Servia Celebrates New Ride With Fast Laps

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 14 2009

Oriol Servia prepares to head out onto the track at Indy on Thursday.

Oriol Servia prepares to head out onto the track at Indy on Thursday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Driving with a sense of relief, Oriol Servia turned his first laps of the month around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Thursday as the second week of practice cranked up for the 93rd Indianapolis 500.

Servia, named to drive the No. 17 Rahal Letterman DAFCA Special Dallara/Honda on Wednesday, was fastest among 11 drivers who will attempt to qualify this weekend for the May 24 event. Servia’s top lap of 221.353 mph was seventh overall during a session led by Brazilian Mario Moraes, who qualified seventh last weekend.

Moraes, who led his first laps in the IndyCar Series during last year’s Indy 500, recorded a best lap Thursday of 40.4061 seconds/222.739 mph around the 2.5-mile oval in the No. 5 KV Racing Technology/ Votorantim Dallara/Honda. Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, who qualified second on Pole Day, was second-fast at 222.406 mph in the No. 6 Dallara/Honda. And Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, who earned his third Indy 500 pole Saturday by ousting Briscoe, was third at 222.395 mph in his No. 3 Dallara/Honda.

Twenty-two positions in the traditional 33-car field were filled last weekend. The final 11 spots are scheduled to be filled via four-lap/10-mile qualifying runs Saturday. “Bump Day” is Sunday, when the slowest-qualified car in the field will be “On the Bubble” and eligible to be knocked out by a faster car.

“It’s been a crazy last three months,” said Servia, who qualified 25th and finished 11th as an Indy 500 rookie for KV Racing Technology last May. “Everyone has been asking me today if there’s any pressure being a last-week and reduced program. I haven’t felt this relieved in a long time. Finally I am in a car, and I know I’m going to be in the race. I’m in a great team, and there are great people around me. I felt great right away from the first lap. We want to take one step at a time, but right now, I’m really excited and happy.”

Rahal Letterman Racing, led by 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal, is seeking the team’s  sixth consecutive top-10 finish in the race. RLR won the 2004 Indianapolis 500 with driver Buddy Rice and fielded cars for Chase Rookies of the Year Danica Patrick in 2005 and Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2008.

“When you are driving for Rahal Letterman, you better step on it,” said Servia, the Spaniard who finished ninth in IndyCar Series points last year based on seven top-10 finishes. “They won this race in 2004, and honestly, the car felt great the moment I stepped into it. That makes the job of the driver a lot easier. It’s only our first day. Hopefully, we have another dry day tomorrow, so we can prepare for qualifying and just keep the focus on the last lap of a 500-mile race. It’s probably the most important race of my life, so I’m very happy with the way things have started.”

Townsend Bell, a two-time Indy 500 starter, was second-fast (10th overall) among the non-qualified drivers at 220.938 mph. It also was Bell’s first practice of the month. “It was a good day,” said Bell, driver of the No. 8 Herbalife-KV Racing Technology Dallara/Honda. “The team’s very strong, and we’re happy to have the car running pretty respectably on the first day. I’m really thrilled with the general balance that we have. People on this team are great, and that makes it really easy for me to do my job in the car.

“Things weren’t all there, but mostly there, so we just have to continue to tweak it. I hope we can be the 23rd qualifier in terms of being the fastest of the guys left to get in. I think we’ve got the car to do it. I’m just keeping my head down right now, really just focused on the race setup, and we’ll worry about qualifying as we get closer to that day.”

Meanwhile, Conquest Racing and Indy rookie Alex Tagliani returned for the first time since the Canadian crashed last weekend. Tagiliani posted a top speed of 218.986 mph, good for fourth among the non-qualified drivers and 21st overall.

“We made a really good change at the end of the session that moved us into 21st place,” said Tagliani, driver of the No. 34 Rexall Edmonton Indy Dallara/Honda. “Prior to that we were struggling a little bit, there was a lot of wind all day and at one point you start underestimating yourself and second-guessing yourself, thinking that it may just be a question of confidence. But the change that we made at the end suddenly gave me a car that felt good to me and I got my confidence back in the car at that point. Too bad that it was late in the session, but hopefully the weather will be nice tomorrow and we can get back out there and continue on what we started.”

Another non-qualified Indy 500 rookie, Robert Doornbos, turned 68 laps with a top speed of 218.429 mph.

“It was good to get back in the car, get back to work,” said Doornbos, driver of the 06T Newman/Haas/Lanigan Dallara/Honda. “It was horrible watching other drivers play and have fun while I was in my bus. Unfortunately we had a bad day. We seemed to be going the wrong direction with the setup a little bit and I haven’t been enjoying driving the car.  The wind condition was a bit tricky today as well. 

“The speed is definitely in the car. This is the same car that we did good things with during Rookie Orientation and over the next days we proved to be in the top-11. Now we just need to show it again, it’s somewhere in the car.  We’re trying to find the sweet spot for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We’re going to work hard overnight and should have a good day tomorrow.”

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s John Andretti, who suffered a heavy crash late Sunday in practice, returned to the track in his No. 43 Richard Petty Window World Dallara/Honda with a top speed of 218.721 mph. Andretti was bumped from the top 22 qualifiers after posting a four-lap average of 221.109 mph. 

”We need to go out and set a good platform with the car,” said Andretti, a nine-time Indy 500 starter. “We tried a totally different setup with the chassis. We didn’t go all the way with it. Now, we can go all the way tomorrow with those settings. I think the car is definitely better now. We can work our way to the proper speed. We’re not as rushed as last week when we tried to make the Top 22. I think we have a good car now.”

Dreyer & Reinbold’s  Milka Duno, a two-time Indy 500 starter, also returned in the No. 23 CITGO DRR Dallara/Honda. The Venezuelan, who was bumped from the field last Sunday, completed 39 laps with a best speed of 217.936 mph.

“We continue to work on the car and make it better,” said Duno, whose first race of the 2009 IndyCar season produced a 16th-place finish at Kansas Speedway last month. “We hoped to go a bit faster today, so I’m a little disappointed.  We keep making a lot of changes and we will try again for tomorrow and hopefully we will be a little bit faster.”

Dreyer & Reinbold also welcomed rookie Mike Conway back to Gasoline Alley, as the Englishman continues to recover from a mild concussion suffered last Saturday in a practice crash. Conway, 25, will be examined Friday morning by Dr. Michael Olinger, medical director for the Indy Racing League, for possible release on Friday afternoon.  Conway spent Sunday night in Methodist Hospital for observation and was released Monday morning.   

Teammate Davey Hamilton, the 22nd qualifier in the No. 44 HP Kingdom Racing Dallara/Honda, logged some shakedown laps in Conway’s No. 24 Purex Dreyer & Reinbold entry in preparation for Conway’s return to practice on Friday.

“It was good to be back at the circuit to see the guys and catch up,” Conway said. “It was also good to have Davey get a run in my car and make sure it’s good to go for tomorrow if we are allowed out. I feel fine and back to normal now. For the last couple of days I felt a bit sore and achy, but that’s to be expected at that speed and impact. I’m raring to go now, so let me at it. I have to get the all-clear tomorrow and then I’ll be ready to go.”

Meantime, Hamilton took out his qualified car for race setup running and logged 45 laps with a best speed of 218.977 mph.

“Our car is actually getting better for race trim,” said Hamilton, who finished  ninth at IMS in 2007 and 14th last year with Vision Racing. “I feel like we need to gain another half-a-mile an hour. We’re at 219 and I think we need to be at 219 and-a-half, so we just need to work on that. The next step is to run in heavy traffic and see what it does. I feel confident and we aren’t way out to lunch, but I’m not happy with where we’re at.  We’ll make some changes for tomorrow and I think we’ll be OK.

“Mike will be in good shape, too. We only ran seven or eight laps on his car to shake it down. It’s very conservative for him right now. We just wanted to make sure the back is locked down so that he can gain his confidence back. The car felt good and solid. As soon as he gets in I guarantee he’ll be in the 219 to 222 range right off of the bat and he will be fine for qualifying.”   

A total of 48 cars currently are at the Speedway and have passed technical inspection. Thirty-four drivers have been on-track to-date and turned 1,937 laps Thursday, and 7,562 laps this month. Raphael Matos turned 85 laps Thursday and has compiled 334 laps this month, most of any driver. There were two cautions Thursday for a total of 19 minutes.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 14 2009
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