Castroneves paces Friday at Infineon

Helio Castroneves doesn’t appear to be bothered by the fact that his primary car was damaged in a fire Aug. 20 on the way to Infineon Raceway.

            Castroneves jumped in his backup car Aug. 22 on the first day of practice for the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County and proceeded to turn the fastest lap of the day.

            Castroneves, who finished second at Infineon last year, lapped the 12-turn, 2.303-mile circuit in 1 minute, 17.1703 seconds, 107.435 mph in the afternoon session, bettering Tony Kanaan’s effort of 1:17.3920, 107.127 mph from the morning.

            KV Racing Technology teammates Oriol Servia and Will Power were third and fourth, respectively. Scott Dixon, who leads Castroneves by 78 points in the championship, was seventh.

            Castroneves’ teammate Ryan Briscoe, who also had his primary car damaged in the fire, was sixth.

            Also on Aug. 22, Franck Perera won the SWE Pole Award for the Carneros 100 Firestone Indy Lights race. Raphael Matos, who trails points leader Richard Antinucci by four points, qualified second, while Antinucci claimed the third starting position.


            This is the fourth IndyCar Series event at Infineon. All three past winners are entered in the event: Tony Kanaan (2005), Marco Andretti (2006) and Scott Dixon (2007). Two past pole winners are entered: Ryan Briscoe (2005) and Dixon (2006).


            The IndyCar Series brings its unique road course qualifying format to Infineon 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 blue chip will be in Group One. Drivers with a red 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.


            The No. 26 Andretti Green Racing car driven by Marco Andretti features sponsorship from STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, the second time this season the car has featured links to a movie. During the Indianapolis 500, Andretti’s car promoted Indiana Jones Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Andretti’s firesuit was modeled after the Indiana Jones character.

            This weekend, Andretti’s firesuit is styled after the character Clone Captain Rex.


            Each car receives 10 sets of Firestone Firehawk tires for the race weekend. Firestone Fast Six qualifiers receive one additional set of slicks for that session only. Each car also can use five sets of rain tires.

            Firestone Racing engineers have elected to bring the same tire specifications to Infineon Raceway that were used last season. The dry slicks are the softest in the Firestone road-course inventory and will provide plenty of grip for the track's twists and turns. This tire spec was used earlier this season at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The tread-patterned rain tires selected are the softer "street-course rains," which were also employed at Mid-Ohio earlier this year.

            AL SPEYER (Executive Director, Firestone Racing): “With just four drivers in contention to win the IndyCar Series championship, the pressure is on. And in order to help fans and viewers at home easily identify those four contenders, Firestone Racing will debut a new tire 'look' for the eligible cars. While these tires will be the exact same specification used by all IndyCar Series drivers, they will make the top four really stand out in the crowd. Based on our experience with this particular spec earlier this year in Mid-Ohio, we are confident that our softer road course tire compound/construction will help drivers navigate the twisting Infineon track and all of its elevation changes. So as the championship battle reaches its concluding stages, drivers will have the confidence in their tires needed to focu s on the task at hand."


            The Vision Racing Wellness Tour will be offering free cholesterol screenings and diabetes checks for fans in the IndyCar Series merchandise tent from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Aug. 24. In addition, Vision Racing team drivers Ed Carpenter and A.J. Foyt IV will be at the Wellness Tour location starting at 11:15 a.m. on Aug. 24 for media interviews and autographs for those fans being screened.


            The IndyCar Series has purchased 50 Platinum Passes to donate to area firefighters for this weekend’s race. The pass provides the recipients with a pass to all weekend events, a special meet-and-greet with drivers Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal, garage and pit passes and special parking.

            Infineon Raceway designated Aug. 24 as “Firefighter Appreciation Day” in honor of more than 17,000 firefighters who have battled wildfires throughout California this year. Firefighters will be recognized during the pre-race ceremonies.


            Entry list update: The car name of the No. 23 Guthrie Racing Firestone Indy Lights entry driven by Logan Gomez has changed to IZOD Menards Guthrie Racing.



