IRL: Wheldon quickest in heavy practice traffic at Indy

IRL: Wheldon quickest in heavy practice traffic at Indy
May 19, 2005, 5:32 AM

The first practice following MBNA Pole Day took place over six hours today on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, as 29 drivers performed a whopping 2499 laps in preparation for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race set for May 29. There ...

The first practice following MBNA Pole Day took place over six hours today on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, as 29 drivers performed a whopping 2499 laps in preparation for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race set for May 29.

There were two new faces amongst the group as Jimmy Kite (#91 Ethanol/Hemelgarn Dallara/Toyota/Firestone) and Kenny Brack in the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda made their first laps as stand-ins for Paul Dana and Buddy Rice, respectively.

By the end of the afternoon, Dan Wheldon owned the $2500 Argent Mortgage check awarded to the fastest driver of the practice session, after he took his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda to a quick tow-aided tour of 227.320mph on the Briton's 53rd of 81 laps.

Wheldon was "so upset by my qualifying performance on Sunday, I forgot all about being fast in practice last week. To start 16th was a little disappointing, but we're focused on the race now," said the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series point leader.

Teammate and polesitter Tony Kanaan was second in his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda with his 51st lap of 226.488mph. The 2004 series champ logged a total of 108 laps today working on full tank runs.

Adrian Fernandez made some big gains with his #5 Investment Properties of America Panoz/Honda and ended up third quickest for the day at 226.042mph. After spending his first week back in an Indy car since the season finale last October, Fernandez discovered the team had adjusted the car so that it had limited speed for qualifying. "We found it and now the car is pretty quick," the Mexican said. "I'm pretty happy."

Going two by two, Fernandez' teammate Kosuke Matsuura was fourth in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda after running110 laps this afternoon. His 97th tour of the historic oval at 225.989mph came about two and half hours before the track closed; Matsuura parked it by 4PM. "This is our first full day working on race setup and the times were okay, but sometimes there was too much push or too much loose."

Helio Castroneves' 94th lap (of 120) yielded the fifth best speed (225.976mph) with his #3T Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. The two- time Indy 500 winner "focused 100 percent on preparing for the race."

Dario Franchitti was sixth in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda at 225.865mph as the Scot worked on race setup over his 63 laps; he turned his best on lap 32 and acknowledged he was trying to "run a competitive speed but keep a good feel in the car."

Fastest of the non-qualified cars, Kenny Brack made a triumphant return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, running a total of 129 laps and spending the final three hours of practice in the car. Showing he needed no oilcan to get out his rust, the Swede ran 225.774mph on his 56th lap for seventh. "It was fun," Brack laughed. "We did some procedural things to get the car set up for me and the driving part went really well.

"When the car is well balanced like this, it's easy to drive; when it's not, it's a lot harder. I wouldn't be here," Brack confirmed, "unless it was this particular situation, you know. We worked on race setups all day and looked at different downforce levels. I'm in good shape after working in the gym all winter and I really think I was ready for this around Christmas or New Year's."

At that time in 2004, Brack was still undergoing surgeries from his October 2003 crash at Texas Motor Speedway that nearly took his life. "Emotionally, I thought a lot about doing this and maybe [wife] Anita was not too thrilled. I had a lot of things to contemplate but I feel good to be back."

In a press conference this morning, Rahal Letterman Racing team co-owner Bobby Rahal had mentioned that if Kenny weren't up to it, he would qualify the car. That won't be necessary after Brack's return. "Tomorrow I want to do another 130 laps, Friday I'll do 140 and we take it from there."

Scott Sharp called it a really great day after turning the eighth best speed of 225.410mph in his #8T Delphi Fernandez Panoz/Honda. "I think this is the most I have ever worked on race setup and we have only had one day," the veteran exclaimed. "I have never gone through as much stuff as we did today or run as many laps or had as much traffic and that's what it's all about!" Sharp turned 111 laps; his best came on lap 88.

Danica Patrick, too, worked with her spare #16T Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda and logged the ninth best lap of 225.260mph on her 57th of 77 laps. "We ran full fuel and tried to run in traffic; it was all aimed at learning how the car is reacting in traffic and I'm pretty happy," she said.

Vitor Meira rounded out the top ten in his #17T Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda, running 225.098mph on his 102nd of 128 laps.

Of the drivers who have not yet qualified for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Ryan Briscoe was 18th in the #33T Target/Pioneer Panoz/Toyota, Jaques Lazier took 19th with his #21 Playa Del Racing Panoz/Toyota, Patrick Carpentier earned 20th in his #83T Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota.

Lazier called it "an extremely successful day; it's about time we had a day go our way and could truly evaluate what the car needed." Carpentier felt his team "really made some improvements today. At the end I could run 20 laps wide open."

Indy veteran Jimmy Kite, who was announced this morning as Dana's substitute left right after practice for Charlotte where he'll practice tomorrow for Friday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.

Kite intends to return to IMS for some Friday practice before racing later in the evening. "It really helps to be here today. I have time on Friday, a half-day on Saturday and all day Sunday to get it right." He was 26th fastest this afternoon.

Already qualified for the race, Scott Dixon continued to work with the #9 Target Dallara/Toyota and was 17th on the day. Bumped on Sunday, Alex Barron thinks "we got ahead of the game on setup today" for his #51T Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota; the Californian was 22nd fastest.

Marty Roth logged 76 laps in his #25 Roth Racing Dallara/Chevrolet and was 23rd quickest; A.J. Foyt IV turned only 37 laps in the #14 ABC Supply Dallara/Toyota for 24th while Larry Foyt was 25th with the #48T Panoz/Toyota from father A.J. Foyt Jr.'s stable.

Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter (#20T Dallara/Toyota) and Jeff Ward (#22) were the two slowest cars practicing in 28th and 29th this afternoon.

The weather forecasts call for thunderstorms tomorrow, which will make life difficult for rookie Arie Luyendyk Jr., who is hoping to do his Rookie Orientation Program in order to qualify Greg Beck's #98 Curb Records Dallara/Chevrolet for the Memorial Day classic.

Wet weather would be a setback for everyone here at 16th and Georgetown, but most certainly makes it difficult for the drivers and teams who still need to get into the show.

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