IRL: Texas II: Friday practice report

Meira fastest on opening day at Texas; Hornish, Panther tough it out. FORT WORTH, Texas, Friday, Sept. 13, 2002 -- Rookie Vitor Meira showed consistent speed Sept. 13 during two practice sessions for the Chevy 500, turning the top overall lap of...

Meira fastest on opening day at Texas; Hornish, Panther tough it out.

FORT WORTH, Texas, Friday, Sept. 13, 2002 -- Rookie Vitor Meira showed consistent speed Sept. 13 during two practice sessions for the Chevy 500, turning the top overall lap of the day of 23.6524 seconds, 221.457 mph at Texas Motor Speedway.

But the day was not so smooth for Indy Racing League points leader Sam Hornish Jr. and his Pennzoil Panther Racing team, locked in a tight championship chase.

Meira's top lap came in the first practice on the 1.5-mile             .
oval in the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville/Pittsburgh Paints             .
Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone But he was second to Scott Sharp in the    .
second session at 23.7299, 220.734                                     .

"We were doing qualifying setup," Meira said. "I don't know if that's quick enough or not. The car feels really good. We're still working on it, but I think it's going to be better for qualifying."

MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 2 p.m. (EDT) Saturday.

1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. was second overall at 23.6800, 221.199, turned in the first practice in the No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. 1996 IRL co-champion Sharp was third overall at 23.7193, 220.833, leading the second practice in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

Hornish had a rough first day as he tries to become a repeat series champion. He leads second place Helio Castroneves by 12 points in the series standings entering the season finale, which starts at 3 p.m. (EDT) Sunday and will be televised live on ABC.

During the first practice, an oil-line connection broke in Hornish's No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, causing a fire under the engine cover. Hornish had turned only seven laps in the car with a top lap of 24.1594, 216.810, good for just 24th.

Hornish returned to the track during the second practice in his backup car, complete with a fresh engine, and was ninth fastest in that session at 23.8443, 219.675, running many laps side by side with Castroneves. But that session also included trouble, as the Pennzoil Panther team was forced to change a part on Hornish's front wing after he and Max Papis appeared to touch during practice.

"The Pennzoil Panther crew is pretty resilient like that," Hornish said. "They go out and do whatever it takes to make the car fast."

That was just part of the hard work that the Pennzoil Panther crew was forced to produce today. Rookie Dan Wheldon, Hornish's new teammate, crashed in Turn 4 during the second practice.

Wheldon was unhurt and cleared to drive, but the left front of his No. 15 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone was damaged, forcing repairs.

"We have a little bit of work to do," Hornish said. "We're pretty much a practice session behind right now, but we know what we need to do for qualifying, so we're not worried about that. We're just going to go out and do whatever it takes to make the car fast for the race because that's all that's really important."

Castroneves had no mechanical dramas. But he was 11th in the first practice at 23.9060, 219.108 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone before picking up the pace in the second practice at 23.7843, 220.229, good for sixth in that session.

"Today we worked on the race setup in both practice sessions," Castroneves said. "As the afternoon went on, the Marlboro Team Penske car was handling better and better. In the second session, I was able to run side by side with several other drivers, so we were able to simulate the conditions we'll see on Sunday."

Sprint car star Cory Kruseman, making his IRL debut with PDM Racing, turned a top lap of 24.7465, 211.666 in the No. 18 Agromin/Village Marine/Ventura Raceway Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

"We're still not where we want to be speedwise, but the car feels real good," Kruseman said. "We'll keep making some changes, and they'll keep making me faster. I'm really looking forward to my first race in the IRL. This is a great track -- fast and smooth."

-irlp

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Max Papis , Dan Wheldon , Cory Kruseman , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske