IRL: Scheckter shakes it out on Friday

Maybe the third team will be the charm for Tomas Scheckter, who began the 2004 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season in fine form, leading practice for Sunday's Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway today. Driving the ...

Maybe the third team will be the charm for Tomas Scheckter, who began the 2004 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season in fine form, leading practice for Sunday's Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway today.

Driving the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet to a quick tour of 24.6480 seconds (216.894mph) around the reconfigured 1.5-mile high banked oval, Scheckter advised anyone who would listen not to read much into his achievement, after turning a quick lap this afternoon on his 54th of 58 laps. "I think the higher groove will come in" before the race," he said. "You'll be lucky to see three abreast because the track has changed since last time. It was just a towing game out there," Scheckter smiled.

After leading all comers during the two-day open test held here last month, Alex Barron nabbed the second slot in practice today, with a lap of 24.6819 seconds (216.596mph) in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. Barron acknowledged, "Chevrolet has worked extremely hard in the off-season to make the powerplant efficient as well as powerful, and we're really looking forward to the season."

The Menifee, CA resident explained the difference between this track and other banked ovals the Indy Racing League contests: "The banking doesn't roll up until fairly around the corner. You have to be quite a ways into the corner to feel the banking. That makes it somewhat different than some of the other mile-and-a-half ovals we run."

The reigning IRL champion, Scott Dixon was fastest this morning in his #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota and that left him third for the day after spending much of the afternoon working on race setups. Dixon's fast lap of 24.6819 seconds (216.460mph) came after "We had a few problems to start with. We made a lot of changes from this morning and initially it wasn't too good for us. Toward the end," he shrugged, "it seemed fairly decent." Dixon won this race last March - it was his first IRL contest.

Fourth for the day went to Andretti Green Racing sophomore Dan Wheldon, who turned 24.7116 seconds (216.336mph) in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda. Wheldon believes the race "is going to be difficult. The conditions are going to change a lot so we need to make sure we have a good race car."

It was a mostly cloudy day here in south Florida and, while gusting winds affected the Menards Infiniti Pro Series competitors, the IndyCar Series drivers didn't find them much of a hindrance. Temperatures ranged in the mid-60s and cloud cover was omnipresent.

Rookie Ed Carpenter took the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy to fifth place today, using a lap of 24.7350 seconds (216.131mph) in the second session and giving the Cheever squad both cars in the top five. "So far so good," Carpenter cautioned. "We were able to test out the traffic for a few laps and the car was handling really well."

Another rookie - who is also the reigning Menards Infiniti Pro Series champion, Mark Taylor brought the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy to sixth overall with his 24.7355-second, 216.127mph-lap this afternoon. "I was really happy with both practice sessions today," he said. "The Chevy pulled really well when we were out there running alone and the car felt great in traffic too."

Taking his first laps in the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda, Bryan Herta logged the seventh quickest lap, using his morning tour of 24.7406 seconds (216.082mph) to achieve the mark. Herta found it a "good day. We had a list of objectives and worked through that. The car seems to be working well right now."

Buddy Rice, who had difficulties setting up his #15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda during open testing, found little to complain about today as he nabbed eighth in practice with a lap of 24.7537 seconds (215.968mph). "It was a good day for our team," he related. "We have been concentrating on the race setup and the car is much improved from our test here a month ago."

Miami resident Helio Castroneves took ninth in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota and related, "I think we're in good shape," after working on qualifying setups in the morning and race setups this afternoon. Regular nemesis Tony Kanaan was tenth in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda and "struggled a little bit with the setup today."

The Indy cars completed a total of 1636 trouble-free laps this morning and afternoon. Robbie Buhl was 11th in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet, while Sam Hornish Jr. took 12th in his first drive of the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. A.J. Foyt IV was 13th in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota, followed by rookie Kosuke Matsuura, driving the #55 Panasonic ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda.

IRL newcomer Darren Manning took 15th in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota while returnee Dario Franchitti logged the 16th quickest lap in his #27 Arca/Ex Dallara/Honda. Greg Ray was 17th in the #13 Renovac Panoz G Force Honda, while Scott Sharp was both 18th and 20th using both his primary and backup #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota. Tora Takagi had a difficult day, 19th in the #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota.

Qualifying for Sunday's Toyota Indy 300 takes place Saturday afternoon to set the field for the first of 16 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series contests of the 2004 season. The race will be telecast live on ESPN Sunday, starting at 2PM EST.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Greg Ray , Robbie Buhl , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter
Teams Team Penske