Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ryan Hunter-Reay Tops Tight Friday Practice for Long Beach IndyCar Race

Photo Credit: Jim Haines

For the 3rd time in 4 races to kick off the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season, the open wheel racers will be let loose on a temporary street circuit. A tight but competitive street course, the 1.968 mile Long Beach track hosts some tight, heavy-braking zones that allow daring drivers to attempt gains in position. Following the unfortunately lethargic running of the inaugural Barber Motorsports Park for the IZOD IndyCar Series, drivers will probably be taking stake in knowing the 2010 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is a more familiar open wheel stumping ground.

On Friday, two practice sessions allowed the IZOD IndyCar drivers to let loose. In the late morning first practice, Will Power asserted himself in the Verizon-sponsored #12 Penske Racing car. Though Will Power's 2010 winning streak was broken at Barber Motorsports Park last week, the Australian driver possesses a positive opportunity to restart a streak at Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Competing on the California streets in both Champ Car and the IRL/IndyCar Series, Will Power claimed the distinction of being the last race winner in the Champ Car series by winning the 2008 Long Beach farewall. In last year's race under IRL/IndyCar sanction, Power took pole but would finish 2nd for Dario Franchitti. Posting fast laps behind Power within the first practice session, lap times for Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner Helio Castroneves and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon were less than 0.14 seconds slower.

With fastest laps in the Friday morning session residing above the 1 minute, 11.4 second range, a warmer track surface combined with race crews fine-tuning their Indy cars allowed for a much quicker session of lapping. With 8 drivers clocked at completing laps under 1 minute, 11 seconds, Ryan Hunter-Reay driving the IZOD #37 for Andretti Autosport was almost 8/10th of a second faster than Power's morning mark. Ryan Briscoe rose to the occasion of this second practice also by posting his #6 Penske Racing car in the runner-up spot on the time charts. Second fastest, Briscoe's teammates Will Power as well as Helio Castroneves encountered a slight backslide in their time chart positions settling into 5th and 9th after the session. "We're really pushing each other a lot. There's a really good vibe within." Briscoe responded on the Penske website about the shared comradeship of the 3-car Penske Racing team.

As drivers reduced their lap times in discovering their pinnacle for the weekend, the mid-afternoon practice also saw the field close together. While the top-15 cars were within a 1 second margin to the leader, inside this congested time sheet saw the top-5 runners within less than 1/4 seconds. One driver inside the top-5 for the second practice was the FAZZT Race Team's and their driver Alex Tagliani. Placing seventh fastest in the morning with the session including Tagliani's making minor collision with a turn 5 tire barrier, the Canadian driver mounted an improved 4th place run with his #77 La Capsule Sportive/Adonis Products/Honda Indy Edmonton car.

Photo Credit: Ron McQueeney

Using some artful pit decisions at Barber Motorsport Park to move them from 21st to 10th place by the end of the race, the young team to the IZOD IndyCar Series tour is looking at Long Beach to improve as their season best 6th place at St Petersburg. "Obviously finishing the first day in position four is a great achievement for us. We kind of knew that Long Beach was going to be a more suitable track for our car. We are still in the learning process and I think today we learned a lot and made very good changes to the car." Tagliani commented on the FAZZT Race Team website.

Qualifying for the 2010 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is scheduled for the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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