News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Auto Racing

May 16, 2010

Castroneves leads way in second day of Indy 500 practice

INDIANAPOLIS — Despite threatening weather and a few sprinkles Sunday, veterans and rookies alike turned laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Three-time winner Helio Castroneves paced both the field and Team Penske with a fast lap of 227.046, nearly a mile an hour faster than Scott Dixon, whose Target Chip Ganassi car pulled a 226.202 while his teammate Dario Franchitti recorded a 226.044.

“Despite the weather, with it raining off and on, we were still able to work on some areas to make the car better for the race. It’s always good to be out there learning something. On the fast lap, I just put myself in a good position to get a good draft, and we wound up with a faster lap than yesterday,” said Castroneves.

Dixon agreed that drafting played a part.

“I think everyone had pretty big tows to get to those speeds. I think for the first two days we wanted to maintain that we only ran one set of tires. We’re trying to hold back on the tires a lot for later in the week when we really need to go for speed and can concentrate on qualifying without any sort of drawbacks with not being able to use the tires we want to use,” he said. “We had a couple of runs [Saturday] in the backup car and a couple of runs today in the primary car just to make sure everything works”

Several teams worked on race setup because of the tightened practice and qualifying schedule. Franchitti put less than 30 laps on both his primary and backup car.

“For qualifying and the race, we have to make sure the Target car has a nice balance in it so we can trim it out and run well in traffic,” he noted. “We’ll work on both because of the compacted schedule now. We’re going to be busy; hope the weather cooperates.”

John Andretti, in collaboration with Andretti Autosports and Richard Petty Racing, was another working on setup. “We really focused on running race setups today,” he said. “We haven’t gone into qualifying runs yet. I think we’ve got a really good balance on the Window World Dallara. We got in some traffic, moved around and just tried a couple of different things to test downforce.”

Unfortunately one driver has to have the distinction of being the first to tag the wall at Indy. This year’s recipient was Panther Racing’s Dan Wheldon.

Just before 4:30 p.m., Wheldon did a half spin, then hit the outside retaining wall exiting Turn 4. The car sustained damage on the right side. He bruised his right foot, but will be re-evaluated later.

“I’m not 100-percent sure what happened,” he said. “We’ll have to go back and look at the data. It’s obviously not the way you want to start the second day at Indianapolis. I think when I went into the wall it banged my foot against the side of the tub. Just bruising. Nothing big.”

All seven rookies hoping for a slot in this year’s race completed their Rookie Orientation Program. Of those seven Jay Howard, Sarah Fisher Racing’s second entry, posted a fast lap of 222.789. Simona De Slivestro followed with a 221.370 and Takumo Sato posted a 220.235.

“[ROP] lets us go out there with as minimum cars as possible, get the feel of track and the car. Then for the rest of the month, it’s game on,” said Howard.

Rookies must complete four phases with 10 laps at different speeds, beginning with 200-205 mph and ending with more than 215 mph. “It’s a little frustrating, especially when the car feels so much better when you’re going faster,” Howard said. “But rules are the rules, and we need to abide by them.”

With the ROP behind her, De Silvestro understood a little more about how Indianapolis differs from other ovals. “I’m sure [today] will be pretty different with all of the people around me, but I really enjoyed it. I think the track is really different. It makes a little more sense to me to think that the corners are like really fast road course corners as compared to Kansas, where there was a lot of banking.”

She has not let the hype of five women competing this year to bother her.

“This year has been new to me to be racing against other women drivers. I’ve been racing the past five races with Danica [Patrick] and with Sarah [Fisher] in the last one. It’s not really a focus for me to be beating them. I’m here to do my job and I’m a driver. So, I’m not really comparing what they’re doing to what I am doing.”

A total of 44 cars are currently at the Speedway; 36 have passed technical inspection and two are in the process. Thirty-six drivers have been on the track to date and turned 1,375 laps Sunday and 1,972 laps in two days. Mario Romancini turned 117 laps Sunday, more than any other driver.

Practice continues from noon to 6 p.m. today; gates open at 9 a.m.

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