IRL: Phoenix rain shortens final open test day

The final open test date in preparation for the Indy Racing League's tenth season of IndyCar Series racing took place at Phoenix International Raceway today under mostly cloudy skies and mild temperatures that eventually gave way to steady ...

The final open test date in preparation for the Indy Racing League's tenth season of IndyCar Series racing took place at Phoenix International Raceway today under mostly cloudy skies and mild temperatures that eventually gave way to steady rain.

With 19 cars on hand to practice on the fast mile oval - the A.J. Foyt Enterprises squad departed for some serious road course testing away from scrutinizing eyes - emphasis for the balance of the field was on finding proper setups for this circuit, which places a premium on optimizing chassis handling characteristics.

Early in the morning session Dario Franchitti laid down a lap of 175.574mph with the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda/Firestone, almost one mile per hour quicker than Dan Wheldon's pole speed of 2004 (174.779mph), which was set in extremely hot conditions. Why was Franchitti - along with two-time defending race winner Tony Kanaan, second in the #11 Team 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda at 174.911mph - so quick?

Chalk it up to more downforce, to the fabulous conditions and to the work Andretti Green Racing has performed to optimize its packages over the winter perhaps, together with a tow. By the time the morning session was done Wheldon had pulled his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda into third place with a lap of 174.757mph and a few sprinkles had begun to fall.

Franchitti, who has become the short oval ace of his four car team did 30-gallon long runs to help set up for the mid-March race. "I like the short ovals," he admitted. "Even though the weather will be very, very different when we come here to race, we tried to prepare for the race, not for qualifying." Franchitti's quick lap, he said did not come with a tow; rather, he cranked out three quick ones in the 175mph range.

Wheldon (who ended up second in the meet) had little to say about the day other than the fact that he feels his part of the AGR team is "relatively competitive." Working with a new team manager, John Anderson, Wheldon understands it will take time for the two of them to come to terms, particularly after the excellent relationship the young Briton had with Tony Cotman who left the team. "I think we have had a fairly smooth test here," he shrugged.

Two-time defending Phoenix victor Tony Kanaan found the day and a half test "good for us. I'm very happy with what we've accomplished and feel, even though it will be much different when we come here in March, that we've got good info for the race. The quality of the test is far more important than the speed and, even if I were 15th here I'd be happy with the quality of this test."

The weather gods held off until just about 2:30PM MST and then the skies opened, negating the two hours left to run in the second day's practice sessions. At that point Helio Castroneves had displaced Buddy Rice for fourth place on the day (Rice's #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda was P4 in the morning).

The red and white #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota racked up a lap of 174.394mph on the Brazilian's 118th of 135 laps, while working on qualifying setups. Castroneves didn't get to do any long stints due to the weather constraints.

Scott Sharp improved from his morning run to take fifth early in the afternoon (and overall) with the #8 Delphi Panoz/Honda at 174.271mph, meriting praise from engineer John Ward and team co-owner Adrian Fernandez. "He's making us look good," Ward proclaimed.

Bryan Herta's sixth place tour in the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda at 17472mph completed the Andretti Green Racing quartet's accomplishments for the meeting. Rice fell to seventh with his lap of 173.973mph morning lap (on the native Phoenician's 98th of 158 total).

Sam Hornish Jr. took eighth in the second, #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota (173.890mph on lap 57 of 87) and seemed to be able to deal with his right thumb's tendonitis without any apparent difficulty.

Scott Dixon's #9 Team Target Panoz/Toyota was ninth at 173.836mph, one of the few to improve in the limited afternoon session before an engine problem ended his day. Rookie Tomas Enge rounded out the top ten with his #2 Panther Dallara/Chevy.

The Czech had been fastest in Wednesday morning practice and his morning lap of 173.476mph kept him situated amongst the fastest drivers, pleasing the team Enge joined just a few days before initial testing at Homestead- Miami Speedway last month.

Most of these Thursday results mirrored the combined practice days tally with Roger Yasukawa making a huge jump with the #24 Racing for Kids Dallara/Honda from his initial Homestead-Miami test with the Dreyer & Reinbold team; he was 11th here. Vitor Meira, who lost an engine in yesterday afternoon's session, was 12th for this meeting with the #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda.

Engine problems foiled Darren Manning today and he was 13th in the #33 Target Panoz/Toyota, while rookie teammate Ryan Briscoe was among the few to use his Wednesday fast lap for a quick time for 14th in the #33 Target Panoz/Toyota. Briscoe said his engine began to go off a bit this afternoon so they called it a day before the rain came.

Patrick Carpentier's snowcross accident left him with aching ribs and the 15th best speed with the #83 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota. Tomas Scheckter was 16th in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevy, Alex Barron took 17th in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota and Kosuke Matsuura was 18th with his #55 Panasonic/Autobacs/ARTA Panoz/Honda.

Rookie Danica Patrick was slowest today with her #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda but it was a good test for her as she slammed in 389 laps total over the day and a half. At one point she told her Rahal Letterman Racing team, "Guys, if this test were ranked on a scale of one to ten with ten being the worst, we've improved today from a ten to a five." A.J. Foyt IV caboosed the field in his #14 Dallara/Toyota, driving only 120 laps on Wednesday.

Did everyone show their hands during this "Test in the Southwest", in which 5532 laps were run? It doesn't appear that way as most teams were working on varied programs to find the right balance between speed and downforce for the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 that's set for the afternoon of Saturday, March 19th. Most expect the weather to be much warmer and the competition to heat up concurrently.

Can Tony Kanaan pull the hat trick that day and become a consecutive three- time Phoenix IndyCar Series winner? According to Chris Schwartz of Marlboro Team Penske, "Honda didn't show their hand here and neither did we. In fact, I don't think anyone really showed everything they've got."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Enge , Darren Manning , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , John Anderson , A.J. Foyt , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske