IPS: Cunningham fastest on Friday in St. Pete

The top six drivers in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series set their best lap of the day in the afternoon session with Wade Cunningham topping the daily speed chart after touring the 1.8-mile St Petersburg street circuit at an average speed of 93.221...

The top six drivers in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series set their best lap of the day in the afternoon session with Wade Cunningham topping the daily speed chart after touring the 1.8-mile St Petersburg street circuit at an average speed of 93.221 mph. Despite setting the fastest lap in both sessions, the young New Zealander is confident he can find more speed for Saturday's qualifying. "Now that we've got a bunch of data to work with, we can actually make some decisions and go for it tomorrow."

Of the three Pro Series drivers that have previously competed on the St. Petersburg street circuit, Jeff Simmons set the second fastest lap of the day at 93.192 mph. "We had a lot of problems when we started off," said Simmons. "We had mechanical problems and we wasted a fair amount of our first session."

"In the second session I was just getting into a rhythm and we were having problems with the brakes. The brakes went out in the front and all I had was rear brakes and I almost hit the tire wall. We got that sorted out and finally got a few laps there at the end that we can look at for data. I think we'll be good for tomorrow."

As for the advantage of having competed at St. Petersburg in 2003, "it's gone," said Simmons. "Because of the problems we had this morning, everyone got that back right away."

Al Unser who raced here in the Barber Dodge Series was fourth and Chris Festa who competed in the Fran Am Series ended the day seventh overall.

Early in the first practice session Festa posted a lap at 91.155 placing him atop the morning speed chart but the young driver from Atlanta was sidelined after a total of ten laps when fluid leaked from his car causing the rear tires to lose grip and the car to spin into the wall. "The session was going really well when all of a sudden going through turn three the car was leaking a bunch of water out of the left sidepod. It got onto the loaded rear tire so it didn't grip the road and around I went."

By the end of the first practice session, Festa's time had slipped to second. His Sam Schmidt Motorsports crew was unable to repair the car for the second session forcing Festa to rely on his morning time, yet he still ended the day seventh overall. "I should be okay. I'll get back out there tomorrow morning and pick up where I left off."

Jaime Camara was the fastest of the three Sam Schmidt Motorsports entries after stopping the clocks at 70.2717 (92.214 mph) to end the day fifth overall. In the second session Camara's crew sent the Brazilian driver out on the same tires he used in the morning session to simulate conditions late in the race. "I was pushing really hard to see what I could do on tires like this," said Camara. "I'm going to have to deal with old tires like these in the race and the car is pretty good."

Camara's car is engineered by Tim Neff who guided Thiago Medeiros to his dominating 2004 championship season.

While competitors went about their business of sorting their cars, trying to find the fastest line around the track by smoothly stringing together each series of turns, series newcomer Marco Andretti had all eyes focused on him as he attempted to wrench every last ounce of performance from his bright orange Vonage sponsored racer. While the grandson of Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti and son of championship driver Michael Andretti ended the day third overall with a speed of 92.596 mph, from the grandstands, the youngest Andretti was the most spectacular driver on the circuit. He threw his car into each turn, finding the limit as his car stepped sideways under acceleration. After practice Andretti reported, "the balance was terrible," yet he continued to drive with fierce determination. If effort and determination count for anything, and it does in racing, Andretti is destined to take his rightful place in the lineage of the Andretti family dynasty.

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Michael Andretti , Sam Schmidt , Mario Andretti , Al Unser Sr. , Marco Andretti , Jeff Simmons , Wade Cunningham , Jaime Camara , Thiago Medeiros