AS PRACTICE BEGINS AT TWIN RING MOTEGI
Three drivers, representing the past four race winners at Twin Ring Motegi, were stashed in the top five of the speed chart as preparations began for the Indy Japan 300.
With a forecast of rain that could wash out final practice and qualifications for the PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award on April 18, the focus during two sessions of practice was on race setup.
Reigning champion Tony Kanaan grabbed the top spot with a quick lap of 27.2453 seconds (200.842 mph) in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven car for Andretti Green Racing. Dixon had a quick lap of 200.390 mph (27.3067) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, while two-time Motegi winner Dan Wheldon (200.250; 27.3259) was third.
Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, the pole sitter last year and points leader coming into the 200-lap race, was fourth (200.032; 27.3556) and Vision Racing’s Ed Carpenter (199.737; 27.3960) was fifth.
POST-PRACTICE NOTES: Buddy Rice and his wife Michelle welcomed their first child, a daughter named Mina, on April 9.
BUDDY RICE: (No. 15 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I was only home for two or three days (of fatherhood), then it was time to get to Japan and the racetrack. It's been good. It's exciting and fun, but there's a big learning curve (to being a dad). We'll see how it is after I get back. I'm home for a few days before Kansas, but then I'll be gone for most of May to do Indy."
*** Ryan Hunter-Reay is racing at Twin Ring Motegi, while his girlfriend Beccy Gordon is competing in the Celebrity Race at the Long Beach Grand Prix in the U.S. Gordon, a off-road racing veteran, is making her first pavement start in the event.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "Yeah it's pretty neat that we're both racing on the same weekend. I just wish we were racing at the same track."
*** Jimmy Vasser won the pole position for Target Chip Ganassi Racing when CART debuted at Twin Ring Motegi in 1998. Now co-owner of KV Racing Technology in the IndyCar Series, Vasser will again be behind the wheel in the Champ Car finale at Long Beach, Calif., this weekend.
*** Emu Australia has signed on as a sponsor of the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car driven by Townsend Bell.
The partial-season entry will see Emu Australia as the primary sponsor for potentially two races -- Milwaukee, and pending a final schedule from the IndyCar Series, Australia. William Rast is the primary sponsor for the other events.
"This is all great news," Bell said of the footwear company. "I can't be any more pleased with the enthusiasm I've received from friends and colleagues wanting to be a part of my IndyCar Series return. Emu Australia is another company that sees the value that the new, unified IndyCar Series brings to the table.”
Bell, who competed at Twin Ring Motegi in 2002 in CART, will make his first start at the track in the IndyCar Series. Bell made his debut with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing at St. Petersburg.
“The amount of racing I've done the last few years has been pretty limited; it's been limited to just the occasional one-off,” he said. “So I feel like I've had more seat time than I can remember, even though it's been pretty limited. So to have a chance to go and run Japan and then hit the month of May with that experience and two races under my belt, to me that's a huge advantage given where I was the last time I raced at Indy in 2006.
“I'm really thankful for the team, Dreyer & Reinbold, to give me the chance. I know they're committed to giving me the best opportunity to succeed, not only at Indy but the races I'll do the rest of the season. Frankly, it's just about finding the starting point and looking to what we can build for the future.”
*** A magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck northern Japan early Thursday morning and it was felt near Twin Ring Motegi.
Several drivers said they slept through the quake, but it did awake several drivers and Indy Racing League officials, including Danica Patrick and IRL founder and CEO Tony George.
DARREN MANNING (No. 14 ABC Supply Co/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "It felt like a washing machine went off in my room. It was like I was on a gentle spin cycle. "
*** FASTEST SPEEDS OF DAY: Pos. Car Name Speed 1. 11 Tony Kanaan 200.842 mph 2. 9 Dan Wheldon 200.390 mph 3. 10 Tony Kanaan 200.250 mph 4. 3 Helio Castroneves 200.032 mph 5. 20 Ed Carpenter 199.737 mph
POST-PRACTICE QUOTES: TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fastest of the day): “Overall, it was OK. We ran a full day and hopefully tomorrow will be better. I’m not quite happy with the balance of the car, but we still have two days to go and a lot of work to do. It’s Turn 4 where I’m having the problem, so we’re trying to make the car better there. Turns 3 and 4 are the key to have a balanced car for the race; that’s where you’re going to make the pass.”
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, second-fastest of the day): "We basically tried to make changes between the sessions to try and make the car better. We came up with a few things because to start off, the car was difficult to drive. We actually ran out of tires with about 10 minutes to go. We had to do another sticker run at the end, which we really didn't want to do, and then we caught some rain, so I don't think we got the optimum speed out of the car. I think we could have easily got into the 201's without the weather. That was the only frustrating part of the last session.
DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, third-fastest of the day): "It was a relatively good day. Unfortunately, we didn't quite get our second set of tires on in that second session. I think what you can see is we've let the car (be) on edge a little more. With that, it's probably good that we did save that set."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fourth-fastest): “Today was an interesting day. The Team Penske car started off good, but then we faced a little problem. That’s why we weren’t able to do as many laps, and obviously, the rain made it a little harder on everyone. But right now, we have a good car for the race and we’ll see what happens with the weather.”
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Menards/Vision Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fifth-fastest): "We had a pretty good couple of practice sessions today and the car ran well. Obviously we are happy to put in times that are good enough for the top-five, but we also want to keep working to go faster. So far this year our oval package has been good for us so the goal now is to keep building off of that and keep improving it. I hope the rain holds off tomorrow so we can try to qualify and see how we stack up with everybody else in qualifying."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, seventh-fastest): “I think we still have a bit of work to do, but it’s been good for me just learning the track again. It’s a pretty difficult circuit. Team Penske spent the day working on the setup, making gains and moving up in the field a little bit as we go. I’m really happy at how we finished after day one.”
*** FRIDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local): 8 a.m. IndyCar Series garage open 10:30 a.m. – Noon IndyCar Series practice (two groups)1:30 p.m. PEAK Motor Oil Pole Qualifying (single car/time of four consecutive laps)3:30 p.m. Autograph Session
NOTE: Schedule subject to change due to weather. *** The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with a unique weekend - two races on two continents - the Indy Japan 300 on April 19 at Twin Ring Motegi and the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 20 on the streets of Long Beach, Calif. Points will be awarded for both races with IndyCar Series drivers participating in Japan and Champ Car World Series competitors in Long Beach. The Motegi race will be telecast in High Definition at 11:59 p.m. (EDT) by ESPN2 on April 18 and re-aired at 3 p.m. (EDT) by ESPN. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, April 18 at 11:30 p.m. (EDT). A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and indycar.com. The Long Beach race will air on April 20 at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) on ESPN2. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season continues April 27 with the Kansas Lottery 100 at Kansas Speedway.