Franck Perera wins the SWE Pole Award. It his second pole of the season. He also won the pole at Watkins Glen 1, his first road course race of the season. Perera qualified second at Mid-Ohio 1. Raphael Matos qualified second. This is his seventh front row start of the season. He has won four poles and will start second for the third time. Points leader Richard Antinucci qualified third, his fifth top-three start of the season. Logan Gomez qualified a season-best fourth. His previous best qualifying effort was eighth at Kentucky. Gomez started first at Watkins Glen 2 based on his finishing position in Watkins Glen 1. Ana Beatriz qualified fifth, her eighth top-five start of the season. Daniel Herrington qualified a season-best seventh. His previous best was eighth at Mid-Ohio 1. ***


FRANCK PERERA (No. 55 CJ Consulting Guthrie Racing, qualified first): “It was a nice lap. I think this year I've been pretty good at the end of the session. It's nice to be back at a road course after having some trouble at Kentucky. It's a new track for me, so I'm learning every time I go out there, and I've been working well with the team. I'm surprised because even though we were fighting for the pole the whole session, we had a fuel pump problem on the last two laps. I couldn't believe that I would make it, but I pushed any way. When they said I got pole, I couldn't believe it. I guess it's good, but now I'm disappointed because we could have been so much quicker.”

RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, second): “We expected to be on the pole, but it was a tough session. It was difficult to time traffic, so I got traffic on both of my new tire runs. So it was quite difficult, but at least the guy I’m battling in the championship is right behind me, so that’s a good thing. We’ll see. I think we have a consistent car for tomorrow. So we need to make sure we make the right adjustments for the race tomorrow.”

RICHARD ANTINUCCI (No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, third): “Qualifying for us was OK. The gearbox let us down in the last two laps. I think the shift cable broke. Maybe I pushed too hard on the cable, but we’re pushing because it’s qualifying. I’m hoping to put up a solid finish tomorrow with the Lucas Oil/LifeLock car and gain the maximum amount of points possible.”


            San Francisco Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel was a guest of HVM Racing’s E.J. Viso at the track. The two are both natives of Caracas, Venezuela.

            Vizquel, an 11-time Gold Glove winner, is in his 20th season in the major leagues, while Viso is a rookie in the IndyCar Series.

            E.J. VISO: “Being sportsmen in our country, we’ve met a couple of times whenever they do awards back home. I’m a big fan of all sports and for sure I support sportsmen from my country.”

            OMAR VIZQUEL: “There is a lot of competition in any sport, especially when you come overseas. People don’t really recognize you. You have to learn the language and you have to learn a lot of the different things that we don’t deal with in our country. You have to work really hard to stay on it and be humble about it. This is my 20th season in the big leagues so I’m really proud that I still have the chance to go out there and compete at a very high level.” (About watching IndyCars for the first time): “It’s the first time to watch the IndyCars in person. It’s very different in person from TV, where it looks so simple. You don’t know everything that goes on in the pits, how complicated it is and all the different tools they have to use. When you’re here, it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s completely different.’”


            IndyCar Series championship contenders participated in a ceremony in Victory Lane where Firestone unveiled the “magic ring” tires that they will compete with this weekend.

            SCOTT DIXON, 1st: (Are you ready to lock up the championship?): "That's what we'd like to do, but you can see the competition is going to make it tough. Helio is very strong and so is TK (Tony Kanaan) and my teammate (Dan Wheldon) as well. We’ve had a pretty good streak recently. If we can keep it up and gain points on Helio (Castroneves), then that's the way we'd like to do it." (About road course performance this season): "We've had a bit of rough year on road courses compared to the past, especially at St. Pete and Watkins, but at Edmonton we showed that the team is very strong. We have the speed, but it seems we struggle a bit more in qualifying. We just can’t seem to get the speed the others have for one or two laps. The race we're fairly confident." (About changes to course): "It's a slight change. I think it will help. It opens up a passing opportunity, but it's tough because you have cars that are fairly equal, so it's hard to pass. It's very easy to overshoot, so if you're close enough to someone in the race, you could pressure them into a mistake. It will be a lot easier to make a pass than what it was."

