IRL: Motegi: Friday practice report

Dixon holds off Kanaan for top spot in Motegi practice. MOTEGI, Japan, Friday, April 11, 2003 -- Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan continued their intense challenge for IRL IndyCarTM Series supremacy, playing a high-speed game of chase during the...

Dixon holds off Kanaan for top spot in Motegi practice.

MOTEGI, Japan, Friday, April 11, 2003 -- Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan continued their intense challenge for IRL IndyCarTM Series supremacy, playing a high-speed game of chase during the first day of practice for the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi.

Dixon and Kanaan each have a victory in the first two races of the season, and they were first and second, respectively, in both practice sessions.

Homestead-Miami winner Dixon turned the fastest lap of the day, 26.4353 seconds, 206.996 mph, in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone during the second practice in temperatures that just barely broke 60 degrees. He led the first practice at 26.6086, 205.648.

This is the first overseas event in Indy Racing League history, but both Dixon and Kanaan have experience at the 1.5-mile oval in CART events.

"I think maybe previous experience helps a little," Dixon said. "Today the car was pretty quick right out of the box. We made minimal changes throughout the morning, and then this afternoon we didn't do too much. Basically we just freed the car up, and I tried to get a little bit more speed out of it."

Phoenix winner and series points leader Kanaan was second fastest overall at 26.5008, 206.484 in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone. He trailed Dixon in the first session at 26.8014, 204.168.

"We had a pretty good car out of the box," Kanaan said. "We were working on race setup this morning. This afternoon we worked a little bit more on qualifying, and I think I had everything I could have. And obviously to go quicker, we have to improve the car. We'll see tonight what we can do."

Practice resumes at 9 p.m. (EDT) Friday, with MBNA Pole Qualifying scheduled for midnight (EDT) Friday on the 1.5-mile oval. Rain is in the forecast, and the starting field will be set by today's practice speeds if qualifying is rained out.

"I think in the afternoon session everyone was trying to get a tow because if it rains tomorrow, we want to be the fastest," Dixon said.

Kenny Brack, 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1998 series champion, was third overall today at 26.6185, 205.571 in the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda/Firestone. Brack won a CART race in 2001 at Motegi.

Kelley Racing teammates Al Unser Jr. and Scott Sharp enjoyed a strong start to the event. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Unser was fourth overall at 26.6759, 205.129 in the No. 31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, while 1996 series co-champion Sharp rounded out the top five at 26.6803, 205.095 in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone.

Series powerhouse Marlboro Team Penske decided before this event to use Dallara and a Panoz G Force chassis between its two drivers for the first time.

There wasn't much to choose between the two cars: Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves was eighth at 26.7233, 204.765 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, while Alex Barron was ninth at 26.7807, 204.326 in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone. Barron is substituting for Gil de Ferran, who suffered a concussion and minor back fracture in an accident at the Purex Dial Indy 200 on March 23 at Phoenix.

Another sub, Dan Wheldon, was 12th at 26.9244, 203.236 in the No. 27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone. He is replacing Andretti Green Racing regular Dario Franchitti, who suffered a minor back fracture in a motorcycle accident last week in his native Scotland.

Defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. was 13th at 26.9467, 203.068 in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, the fastest of the seven Chevy-powered drivers in the field.

1999 IndyCar Series champion Greg Ray was 20th at 27.5671, 198.497 in the No. 13 Trim Spa Special Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone. It's his first race with the new Access Motorsports team, which he co-owns, and his first race of the 2003 season.

Twenty-four drivers combined to turn 2,267 incident-free laps on the first day of official IndyCar Series activity at Motegi.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske