It's back to the future for Tomas Scheckter, regaining his record speed in qualifying for Sunday's Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season-starting Toyota Indy 300. Tomas Scheckter. Photo by Jack Durbin. The South African, sixth in...
It's back to the future for Tomas Scheckter, regaining his record speed in qualifying for Sunday's Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season-starting Toyota Indy 300.
"I knew we could do the speed," Scheckter said. "I never lifted on either of those two laps and the car just has unbelievable balance."
In his first two years of IRL competition, Scheckter was well known for his prowess in qualifying. His most recent pole position, though, was in the summer of 2003 at Michigan International Speedway -- quite a drought for one accustomed to the sharp end of the field.
"Chevy worked so hard to get us here," Scheckter explained. "This means so much to me and hopefully there's a lot more to come. I feel strongly we will be competitive in the race and I know the car can run up front." Scheckter was quickest in the morning practice and third in yesterday's combined two test sessions.
At the other end of the spectrum, Vitor Meira was third from last to take his timed laps in the #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda this afternoon and he turned his fastest speed of the weekend at 214.317mph to gain the outside front row slot.
Rookie Tomas Enge, driving the #2 ROCKSTAR Dallara/Chevy will line up third in his first start for Panther Racing as Scheckter's teammate. The Czech was hoping for his quick speed of 214.152mph "but didn't really expect it. We're improving the car every session and the team has done a tremendous job. There's a huge improvement to the engine, too.
"At this point," Enge noted, "I think the car is better than I but I'm starting to get into my natural rhythm." The Toyota Indy 300 marks Enge's third IndyCar start and his best position: in two races last year Enge's best start was 15th and top finish was 13th in the Texas season finale.
Buddy Rice starts fourth for Sunday's 200-lap race after posting a lap of 214.006mph in the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda. Rice, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner who finished third in last year's point tally was "really happy with our run. We've got a good handle on the car; we're just massaging on it."
Dario Franchitti's lap of 213.899mph was nearly one mile per hour better than his morning practice speed in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda, yet the Scot was hoping for more. "It wasn't a bad run and I'm pretty happy with it, but we've got a lot of work to do in the warmup. We lost time yesterday and made some changes from this morning that didn't quite work our way."
The improvements from Scott Sharp and the #8 Delphi Panoz/Honda have given the veteran a huge smile. Following his exceptional testing results, Sharp landed sixth on the grid with a lap of 213.463mph. "We're where we want to be. The car is handling well and I think we'll race better than we qualified."
The second driver to take timed laps, Helio Castroneves earned seventh on the grid with his speed of 213.313mph in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, quickest of the ten Toyota drivers.
Hornish holds eighth on the grid in his #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota but wasn't terribly pleased with his run - Hornish is never happy unless he's got the pole and the win, after all. "We're not where we want to be but the car is pretty good. We tried some things and they didn't work, but I think we'll be good tomorrow."
The third member of Rahal Letterman Racing's team, rookie Danica Patrick secured ninth on the grid with her 212.871mph lap after having to wait to be 19th to take her first IndyCar Series timed tours in the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda. "This team is awesome," she remarked. "They're keeping me calm and I'm very, very pleased with this speed. It's the fastest I've run since we arrived and those were two flat laps," Patrick said.
Rounding out the top ten, Roger Yasukawa's #24 Racing for Kids Dallara/Honda turned 212.838mph to give the sophomore a ride that made him "really surprised. I didn't work on qualifying until this morning and think this is a very good first qualifying result with my new Dreyer & Reinbold team." Learning their new driver and engine has meant DRR was behind a bit in pre-season testing, but they've made strides since then.
Dan Wheldon starts 11th in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda and called his effort "a typical super speedway program for us. We still suck in qualifying and with the engine problem yesterday, we haven't run a lot in traffic." Wheldon intends to use this afternoon's warmup to set up his car better for tomorrow's race.
The first driver to qualify, Darren Manning starts 12th in the #10 Team Target Panoz/Toyota, beginning his second season with the team. Manning knew he was a sitting duck for the 21 other drivers in the field but thought the setup he has for the race is good. "We haven't concentrated on qualifying and I'm not worried about it," the Briton noted.
Bryan Herta has had a difficult weekend of it, losing an engine yesterday and having electrical "gremlins", as he calls them on his #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda. He'll line up 13th on the grid. "We thought we handled our problems this morning but they came back," Herta recounted. Fourteenth starter Tony Kanaan, in the #11 Team 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda "didn't quite find the speed we wanted for qualifying" so he'll start defense of the IRL title from mid-field.
Kosuke Matsuura's qualifying session yielded 15th spot for the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda and, while it's not where he wants to be, "The car has very, very good balance for the race. We didn't work on our qualifying setup that much; we're ready to race."
Scott Dixon shrugged off his 16th place qualifying effort in the #9 Team Target Panoz/Toyota. "I'm pretty happy and the car is getting better," the Kiwi noted. Alex Barron said his run in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota was "so easy. Our setup is good and we've improved the car," the California related.
A.J. Foyt IV has 18th place on the 22-car grid with the #14 Dallara/Toyota. The Texan's team changed engines yesterday afternoon yet "we're still down on power. The car handles great and I think we'll be good on Sunday when it counts."
In his first IndyCar Series time trials, Canadian open wheel veteran Patrick Carpentier could only manage 19th for his #83 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota. "My car wouldn't downshift and we were stuck in fourth. I was on the limiter there."
Sophomore driver Ed Carpenter is treating this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the second race at Phoenix International Raceway as test time. With his #20 Vision Racing team's late start to the season, "things are going smoothly. We've only had two true days as a team now and we're taking it one step at a time."
Paul Dana is in the same boat with the #91 Ethanol/REMY/Life Fitness Dallara/Toyota. Having only half a day of testing in Phoenix last month hurt the rookie Menards Infiniti Pro Series graduate who called his qualifying attempt "lame. I got on the limiter and made a mistake. We're just testing in public here," he remarked.
Another rookie, Ryan Briscoe never had the opportunity to make a qualifying run after crashing in practice this morning. Briscoe entered the access road to pit a wee bit hot, spun his #33 Team Target Panoz/Toyota and collected the Turn 4 wall. He was okay but will have to start his backup car tomorrow from the final, 22nd grid slot.
The Indy cars begin a 17-race voyage tomorrow that lasts until the middle of October and includes three road circuits for the first time in the IRL's ten years. The Toyota Indy 300 should be another tight super speedway contest that typifies IndyCar Series racing. It begins shortly after 2PM EST Sunday and is broadcast live by ESPN.