Andretti fastest at Mid-Ohio

Marco Andretti topped the first day of practice for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by Westfield Insurance at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

            The 2006 Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year posted the fastest lap of the day (1 minute, 7.9120 seconds, 119.699 mph during the second practice session on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn circuit. Andretti’s teammate Tony Kanaan was second (119.488 mph) followed by last year’s pole sitter Helio Castroneves (119.413 mph).

            Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe posted the fourth quickest lap, while defending race winner and IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon was fifth.

PEAK Motor Oil Pole Qualifying presented by AutoZone is set tomorrow.

            Also on July 18, Raphael Matos and Jonny Reid topped practice as Firestone Indy Lights prepares for the Mid-Ohio 100 doubleheader.

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            This is the second IndyCar Series event at Mid-Ohio. Scott Dixon last year’s event. Four Indianapolis 500 winners are entered: Dixon (2008), Dan Wheldon (2005), Buddy Rice (2004) and Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002).

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            The IndyCar Series brings its unique road course qualifying format to Mid-Ohio this weekend. After two practice session featuring all cars today, the field is randomly divided into two groups for tomorrow’s practice and Segment One of qualifying. The random draw occurred this morning prior to the driver’s meeting when the drivers drew either a red chip or a blue chip out of a bag. Drivers with a red chip will be in Group One. Drivers with a blue chip will be in Group Two.

            In Segment One of qualifying, each group receives 20 minutes of track time. The fastest six cars from each group advance to Segment Two, while the remaining cars are assigned positions 13-26. Group One drivers will occupy the odd-numbered positions (13, 15, 17...) while Group Two drivers will occupy the even-numbered positions (14, 16, 18...) based on their fastest lap times.

During Segment Two, the 12 advancing cars receive 15 minutes of track time. The fastest six advance to the Firestone Fast Six Shootout while the remaining six cars are ranked in positions 7-12 based on their fastest laps.

            During the Firestone Fast Six, the six cars receive 10 minutes of track time, with a guarantee of five minutes of green flag time. Each car receives one additional set of Firestone Firehawk tires for use during this final segment. At the end of the session, the cars are ranked 1-6 based on their fastest laps.

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            Each IndyCar Series pit stall is 35 feet in length, shortest this season.

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            E.J. Viso returns to IndyCar Series action this weekend driving the No. 33 PDVSA HVM Racing entry after missing the race at Nashville due to a case of the mumps.

            E.J. VISO: “I was flying from Watkins Glen to Indianapolis. During the flight, I had a little bit of pain in my neck. I thought it was the normal muscle pain after the race. I just took a couple of Tylenol and thought I would be fine the next day. When I woke up, I saw myself in the mirror – I looked like a balloon. I called my team, and we went to the medical center. We all thought it was mumps, but they took my blood to check. Tuesday morning they told me it was mumps.”

(About where he could have caught it) “We travel so much I really don’t know. It could have been in an airport, a restaurant. It’s a virus. You can get it anywhere.” (About a week of isolation) “I was so bored in the hotel in Indianapolis. I didn’t have much energy, but I thought I was going to be able to race (at Nashville) – that was the plan, but suddenly everything got a bit more serious. The American health department got involved, and it turned into a big deal. They preferred us not to take the risk, and I understood that part. Every meal room service. I was with some friends. They had the vaccination, so they were fine. They were sure that they could be in contact with me. I slept a lot, and I think I rented over 14 or 15 movies in the hotel.”

(About not racing at Nashville) “I’m disappointed that I didn’t race last weekend. We lost some very important points. I was right next to Will (Power) to pass him in the points, and now it’s going to be tough. But, it was a decision that was out of my hands and out of the team’s hands.”

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            Vision Racing will bring its Vision Racing Wellness Tour sponsored by Lilly and CardioChek to Mid-Ohio to offer free diabetes education and cholesterol screenings to participants, volunteers and spectators.            Screenings will take place from 9 a.m-2 p.m. July 20 at the Vision Racing Wellness Tour mobile marketing unit located at the Indy Fan Zone Area in the midway.

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            Raphael Matos will compete in three races for Andretti Green Racing at Mid-Ohio this weekend. The team announced that Matos will compete in both Firestone Indy Lights races (July 19-20) in the No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Inc. car along with the July 19 race in its No. 26 XM Satellite Radio LMP2 entry on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn circuit. Supplementing the races will be practice and qualifications.

            RAPHAEL MATOS: “I don’t think it will be a big issue because I know what to expect from both cars because I tested both cars at Mid-Ohio and it is a track I know well. We had successful tests there, and I think both teams are well-prepared for the challenge. The biggest challenge for me will be on the physical side. I’ve been prepared all year long, and I think I’m ready for it. I think it will be very important to be focused on the Indy Lights since we’re in the battle for the championship, and at the same time I want to help Acura and Andretti Green get another victory with the prototype team.

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            Each IndyCar Series car receives 10 sets of Firestone Firehawks dry-condition slicks and four sets of rain tires for the three-day weekend. The dry slicks are the softest in the Firestone road-course inventory and will provide plenty of grip for Mid-Ohio’s twists and turns. The same tire spec also will be used at Infineon in August. The rain tires selected are the softer street-course rains.

            AL SPEYER (Executive Director, Firestone Racing): “It's quite a transition to shift from Nashville's 1.33-mile concrete superspeedway, which requires Firestone Racing's most durable tire compound and construction, to the tight twists and turns of Mid-Ohio, for which our engineers will bring our softest road-course specification. Last year's race at Mid-Ohio was an unqualified success on every level, and we will be returning with the same tire that was used here in 2007. The teams and drivers are facing a daunting challenge with six diverse races in as many weeks, but week in and week out, they know they can rely on their Firestone Firehawk tires to provide them with the grip and durability they need to tackle any track configuration and surface."

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            The No. 17 Ethanol-sponsored Rahal Letterman Racing car is carrying the Driver’s Edge logo this weekend.

            The Driver’s Edge National Tour conducts free driving safety clinics for drivers 15 to 21 years old and works with local law enforcement to educate drivers about the effects of impaired driving, use of seat belts and avoiding distractions while driving. Driver’s Edge is an official promotional partner of the IndyCar Series.

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            Justin Zwick, quarterback for the Columbus Destroyers of the Arena Football League, took a ride in the Indy Racing Experience two-seater on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio course with driver Stephan Gregoire. Zwick, 6-4, 230 lbs., barely fit in the car.

            JUSTIN ZWICK: “I always stuck to sports like football and basketball. I was so big, I always just thought racing was out of the question, and I barely made the cut. It was amazing. I thought my helmet was going to fly off a couple times.”

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            The Bobby Rahal Foundation and Rahal Letterman Racing are staging a raffle in the midway at Mid-Ohio to raise funds for the Nationwide Children's Hospital of Columbus, Ohio.            Autographed items include firesuits from Bobby Rahal and Tony Kanaan, diecast cars, hats and even items signed by team co-owner David Letterman. Winners will be notified July 21.

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            Wade Cunningham is driving the No. 24 Alliance Motorsports car in the Firestone Indy Lights races. He was runner-up to Richard Antinucci in last year’s inaugural Firestone Indy Lights event at Mid-Ohio for AFS Racing.

            Cunningham, the 2005 series champion, has competed in four events with Brian Stewart Racing this season (three top-10 finishes, with a best of third in the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway).            TYCE CARLSON (Co-owner, Alliance Motorsports): “We are very fortunate to have Wade drive for us this weekend, and are excited to reunite him with Doug Zister, who is our engineer, and who was a part of Wade's previous successes in this series.

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            J.R. Hildebrand, driver of the No. 25 Allied Building Products entry in Firestone Indy Lights, is making his first series start at Mid-Ohio, however, he has visited victory lane at the facility numerous times.

            J.R. HILDEBRAND: “I've won all four F2000 races that I've been in at Mid-Ohio. That was in 2006. I won an SCCA Atlantic race there at the end of 2006 as well. I clinched the F2000 championship at Mid-Ohio by winning the third race there.”

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            Tim Coffeen, the chief mechanic and left front tire changer on the #02 car driven by Justin Wilson, was struck by the wing of the car during the first practice session. He was treated for minor injuries at the infield care center and released.

