IRL: Showers conclude Open Test in Daytona

The second day of Open Testing for the seventeen Indy Racing League IndyCar Series drivers and crews concluded on Thursday at steamy Daytona International Speedway as afternoon rain showers sent teams to their garages and trailers. At the ...

The second day of Open Testing for the seventeen Indy Racing League IndyCar Series drivers and crews concluded on Thursday at steamy Daytona International Speedway as afternoon rain showers sent teams to their garages and trailers.

At the approximately 3PM (EST) close of testing, Team Penske's Helio Castroneves led the field with a speed of 135.335 mph at 1:12.3538 seconds, followed by Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan over half a second behind at 134.145 mph and Scott Dixon (134.120 mph).

"Today with the wind, the situation was different than Wednesday. All the same, it was a productive test for Team Penske," Helio commented later. The Brazilian driver also lamented the long winter layoff from the previous season, the most recent of several drivers to comment about the compact 2006 season.

Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon settled into fourth with a speed of 134.086 mph. Marco Andretti posted a speed of 133.887 mph while Sam Hornish continued to keep the pace and came home with a respectable result of 133.575 miles per hour.

"Everything went well for us these two days," said the much-improved Hornish, whose oval track accomplishments have in the past dwarfed his road course triumphs. "The track is definitely challenging. It's a difficult place to find the right balances whether you're going with a road course setup or a super-speedway car."

"It's a lot of fun to be back in the IndyCar. It's pretty nice and the speed is a lot greater (than stock and sports cars). I'm pretty excited going into this season knowing we'll be fast on the road course," he said.

"As far as the new engine goes, it creates more torque and keeping the wheel spin under control brings the driver back into the equation. It's an incentive for me to try to get better."

Changing track conditions rendered much of the day's well-laid plans moot as temperatures climbed around the northeastern Florida region and the humidity rose to a palpable, sauna-like boil as a brisk twenty-five mile per hour gusted from a southeasterly direction.

No cars turned more than 35 laps (Ed Carpenter) in the rain-shortened afternoon session. Nor did any competitor turn a lap faster than Wednesday's best of 135.549 mph (1:12.2393 seconds) turned in by Kanaan. Six of the seven fastest laps put in over the entire two-day affair were made on the first day of testing. A total of 1697 laps were completed (over both days) when the rains began to fall.

Helio Castroneves' criticism of the 2.72-mile modified road circuit continued to draw attention, with respect to a possible future IndyCar Series event at Daytona. No doubt his assessment of the track contributed to put on hold a "race simulation", and run the cars on the road course with rain tires (as the IRL rules allow) while maintaining a low groove around the oval part of the track.

After Wednesday's practice (in which he finished second to Tony Kanaan), Castroneves expressed concern about the hairpin turn on the infield portion of the layout saying that drivers needed to be more careful and "take it easy" through the "dangerous" area.

"I believe the safety run-off areas need to improve quite a bit. Turn 1, for instance leaving the pits, you need a wider turn there. Turn 5, where everybody has been spinning out, the tire (barrier) shouldn't be there," he said.

"The track is bumpy and it's hard to keep the car in a straight line. That's the nature of the track. You have to be really cautious if you want to pass someone out there. It's hard braking, very difficult braking and turning. It's a challenge."

He went on to add that the high-banked oval's turns need to be resurfaced for the IndyCars to race safely on the track, and described "after 15-20 laps, cars sliding all over the place."

Today he changed his tune a little from Wednesday's disapproving comments. "The track (Daytona staff) went out and tried to fix Turn 5," he said at the press conference after the second practice session on Thursday. "It was somewhat of an improvement."

The morning session opened under gray partly-cloudy skies as trams of interested fans unloaded into the infield DIS Fan Zone to enjoy a seventy- five degree day of racer-watching.

Rick Ruether of Palm Coast, Florida viewed the IndyCars for the first time and described the experience as "exciting", and vowed to return for a race if one were scheduled in the future.

Ben Herr of Daytona attended last September's IRL test and was anxious to see more action. "I watch a little IRL on TV, but not like I used to. If we can go to Indy (with stock cars) and race, why can't they come here?"

There was an international flavor present in the crowd as Wolfgang Holler of Karlsruhe, Germany found the circuitous road/oval course configuration different from his Formula 1 experience. "They (the IndyCars) are closer to each other and they make a lot of noise! They're very interesting!"

Brothers' Chris and Jason Branch of Ocala, transplanted Hoosiers, watch the IRL events on TV, but cautioned "I'd like to see them come here, but this is NASCAR country. Unless you double up with NASCAR, it will look bad."

In the modified road course configuration the greatest potential for speed lies down the Speedway's north to south front straightaway. Gusty southerly winds to 20-plus miles per hour held speeds in check throughout both of Thursday's practice sessions.

Castroneves and Hornish paced the field for much of the morning as the red and white cars took their familiar place at the top of the scoring pylon.

Castroneves' 1:12.6128 second lap at 134.852 topped teammate Hornish's time by a scant fifteen hundredths of a second in the morning stanza. The Penske pair was followed by Target Chip Ganassi's Dan Wheldon third-fastest of the morning stint and AGR's Tony Kanaan fourth.

The day's most significant on-track mishap occurred slightly more than halfway through the morning session. Scott Dixon spun his Patron Tequila Panther Racing Dallara/Honda in the chicane alongside Daytona's eastern straightaway and went into a tire barrier.

AGR newcomer Danica Patrick's struggles continued for a second consecutive day. On Wednesday she complained of an ill-fitting driver's seat in her black and blue Motorola Dallara/Honda. She finished the day well off the fastest times posted by teammates Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti.

Again on Thursday the petite female driver searched in vain to gain momentum. Her 1:14.3817 second lap in the truncated afternoon practice was her two-day best, averaging a speed of 131.645 mph on her eighteenth and final lap of the test session on Thursday afternoon.

The IndyCars return to the testing and development in two weeks when they take the track at Homestead-Miami Raceway. The February 21-22 test date promises a first-ever test of the open-wheel racers under the lights in anticipation of the season-opening race there on March 24th. The drivers and crews will challenge both the oval and the road course while at Homestead, setting aside one day for each layout while they are there.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing