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Andretti Sets Pace At Indy Practice

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 7 2009
Marco Andretti was fastest at Indy Thursday.

Marco Andretti was fastest at Indy Thursday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

RacinToday.com

Marco Andretti topped a list of IndyCar Series heavy-hitters quickly working up to speed during the first full day of practice Thursday for the 93rd Indianapolis 500.

Andretti turned a hot lap of 39.9152 seconds/225.478 mph around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, as 31 drivers posted lap times. Rookies and drivers needing a refresher at the Speedway practiced three hours on Tuesday, but got less than an hour of practice time Wednesday before rain washed out the session. On Thursday, the track opened up more than two hours earlier than originally scheduled to make up for some of the lost practice time.

“It’s definitely a good start,” said Andretti, driver of the No. 26 Team Venom Energy Dallara/Honda fielded by Andretti Green Racing. “It definitely shows that we have the speed. On our own, we’re still not quite sure. We got a lot of tows (in the draft) today, which is a good thing, but a lot of times we don’t know where we truly stack up. But I’m really happy with the car balance. And I think that’s the key _ getting the balance right and being able to take a trim (off downforce). That’s the name of the game. We’ll have to see if we can keep up with it, if not get a little better.”

Two-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves was second-fastest at 225.237 mph, with Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe third. Reigning Indy 500 and series champion Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth, followed by teammate Dario Franchitti, the 2007 Indy 500 winner and series champion. The top 27 drivers were separated by less than one second.

“Just to be here again in Indianapolis, it’s a dream come true,” said Castroneves, alluding to his recent acquittal on federal tax evasion charges. “It’s much more special this year, everything that happened the last six months. Just to be here, I appreciate it so more, the fans, especially. I feel welcome, as always.

“The Team Penske boys did a super job. The car is just superb out of the truck, just super good. We wanted to take advantage of the day; it was just awesome. Right now we feel very solid, and it’s going to be very tight every day the next few days, especially qualifying.”

The coveted pole position and top 11 starters in the traditional field of 33 will be determined during Saturday’s Pole Day qualifications.

Dixon figures to be a prime contender for pole in his No. 9 Dallara/Honda. “It’s good to be back out there,” said Dixon, who qualified on-pole here last year at 226.366 mph. “It was definitely a lot of fun. The weather was kind to everybody today. It was good to get some laps in, and I think a lot of people got a lot of laps in considering the short schedule. Tomorrow is already ‘Fast Friday.’ We had a lot of stuff to get through, and I think we got through a majority of our major changes.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay was involved in the only incident of the day when the No. 21 Vision Racing car did a half-spin exiting Turn 2 and hit the wall early in the afternoon. Hunter-Reay was uninjured.

A total of 39 cars are currently at the Speedway and 31 have passed technical inspection. Thirty-one drivers have been on the track to-date and turned 2,199 laps Thursday and 2,601 laps this month. Brazilian Raphael Matos turned 132 laps Thursday and has recorded 212 laps this month, most of any driver. There were five cautions for a total of 45 minutes Thursday.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 7 2009
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