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            Veteran IndyCar Series driver Bryan Herta has joined Vision Racing as a road-course consultant. Herta will be working with drivers A.J. Foyt IV and Ed Carpenter and the engineering staff as the team prepares for four more road/street races this season.

            BRYAN HERTA: “This is a different kind of challenge for me, and I’m not setting off on this looking to become a driving coach, instructor or something like that. It was an opportunity to start building a relationship with Vision Racing. I’m pretty open-minded about where that could go. (I’ll work) with Anthony and Ed, who don’t have a lot of road-course experience and that’s my background – particularly at this track. The mental approach to a road course versus an oval, how do you approach when you put new tires on the car or qualifying versus race setup, nuances or whatever sticks out. I thought it might be a place where I could help them a little and contribute to the program. And I love racing, so it gave me a good reason to come out here and re-establish some relationships. I still want to race cars, so this isn’t, ‘Ah, Bryan i s going to start doing this instead.’ It was a chance for me to build a relationship with an IndyCar team that I think is going places right now and be at the track.”

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            Daniel Herrington, who was third fastest in Firestone Indy Lights practice, also showed well in practice at Mid-Ohio last year. Herrington made five starts for upstart team SpeedWorks last year, recording three consecutive top-10 finishes at Indianapolis 2, Watkins Glen 1 and Watkins Glen 2. He came to Mid-Ohio and recorded the second- and third-fastest practice speeds in the first two sessions, respectively. At one point, he had the fastest speed during qualifying, however, he crashed during that session and ended up starting 23rd. Herrington moved up as high as 12th during the race but spun off course in Turn 1 on Lap 37. He finished 20th.

            Herrington has been spotting for IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal while working to get back into the driver’s seat. He competed in both Watkins Glen events for Michael Crawford Motorsports, finishing eighth and 15th. He is back with the team this weekend.

            DANIEL HERRINGTON (No. 6 Michael Crawford Motorsports, third fastest): “The weekend is going well so far. I haven't been here in a year, and this is only the second time I've been in the car in a year, so I'm pretty happy to be running up front. We kept the old tires on the car for second practice and ran it out. I think a few people put stickers on, so they were quicker. I'm pretty happy with the car. We made a few changes here and there. We still have qualifying and a race, so we'll see what happens.” (About if Graham Rahal has given him any advice on Mid-Ohio): “I've been over there hanging out with the team. Actually it's funny because Indy Lights practices before the IndyCar Series, so they're asking me, ‘How's the track? What did you do? How's it working?’ I've been coming here three or four years now, and it's one of my favorite plac es. It's good to be back.”

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FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, fastest): “It’s so different because it’s so greasy because of the hot weather and the different rubbers on the track. I believe we started the session a little bit slow, but we made the proper change and we made the car better. I think we were pretty good. We didn’t put on new tires in the end, so I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

JONNY REID (No. 9 Integra, second): “The team has done a fantastic job since the mess we had at Nashville. To be here racing with the car is one thing, so a big thanks to the Integra motorsports guys for getting us here to race and doing a fantastic job. As for the road conditions, the car was strong and my team did a great job getting it ready for this week. It was very challenging going from last race to this course, and it is hard to get it consistent. We have had our ups and downs, more downs than ups but we are looking to qualifying tomorrow and hoping to perform. We are gaining experience.”

FRANCK PERERA (No. 55 CJ Consulting Guthrie Racing, fifth): “Today's practice was good, especially since it's my first time at the track. It's a very tough circuit, and the rubber on the track is changing often with the temperature. First we learn, and now we try to improve the car. We were able to put down some fast laps in practice. It's good for team confidence going into qualifying and the race.”

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            Danica Patrick met with members of the media this morning. Select quotes are below.

