IRL: Patrick beats the boys on Thursday in Indy

IRL: Patrick beats the boys on Thursday in Indy

Day three of full-field practice for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race was full of action, held under increasingly sunny skies, cool temperatures with blustery winds that seemingly changed direction at will. These are not unusual conditions for...

Day three of full-field practice for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race was full of action, held under increasingly sunny skies, cool temperatures with blustery winds that seemingly changed direction at will. These are not unusual conditions for Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May and could easily be replicated during this weekend's MBNA Pole Day.

Danica Patrick.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
After six hours of running, it was Danica Patrick who appropriately claimed the $2500 Argent Mortgage Fast Lap prize for her lap of 227.633mph in the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda/Firestone racer. Finished for the day with nearly two hours remaining, Patrick's team elected to change engines prior to Fast Friday.

The first woman to lead Indy 500 practice since Janet Guthrie performed the feat May 7, 1977, Patrick was speaking softly this evening, as the multitude of interviews is taking its toll on her vocal cords. "It was a really good day today. We went in the right direction and I'm happy with it. We have a pretty good balance and once we trimmed out we made sure the balance stayed the same.

"Personally," Patrick admitted, "I have really worked on my line and I'm just trying to get everything perfect. While the car is very good to drive, there are still little things we can do to improve." More impressive than Patrick's single tow-aided lap was her final stint of several tours of the 2.5-mile oval in the 225+ mile-per-hour range.

Teammate Buddy Rice was released from Methodist Hospital this morning after undergoing CAT and MRI examinations. "I slept pretty well last night and I had a bunch of the team and some friends in last evening. That was very good," Rice stated this morning. "Overall, yeah, I'm sore but I feel okay. I'm just going to relax today and come to the track Friday to see if I can help Vitor [Meira] and Danica."

Tony Kanaan took second today, logging a meager 27 laps in his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda and using his 10th tour to post 227.525mph, also with a tow. "I'm confident of what we can do," the 2004 IndyCar Series champ pronounced.

Kosuke Matsuura, who led the speed charts several times last May was third in his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda with a lap of 227.375mph on his 20th of 51 laps. "The time was good today but I had a tow," he admitted. "The car feels good but on my own the car was a little bit edgy."

Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan of Team Andretti/Green roll out to practice.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
Dan Wheldon, the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series point leader - and three-time winner thus far in a four-race span was fourth for the day in his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda at 227.114mph. Wheldon is working toward winning the pole but realizes, "You've got to have one eye on the race, but right now everything seems to be going pretty good."

The third member of the Rahal Letterman Racing troops, Vitor Meira was fifth for the day with his #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda. Meira admitted he "ran a lot of laps today and accomplished many things with the car. It was cooler and the weather changes a lot of things with this track." Meira's 42nd of 81 laps measured 227.037mph.

Dario Franchitti was an early speedster when the track opened for practice and his 44th of 46 laps in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda at 226.908mph held for sixth on the day. The Scot "spent most of the day on our own and worked on qualifying most of the time."

Sam Hornish Jr. broke the Honda monopoly in seventh place, running the #6T Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota to a 226.724mph lap on his 13th of 14 laps. "I'm happy with how things went today because we were able to work on our qualifying setup the entire session," the 2001-2 IndyCar Series champ explained.

Scott Sharp's 19th lap (of 61) at 226.505mph in the #8 Delphi/Fernandez Panoz/Honda was good for eighth in the field and the veteran feels he is "where we want to be heading into Pole Day"; Scott Dixon snared ninth in the #9 Target Panoz/Toyota. Like most of the field, his team will install a new engine for Fast Friday. "It's been hard today with the wind, especially in [turn] 2," Dixon explained.

Richie Hearn rounded out the top ten (first in class) with the #70 Meijer/Coca-Cola Panoz/Chevrolet with his 27th of 65 laps at 225.691mph. The Henderson, NV native spent the day working on qualifying setups. "That was what today was about for us. We made changes to help us go fast for just the four laps of qualifying instead of 500 miles and we made progress as the day went along."

Happy hour today was pretty unkind to a couple of drivers, as Darren Manning performed a Turn 2 wall smack in his #10 Target Panoz/Toyota that was eerily similar to the one by Buddy Rice yesterday morning.

Crew members inspect the damage to Darren Manning's car.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
Manning's angle of attack when the incident occurred with 35 minutes remaining in the session resulted in his being treated and released from the infield care center without further ado. The car's rear wing came off and likely other rear parts of the Panoz, particularly the gearbox suffered damage.

Just about 20 minutes later rookie Paul Dana spun in the chute between Turns 1 and 2, sustaining minimal rear damage to his #91T Ethanol/Hemelgarn Dallara/Toyota; the car was towed back to the pits for examination and repair.

Sebastien Bourdais was far happier with his #37 Team Centrix Panoz/Honda today and it showed with an 11th place finish to the day. "We're not sure why we are quicker today but we'll take it." Perhaps it was the sea bass being served for lunch at Honda hospitality? Bourdais' nickname is "Seabass".

Hornish was 12th with his primary car while Tomas Scheckter needed only 29 laps total to rouse an 13th best speed for the day in his silver #4T Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet; Manning took 14th despite his wall smack and Buddy Lazier came in 15th on the speed chart with his #95 Byrd Brothers/Panther Racing Dallara/Chevy.

Helio Castroneves (#3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota), Bruno Junqueira in the #36 Team Centrix Panoz/Honda, Bryan Herta's #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda, rookie Ryan Briscoe in the #33 Target Panoz/Toyota and Castroneves in his T car rounded out the top 20.

A total of 37 car/driver combinations were on the Brickyard oval throughout the six-hour testing session this afternoon for a total of 1717 laps. Jeff Bucknum returned to the track in the #44 Investment Properties of America Dallara/Honda as did Jeff Ward in the #22 Vision Dallara/Toyota, both of them getting decent track experience for the first time since Rookie Orientation.

A.J. Foyt IV spent much of the day being a spectator but finally took 17 laps with his #14 ABC Supply Dallara/Toyota late in the afternoon. Marty Roth made his first laps in a Dallara/Chevrolet, putting up 44 laps in the middle to late afternoon; Larry Foyt was the 37th and slowest driver in a Panoz/Toyota.

Tomorrow is the final tune-up opportunity for MBNA Pole Day and it's Friday the 13th. Who will have the necessary luck to procure an excellent qualifying setup? That's one question but with severe thunderstorms in the forecast for Friday and Saturday, those might be moot queries.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Darren Manning , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Bruno Junqueira , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Richie Hearn , Larry Foyt , Dan Wheldon , Sébastien Bourdais , Buddy Rice , Janet Guthrie , Ryan Briscoe , Kosuke Matsuura , Paul Dana , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske