Dual practice sessions and a final warmup this afternoon produced a different group of fast masters at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, as the 22 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series competitors completed final preparations for Saturday night's ...
Dual practice sessions and a final warmup this afternoon produced a different group of fast masters at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, as the 22 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series competitors completed final preparations for Saturday night's Bombardier 500K.
In the one-hour practice that saw the bottom half of the grid on-circuit for half an hour followed by the sharp end of the pack, Vitor Meira led Group One with his lap of 210.542mph in the #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda. Meira is "really enjoying this weekend. The cars are slower for sure but otherwise they are about the same. It will be just as difficult to be competitive in a 15-car pack" during the 200-lap contest.
Meira knows that with "a big pack running, it's about how good your car is running in a pack, inside, outside, carrying the momentum. It's all you're going to have here," he said.
Scott Dixon was second in the initial practice group with his #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, but once the rest of the field got on-circuit, his best speed of 209.758mph relegated the 2003 IndyCar Series champ to eighth place.
All 22 cars ran in packs of five or more in the practice session, which enabled everyone to figure out what type of balance they might need when race time comes. Of course, with this practice held under mid-afternoon, 90-degree and sunny conditions, the drivers will face a completely different set of climactic circumstances when race time comes around.
Once the balance of the field got on the track, Tomas Scheckter took charge and led the entire field in his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet, bringing joy to the Chevy camp. Scheckter set a lap of 210.618mph and the South African - who won MBNA pole here last year - noted, "We didn't do too much running in traffic yesterday, focusing on qualifying instead.
"The team made changes last night [to prepare for today's practice sessions] and the car feels good. I think Chevy's been working hard and the engine is more suited to this track than Indy," Scheckter remarked. "We're going to take advantage of that and try to get the most points we can."
Mexican Adrian Fernandez shadowed Scheckter and took second place in the practice session in his #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda with a lap of 210.598mph. "We're just trying to learn our way around the track, trying to get a good reference on the high lines and trying to get comfortable running side by side with the cars," Fernandez noted.
Turning a total of 53 laps in the half-hour he said, "I tried to run in traffic so I could see what the car was doing. Right now we're running during the day and, just like qualifying [last night] the track will be really different."
Buddy Rice, running in Group Two was fourth in the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda. Rice took a total of 53 laps as well, turning his best on lap #15 of 210.438mph.
Rookie Kosuke Matsuura continued his impressive outing at Texas Motor Speedway by notching the fifth practice speed, 210.107mph in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda. After Matsuura came first-time MBNA polesitter Dario Franchitti's #27 Arca/Ex Dallara/Honda (209.946mph) and Sam Hornish Jr. in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 209.931mph.
Scott Dixon in the #1 Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, Tony Kanaan's #11 Team 7- Eleven Dallara/Honda and rookie Ed Carpenter in the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet rounded out the top ten.
The Indy cars then took a two hour, 15 minute break until final warmup and, lo and behold, everything changed again. A 22-car traffic jam ensued on the hot TMS track for half an hour and, when it was over Hornish was quickest. His best, 11th lap at 211.331mph is tops for the weekend thus far and not likely to be equaled during the race.
Not only was Hornish Jr. fast on the track, he was also a wee bit too quick in pits and he, along with Kanaan, Alex Barron, Al Unser Jr. and Scheckter received five-minute holds in their pit stalls as speeding tickets from the Indy Racing League. Obviously, the 27 laps Hornish turned didn't hurt the two-time Texas winner at all.
Bryan Herta was second on the speed charts during the final session at 210.317mph in the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda, while teammate Kanaan took third at 210.209mph, running 48 practice laps. Fourth in the final practice went to local driver Greg Ray's #13 Renovac Panoz G Force/Honda, who turned 45 laps this afternoon.
Carpenter, who has been using his XBox IndyCar game to simulate night racing here at Texas was fifth in the final session at 210.134mph. Team Target's Dixon and Darren Manning in the #10 Panoz G Force/Toyota took sixth and seventh, respectively, while Buddy Rice was eighth. Scheckter and A.J. Foyt IV completed the top ten in this final practice.
And now it is all over but the waiting. There are no on-track activities planned for the Indy cars until they are gridded at 6PM Saturday evening for their 200-lap enduro starting just over an hour later.
The 22 drivers completed a one-hour autograph session held prior to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race and then there was nothing left to do wait and think about strategy as they race into Saturday night for bragging honors after the 200-lap Bombardier 500K.
( 2004 Anne Proffit