IRL: Wheldon wired in Chicago

Indy Racing League IndyCar Series Firestone Indy 225 winner Dan Wheldon picked up where he left off as practice for race ...

Indy Racing League IndyCar Series Firestone Indy 225 winner Dan Wheldon picked up where he left off as practice for race #14, the Delphi Indy 300 began today, with two test sessions to help 22 drivers and their teams discern the right set-up for Sunday's race.

Wheldon, driving the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda posted a quick afternoon lap of 216.466mph (25.2788 seconds) to lead all comers. "My car was good," the British import said after heading both morning and afternoon time sheets. "I got a very good draft to set that fast lap and now we're just working on our race stuff. You qualify on your own but you race in a pack of 22, so you've got to make sure you're ready for that."

Vitor Meira, who lost the Argent Mortgage Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway by the second closest margin in IndyCar Series (0,0051 seconds) to teammate Buddy Rice, drove the second quickest lap around the 1.5-mile D-shaped Chicagoland Speedway oval of 215.851mph (25.3508 seconds). Meira was happy to be "back on the 1.5-mile oval. We are able to run many lines here," he said. "At a track like this you have to have a strategy and game plan and I am excited to come back after a couple of short track races."

The sole member of the four-car Andretti Green Racing squadron who has not yet won a 2004 race, Bryan Herta took third place this afternoon in the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda with a quick tour of 215.766mph (25.3608 seconds) on his 38th of 62 total laps. "So far, so good," Herta intoned. "We had some good running in the pack today so I'm pretty pleased." Herta was third in last year's contest here, the closest 1-2-3 finish in IRL history.

On a clear, nearly perfect day for motorsports with temps in the high 70s and absolutely clear skies, 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice logged the fourth best lap of the day at 215.667mph (25.3724 seconds) in his #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda, the twin to Meira's Rahal Letterman Racing entry. Rice "ran through our program with both qualifying and race setups. Qualifying doesn't mean a lot at this place; it's all aobut race positioning and getting in the proper place at the proper time."

Despite sitting out the morning session to do penance for his pit road mishap during the Nazareth Speedway race two weeks ago, Sam Hornish Jr. quickly brought the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota up to speed with a quick lap of 215.536mph (25.3879 seconds) this afternoon. "We're a bit behind, but we're happy with how everything went this afternoon," Hornish decreed. "The car was good overall and handled well in traffic. This is a race that you can win from anywhere on the grid."

Dario Franchitti, too, had to sit out the morning session and was sixth quickest this afternoon in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda at 215.498mph (25.3923 seconds). The Scot, who has turned into his AGR team's short- track specialist after winning both Milwaukee and Pikes Peak thought his machine was "pretty close to where we need to be."

Another driver pleased with his day, Scott Dixon earned the sixth quickest speed in his #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota with his afternoon lap of 215.332mph (25.4119 seconds). "The car is pretty good," the 2003 IndyCar Series champ admitted, "but we're looking to get a bit more speed out of it right now. There's a tail wind on the backstretch and the bump will make it a bit tricky for qualifying. If practice is any indication, where you saw how the cars are running very closely and side by side, the race is going to live up to its reputation for delivering excitement."

Second quickest in the morning session, current point leader Tony Kanaan had to rest on that fast lap of 214.875mph (25.4660 seconds) and admitted, "We were working on race stuff during both sessions. A lot of people got a good draft, but I didn't. I feel good about everything," because his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda "is pretty consistent."

After winning the Belterra Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway, Adrian Fernandez is pleased to come to Chicagoland Speedway, a very similar circuit. He was ninth overall with a lap of 214.582mph (25.5007 seconds) after logging only ten laps in the morning with an engine problem. The League permitted Fernandez some laps with the first group, which helped the Mexican ace. "In the afternoon the car felt fine. I was driving in traffic and everyone was together in a pack. It looks like the race is going to be very tight."

Tenth for the day went to Helio Castroneves' #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota with a lap of 214.326mph (25.5312 seconds) in the afternoon. The Brazilian, winner of back to back Indy 500s thought, "We had a good day today and we made a lot of progress during both practices," working solely on race setups. "The car is handling well and is very consistent, which will definitely be a necessity for the race."

The first Chevy runner, Tomas Scheckter took 11th in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet, using his morning lap (he was third in that session). Scott Sharp, highest finisher in last night's Richmond IROC race was 12th in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota, while young A.J. Foyt IV was definitely on the pace in his #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota, setting the 13th best lap of the day this afternoon.

Recently signed for another season, Darren Manning was 14th in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, while Alex Barron turned the 15th quickest lap in his #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. Rookie Kosuke Matsuura took 16th in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda, followed by Felipe Giaffone, 17th in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevy.

Tora Takagi was 18th with the #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota, rookie contender Ed Carpenter, who drove his first IndyCar Series race here last September took 19th with the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy. Rookie Mark Taylor was 20th in the #13 Access Motorsports Panoz G Force/Honda, Jaques Lazier 21st in the Patrick Racing Dallara/Chevy and Townsend Bell, in his first race at this track was a caboose in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy.

The IndyCar Series drivers executed 1813 trouble-free laps over the two sessions as they prepared for a late-morning qualifying session tomorrow (11AM CDT) to set the grid for the Delphi Indy 300 on Sunday

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Darren Manning , Felipe Giaffone , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Townsend Bell , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske