FT WORTH, TX, June 5, 2003 - Team Target's 22-year-old drivers, Tomas Scheckter and Scott Dixon, posted the fastest laps in single-car qualifying under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway tonight, hogging the front row for Saturday night's...
FT WORTH, TX, June 5, 2003 - Team Target's 22-year-old drivers, Tomas Scheckter and Scott Dixon, posted the fastest laps in single-car qualifying under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway tonight, hogging the front row for Saturday night's Bombardier 500K dash around the 1.5-mile banked oval.
Giving credit to their Chip Ganassi Racing team for putting together two great Panoz G Force/Toyota machines for them to drive, both the South African (Scheckter) and Kiwi (Dixon) agreed, "This team is starting to gel and we're understanding one another," Scheckter stated for the duo. "Our testing paid off and, it seems, the Toyota engine likes this place," he continued.
The quiet Dixon, who has never competed in a night race found his car, "Pretty good. We tested here a lot in December and, from here, we definitely need to get some points. I think we're going to have a very competitive race Saturday night."
Fastest in the single practice session held earlier this evening, Tora Takagi starts third for Saturday's Bombardier 500, the fifth race this season. The 2003 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race Rookie of the Year fired off a lap of 218.027mph in his #5 Pioneer Panoz G Force/Toyota at 9:14pm.
Tony Kanaan continues to be the top Honda driver and will start fourth in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda with a lap of 217.149mph set just before Takagi took to the track. Kanaan is "still learning" when it comes to driving a race car at night but appears to be catching on quickly.
Felipe Giaffone earned the fifth starting spot in the #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota with a lap of 216.755mph and noted, "The track didn't change a lot since practice but it's a completely different place under the lights. I think we'll see another close finish here on Saturday night."
Former Indy 500 (1999) and 1998 Indy Racing League champion Kenny Brack lines up in the sixth with his #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda and the Swede acknowledged he was "flat all around the track. We need to do some more work and that is what tomorrow will be all about," he smiled.
While Al Unser Jr. recognizes he's not the greatest qualifier, the #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota he drives for Kelley Racing will start seventh, based on Al's lap of 216.043mph. "We're in, it's not raining and now we can go to work on the race car." When asked what it takes to win at this track, where he's narrowly lost before, with tongue firmly in cheek Unser said, "oh, about a foot."
Fresh from his 2003 Indy 500 victory, Gil de Ferran starts eighth in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Panoz G Force/Toyota with a lap of 216.028mph. Despite team owner Roger Penske's protestations that the team couldn't develop two separate chassis, Helio Castroneves qualified the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota tenth at 215.408mph.
De Ferran claimed he was "flat, wide open" during his two timed laps, but he did "hope for a little more. Top ten is good for the race," de Ferran said. Castroneves acknowledged the team will look at the possibility of changing horses for this course during tomorrow's practice sessions and noted, "I've had a hard time qualifying here but this is the track for great finishes. To do well here, you need patience."
Chevrolet's need to fix its underpowered engine was quite evident as qualifying played out. Sam Hornish Jr. was quickest [in class] in his spare #4T Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevy at 212.498mph. Every other Chevrolet car was in the 210-211mph range, making for some glum faces at that end of the grid.
"Qualifying was everything I expected," Hornish admitted. "This race is more about setup than before but I've never really had a good June race here so I don't expect much." Sarah Fisher experienced an engine problem as she was leaving to begin her timed laps that caused her motor to go full rich. "I didn't have the package to put it on pole, but I think I'll need a good draft to move up. I'm very disappointed in the people who ran this program for me and didn't catch the problem" before qualifying began. She starts 21st.
With Airton Dare out of the #5 Conseco Panoz G Force/Toyota after crashing heavily earlier tonight and being treated at Parkland Memorial Hospital nearby (he has a broken right femur and humerus), A.J. Foyt Racing is, apparently, fielding Jaques Lazier in a #5 Dallara/Toyota for Saturday night's race. Lazier has not run in the car but is listed as the final, 22nd starter for the Bombardier 500K event.
With only three rookies in the field, Roger Yasukawa (starting 11th), Dan Wheldon (13th) and A.J. Foyt IV (14th) the grid is knowledgeable about racing at this tricky banked oval. But many have no time in an Indy car at night, so another variable is in play.
After a full day of waiting, coupled with very protracted practice and a hurried qualifying session, the 22 stars of the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series are hoping the weather will clear sufficiently to take advantage of their allotted practice time Friday afternoon. The next time these travel this oval at night comes when the green flags fly to start the Bombardier 500K on Saturday night.