Sunday, May 16, 2010

Countdown to Indy (#15): First Day Practice Speeds

Photo Credit: Dan Helrigel

In 15 days, the Brickyard classic Indianapolis 500 will allow 33 drivers and teams to compete for the 94th time for open wheel racing's greatest accomplishment. However, with the race still in the distance, IZOD IndyCar teams arrive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday May 15th for their first day of practice. As could be expected, the initial two-hour practice for veteran drivers was dominated by the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series superteams.

Setting the early mark on Saturday, 2009 Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves hustled his #3 Penske Racing car around the 2.5 mile track for a 39.7170 second lap time. Translating to an average speed of 226.535 miles per hour, Penske Racing is vying for their 11th Indy 500 win and Helio Castroneves is contending to become the 4th driver find his face on the Borg-Warner trophy 4 times. "It's always good when you start with a positive wave, there is certainly still a lot of work to go." Castroneves reacted to his top time. As a team, the 3-car Penske Racing appears to be playing safe in Indy 500 preparations. Ryan Briscoe settled in 9th and Will Power placed 11th on the day.

Showing to be a stronger collective in the veteran practice, the two-car Target/Chip Ganassi Racing organization showed themselves to be the perfect rival to spoil Roger Penske's dreams of the 2010 Indy 500 victory. The #10 car of Dario Franchitti was 2nd fastest with a lap time just .0120 seconds slower than the #3 Penske Racing machine. Teammate Scott Dixon in the #9 car resided in 3rd place more than 5/100th of a second slower than Franchitti. "Like Helio, pretty solid day, short day but good. It was a good day for Team Target, myself and Scott. To have the car feeling so good was really encouraging." Franchitti commented post-practice. Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon are both former winners at the Brickyard.

Looking at the Day 1 practice time sheet, the veteran driver Tony Kanaan's name appeared 5 times with the car number of every Andretti Autosport team. Kanaan would drive a Dallara-Honda from each team to determine a car set-up baseline for him and the other drivers. The fastest lap for Kanaan on day 1 was performed in John Andretti's #43 car at 40.0369 seconds or 224.793 miles per hour. Providing the #43 team with a car proven good enough for 5th fastest, Tony Kanaan regular #11 gig is shown to be just as strong only one spot behind on the time sheet.

While 8 of the top 10 positions in the veteran's practice session was held by the league's three superteams, the well-established Panther Racing IndyCar team succeeded in embedding themselves on the top of the time charts. 2005 Indy 500 winning driver Dan Wheldon recorded a 4th fastest time in the #4 car while the #20 Indy-only effort driven by Ed Carpenter provided a 7th quickest time in the practice. Panther Racing, loyal to the IRL since 1998, were making their presence felt with a two-car effort in their 12th attempt to claim an elusive Brickyard victory.

With the veteran practice concluded after 2 P.M., the seven rookies began what was supposed to be 3 hours of practice known as Rookie Orientation. Required to perform 10 laps within 4 speed brackets, Ana Beatriz, Simona de Silvestro, and Takuma Sato became the first rookies to pass phase 2 of the Rookie Orientation requirements. Along with the 7 rookies making their first Indy 500 attempts, 4 drivers (Davey Hamilton, Tomas Scheckter, Graham Rahal, A.J. Foyt IV and Townsend Bell) run what was known as a Refresher Test . The Rookie Orientation was cut 30 minutes short due to rain showers over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Besides focused on setting the fast lap times needed to earn their way into the 33-car Indy 500 field, drivers are paying also interested in determining where their cars measure in the longer runs "It seems to be very interesting this year: Even if you are away from another car, the draft is tremendous. It is going to play a lot of tricks during the month of May." Castroneves provided an observation after day 1 practice.

For Sunday, another set of practices will bring the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to life as rookies prepare to complete their Rookie Orientation and the veteran teams work on fine-tuning their race cars for last week's qualifying.

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