            HELIO CASTRONEVES, 2nd: (About the transporter fire on Wednesday): “We’re trying to put it all behind us. Every time we go back to the truck, it’s hard to forget because we’re missing a lot of our tools that we would be able to use here. The good news is that Team Penske is always prepared. We had a truck that came from Charlotte (N.C.) and brought a bunch of stuff that we’ll be able to use as replacements this weekend. But things like the seat that I really liked, it unfortunately burned. But you can’t complain; the car is actually in great shape and ready to go. They are trying to make it look like nothing happened. And to be honest, if you didn’t know about the fire, it would probably still be like that. This is the team that ca n rebound. They know how to do it. It happened once and hopefully this will be the last time.” (About being second quickest in morning practice): “I told them that my setup was on fire. All joking aside, the good news is that nobody was hurt and things can be replaced. What’s amazing is the attitude of the team. They’ve been working a lot, and they’re going to be working a lot up until the race. They’re not complaining, nobody is having any trouble, so for me, this just shows how incredible those guys are. And to have the opportunity to work with people like that is just incredible.” (About catching Scott Dixon in the championship battle): “Absolutely, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. There are still a lot of points in the game. We know what we need to do. I think they have more to lose than us. We’re going to continue trying like we have been doing the last two races. We’re going to be fighting. Even if there&rs quo;s just one point, and even if it looks impossible, we&rs! quo;re g oing to have the faith we can get it.” (About his advantage/disadvantage at the final three tracks): “The good news is that I am very comfortable with the road courses. The bad news is that he is also very comfortable with the road courses. It’s going to be neck-in-neck. In his situation, he doesn’t have to do much. I think just following can be the best thing that he can do because if he makes a mistake, it would cost more than he would gain. I’m not counting on him making a mistake, and I’m not wishing him a mistake. What I can do is just focus on the work ahead of us, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

            DAN WHELDON, 3rd: (About his championship hopes) “Realistically I don’t think I can win the championship. I just want to focus on having a real strong finish to the season and do well in these last few races and Australia, obviously. I don’t think Scott (Dixon) really needs too much help at this point, but I’ll certainly be the teammate that he needs me to be in any given situation.” (About his season) “I guess we’ve been in the top five an awful lot, and we’ve won a couple of races. Is it the season I would have liked? No. Is it the season I expected? No. There’s just been some situations that just haven’t really gone our way. From a car standpoint, you look at how fast we were at Kentucky and we weren’t quick enough. I was running flat out behind Scott and I just couldn’t keep up. We haven’t always had the fastest cars, but that’s just sometimes how the seasons go. But if we can end strongly that will certainly change the way people see the season out.”

            TONY KANAAN, 4th: (About the new tires) “It’s for the fans, so it’s good. They can appreciate who’s on a championship run and who is not. It was a great idea and I enjoy being a part of it for sure.” (About the championship) “I think that being fourth, the pressure is a lot higher because I’m trying to catch the other guys. Hopefully I can do well and keep the white ring tires for the next few races.”


            If Richard Antinucci wins the Firestone Firehawk Cup, the Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver may credit an engineer swap earlier this month. Antinucci is now working with veteran race engineer Ray Leto, while teammate James Davison is paired with the team's chief engineer Tim Neff.

            The move paid off at Kentucky when Davison finished second, while Antinucci finished fourth to maintain his series point lead.

            "I just go where they tell me to go," said Leto, who also is engineering the car of Tomas Scheckter in the IndyCar Series this weekend.



HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, first): “If there is a team that knows how to rebound it's Team Penske. Again they did a fantastic job. They tried to make sure I don't feel a difference, and to be honest, I don't. The car is basically the same. I keep joking that the seat that I loved burned up, but the one I have here is very similar. It's a good start for what's been a tough two days. To finish the day (in P1) is a great deal, but tomorrow is a bigger deal and so is the race, so we're going to keep working hard." (Are you surprised): "Not really. We tested here last week for the first time since about January. I didn't test, but Ryan (Briscoe) tested. Actually, it wasn't even Ryan, it was Romain Dumas. It just proves that a little bit of laps around this place helps a lot. We may not have gone fast, but it helps eliminate some things you may have tried today. It was just one lap, but I tell you, everyone will come back tomorrow and try to go fast again.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, second): “It was a good day for the Team 7-Eleven guys. We worked on the qualifying setup in the morning, and we concentrated on the race in the afternoon session. I’m pretty pleased with how today went. We’re going to try and maximize our situation and finish as high as we can in the championship. I’m just working on winning some more races for the team. After you win the championship, finishing second, third, fourth, or fifth I don’t think will make a big difference. Obviously we are working toward a real possibility that there will be a big fight between me and Dan (Wheldon) for the third position in the championship. If you look at Helio (Castroneves) and (Scott) Dixon, they are so consistent right now that I think it’s going to be really difficult to catch them, so I’m foc used on winning races.”

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 5 KV Racing Technology, third): “It helped KV Racing Technology to come here to test last week. It brought us closer to the established teams, which is where we want to be, but we still need to keep working. It’s getting very close to the end of the season and everyone is very eager to win. So it is good that we are in the ballpark (for the pole). We still have all day tomorrow and then the race on Sunday before it is decided. Until then, we will keep on learning and trying new things with the car. Overall, I am happy with the progress we are making.”

WILL POWER (No. 8 Aussie Vineyards-Team Australia, fourth): “It was very difficult to get a good lap in with so many cars on track, but the Aussie Vineyards–Team Australia car was quick. We still need to work some things out to make the car a little bit better. Our aim for tomorrow is to not only make the Firestone Fast Six, but to be right up at the front.”

VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Delphi National Guard, fifth): “We had a good day today in the Delphi National Guard car. We knew we would have a good package after the test last week, and luckily that translated into today. There was an issue this morning with our braking, but the Panther guys were able to fix that during the break, and you could see how quick we were this afternoon. We’re happy with fifth (position) overall in practice today and look forward to making a run at the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow.”

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, sixth): “Today, we mainly worked on our qualifying setup. Qualifying on road courses this year has been really competitive, so we want to be sure that we know what we have in the car for tomorrow. We're happy with the car even though we weren't at the top of the speed charts. We put on a new set of tires right before the end of the session, but we were unable to post a time. We'll just continue working in the morning and hope for the best come qualifying in the afternoon. I have to say that I'm super proud of our crew with the way that they have handled the adversity in the wake of the transporter fire. They have been working really hard since they landed yesterday to make sure that I have what I need in the car, and I have no complaints.”

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, eighth): “I am happy with the way the Motorola car did today in both practice sessions. We found some direction on some things that we needed, and I feel really good about the direction that the car is going. Hopefully we will continue to build from the practices into qualifying tomorrow. I am hopeful that the Motorola car will be in the Firestone Fast Six at the end of the day.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Blockbuster/Star Wars: The Clone Wars, ninth): “The Blockbuster/STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS car was not too bad today. I still think we have some room to improve. We had our best, most consistent balance at the end of the afternoon session. Once we are able to put new tires on that car, we should be able to be pretty good.”

HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream, 10th): “We had an electrical problem in the first practice session, and I made a mistake on the second session causing the Formula Dream Car to go off the track. Fortunately, the car wasn’t damaged and the car is getting better, so hopefully we will be able to have a good practice session tomorrow morning and do well in the qualifying.”


SATURDAY’S SCHEDULE (all times local):

7 a.m. Garages open9-9:15 a.m. Firestone Indy Lights warm-up9:30-10:30 a.m. IndyCar Series practice (two groups)11:15 a.m. Carneros 100 pre-race11:45 a.m. Carneros 100 (30 laps/69 miles)1:15 p.m. PEAK Motor Oil Pole Qualifying presented by Pep Boys


            The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County Aug. 24 at Infineon Raceway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) by ESPN2. 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 The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with a doubleheader Aug. 23-24 at Infineon Raceway. The races will air at 5 p.m. Aug. 28 on ESPN2.

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