with his afternoon lap of 20.8148 seconds (172.954mph), while Scott Sharp's afternoon lap of 20.8975 seconds (172.269mph) put his #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota into seventh place for the day.
Tomas Scheckter was the quickest of the Dallara/Chevrolet drivers, eighth in the #4 Pennzoil Panther machine, using his morning lap of 20.9493 seconds (171.843mph) to gain that spot. Alex Barron's lap of 20.9668 seconds (171.700mph) in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet gave the Californian ninth on the speed charts while Bryan Herta in the Andretti Green Racing #7 Dallara/Honda rounded out the top ten.
A.J. Foyt IV landed 11th in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota and said, "Today went good. We struggled with the handling a little this morning and changed just about everything for the afternoon session. It helped the car a lot."
He was followed by rookie Kosuke Matsuura, driving the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda 11th in the afternoon and 12th overall. Darren Manning, who partners Dixon in a #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota landed in 13th place, while Tora Takagi's #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota earned the 14th quickest lap.
Buddy Rice was 12th in the morning, driving in relief of Kenny Brack in the #15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda, but electrical problems in the afternoon limited the Phoenix native to a scant 20 laps, none at speed. He ended up in 15th place. Rookie Mark Taylor, who earned the Menards Infiniti Pro Series title in 2003, was 17th in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet.
Joining the open testing sessions for the first time this year, Greg Ray took his #13 Panoz G Force/Honda out for the afternoon session only and got in about 25 laps for the day. He was 18th. Rookie Ed Carpenter was the day's caboose in his #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet.
The IndyCar Series teams have one more day of pre-season testing tomorrow before they return to their shops and prepare for the first of 16 races, which takes place on February 29th at Homestead-Miami Speedway.