            DANICA PATRICK: (About attending the ESPYs this week) “I sat next to David Beckham. I was up for a couple of awards, which I didn’t win, but it was good to be nominated. I was an award presenter and it is just a really big deal. As an athlete it is really nice to have an awards show because you so many movie and TV and music stars that have the opportunity to go and have some fun and get awards for their accomplishments and this is our chance to do that as athletes.” (About qualifying second at Mid-Ohio last year and what to expect this season): “I think that it helped that last year we came here and tested about a month before we came and then we just built on that on the race weekend. And then we started to develop more of a road course car for me and then leading into Sonoma we qualified second again so I think that it all really started here. The last race we did on a road course was Watkins Glens and the morning warm-up we did before qualifying I was fourth and I thought we were clicking on it like we did in the last couple of times we ran on road courses. We just didn’t get it in qualifying. I think that can happen for me though. I think we can kind of get the set-up just right and then I can’t push it the last bit and a chunk of time falls off for me and there I am and I think that could happen again. Obviously we have a good set-up to build on and I hope I am in the Firestone Fast Six. It is even more rewarding now that we have the competitive road course drivers in the series.”

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INDYCAR SERIES POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Blockbuster, fastest): “Practice wasn’t bad because we were the fastest of the day, but there is still some stuff that we need to work on. We still have a lot of understeer in the car. It just seems easy to tip the car into oversteer, so we need some grip. We need to find grip on this track because of the way that they sealed it. The more grip the better. I think if we can get some mechanical grip then the lap times will be better.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, second): “It was decent. I believe we do have a pretty good car. Qualifying position here is going to be really, really important. I’m happy – so far, so good. With the heat and all the different rubbers with the different series, the track is changing constantly, so we’re going to have to be smart about what kind of changes we want to make, because you can really make a mistake and go off with your car.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, third): “The Team Penske car was really good today. With the experience we gained here last year as well as the historical data that the team has at this track, we were optimistic that we would have a fast car right off the truck. We mainly concentrated on race setup today and concentrated on testing some little things that we thought might make us quicker. We would have liked to top the speed charts today, but the final session was shortened by a caution, and when we got back out, we only had a few laps to try to go for a quick lap. Unfortunately, I got caught up in some traffic, but we’ll take third quick as a good start to the weekend and try to move forward from here.”

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, fourth): “Today was the first time I'd ever been around this track in an IndyCar Series car, and I have to say I really enjoy the circuit. Our goal for the practice sessions was to test as much as possible and try a variety of things. Overall, I think it was a good day for Team Penske, and we learned quite a bit. We worked mainly on our race setup today, and we'll focus on our qualifying setup tomorrow morning. Hopefully things will go as we hope, and we'll be able to get into the Firestone Fast Six.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, fifth): “We had a decent car today. We saved tires; we only used two sets of our four. We are ready for tomorrow and plan to have a good day.”

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team, sixth): “I really enjoy the track; it’s pretty cool. We made some progress in the first session, and I was quite happy that the McDonald’s car finished fourth in that. We made a few changes between sessions, and it didn’t go too well, so the second session we recovered and were pretty pleased with the end performance considering we were on old tires the whole time. I figure we are in good shape. The pit boxes are really, really short, and I tried different lines coming into the boxes, and one time I came in I clipped Tim’s (Coffeen) knee with the front wing and knocked him over. It’s not a nice thing to have happen to him. I felt really bad and am glad he is OK and was back on his feet and working on the car by the end of the session.”

HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream, seventh): “The morning session was good for the Formula Dream team. We had a good car in the afternoon session but had a bit of a problem with the gears, so we didn’t get as much time out there as we wanted.”

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, 10th): “The Motorola car was a little too nervous for my style of driving today. But we are working through the issues. Hopefully we will be able to find a better setup before qualifying tomorrow. My crew is working hard to get it where it needs to be.”

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SATURDAY’S SCHEDULE (all times local):

7 a.m. Garages open8:45-9:45 a.m. IndyCar Series practice (two groups)11-11:30 a.m. SWE Pole Qualifying11:45 a.m. PEAK Motor Oil Pole Qualifying presented by AutoZone4:55 p.m. Mid-Ohio 100 Race 1 pre-race5:25 p.m. Mid-Ohio 100 Race 1 (40 laps/90.3 miles)

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            The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio Presented by Westfield Insurance July 20 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. 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 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with a doubleheader race weekend at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course. The first Mid-Ohio 100 is scheduled for 5:25 p.m., on July 19. The second race will take plac eat 10:35 a.m., on July 20. Both races will air at 2 p.m. (EDT) July 24 on ESPN2 and live on indycar.com.