Hornish top Chevy qualifier for Nazareth IRL race. NAZARETH, Pa., Aug. 23, 2003 - Fresh from a victory last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, Sam Hornish Jr. was the fastest Chevy driver in qualifying for Sunday's Firestone Indy 225 at Nazareth ...
Hornish top Chevy qualifier for Nazareth IRL race.
NAZARETH, Pa., Aug. 23, 2003 - Fresh from a victory last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, Sam Hornish Jr. was the fastest Chevy driver in qualifying for Sunday's Firestone Indy 225 at Nazareth Speedway. Hornish negotiated the roller coaster 1-mile oval in Pennzoil Panther Racing's Chevrolet Dallara at 168.517 mph and will start from the seventh spot on the grid. Scott Dixon won the pole in Ganassi Racing's Toyota G Force with a 171.183 mph qualifying lap.
Hornish was the first driver on the track in the qualifying session after two drivers ahead of him in the order passed on their attempts. Hornish had to contend with the dissimilar rubber put down on the track by the USAC support series.
"I really wasn't too concerned with the track," said Hornish. "What affected the run more was the cloud cover blowing over and the track getting hotter. The biggest change from last week is that this is a flat track."
The Firestone Indy 225 is the first short-track event in which all Chevrolet teams are using the Gen IV Chevy Indy V8. Although the Panther Racing team was involved in the development of the new Chevrolet engine, Hornish had not previously driven a Gen IV Chevy on a track of less than 1.5 miles in length.
"The Gen IV Chevy is running good so far," he reported. "We spent a lot of time on Friday working on our race setup because we weren't able to test here. We wanted to focus on the big tracks because that's where we'll finish the season. This is a fun little track, but it's tough to get around it.
"The new Chevy's power definitely helps acceleration off the turns at this track," Hornish said. "Whenever you lift and have to get back in the gas, you need more horsepower. I'm really glad we have it here."
Teammates Robbie Buhl and Sarah Fisher will share the sixth row of the starting grid. Buhl posted a 167.234 mph qualifying speed in the Purex/Aventis Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet Dallara.
"I really wanted a 20 (second) flat, but after nearly stuffing it in the wall, we'll take it," said Buhl. "We got really loose on the first run, so we came in and made a couple of adjustments and went back out again. There's definitely still more in the car, and we're still learning."
Fisher relied on her sprint car racing experience as she circled the challenging track at 166.170 mph.
"That was the best lap we've had all weekend," said Fisher. "The car was a little loose at the exit of Turn 2, but you can get these cars sideways for a couple of laps and still be fine. I was getting used to the car because we made quite a few changes overnight, so it was just 'go for it,' like driving a sprint car."
Buddy Rice qualified 15th in Red Bull Cheever Racing's Chevrolet Dallara at 164.527 mph. He is the only driver who has run a Gen IV Chevy Indy V8 on two short tracks; the Cheever Racing team also ran the Gen IV at Gateway International Raceway two weeks ago as part of the phased introduction of the new powerplant.
"What Chevy has done with the Gen IV is awesome," said Rice. "No complaints whatsoever. We as a group just need to keep working on our chassis. We have all the ingredients to make a competitive car.
"Every time that we've gone out, we've gotten a little bit faster," Rice noted. "We're towards the back of the grid which is unfortunate because starting position is very important for this race. We still have quite a bit more work to do for raceday. It's a little bit of a slow process right now, but we're making improvements and heading down the right path. Patience is going to be a big factor here and it's going to be difficult to pass for sure."
Buddy Lazier was the second driver on the track in the qualifying session, turning a lap at 161.735 mph in Hemelgarn Racing's Metabolife/Delta/Life Fitness Chevrolet Dallara. The 1996 Indy 500 winner will start 19th.
"I was supposed to go out fifth in the order, so three cars pulled out of line in front of us," Lazier said. "At the end of the day, it might have helped us a couple of tenths to go out later, but it wouldn't put us where we need to be.
"Every session we have improved, every time we're in the car we go faster," he added. "The bottom line is, we have to go testing to understand what the car needs. On a race weekend, you can't experiment; there's very little time in the practice sessions. We'd like to make some wholesale changes that take considerable time. The team, team owner Ron Hemelgarn, we're all working hard. I think we're coming out of a difficult time and looking forward to the future."
The Firestone Indy 225 will start at 3 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Aug. 24. The 225-lap, 225-mile race will be televised live on ESPN and broadcast on the IMS Radio Network.