Castroneves, Dixon top practice


 The two contenders for the IndyCar Series championship aren’t backing down. Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon topped the opening day of preparations for the Detroit Indy Grand Prix presented by Firestone at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

            Castroneves, who cut Dixon’s lead from 78 to 43 with a victory Aug. 24 at Infineon Raceway, led the 26 drivers around the 14-turn, 2.07-mile temporary street circuit with a best lap of 1 minute, 13.2059 seconds, 101.795 mph in the No. 3 Team Penske entry.

            Dixon, who finished 12th at Infineon, was .4937 of a second slower (1:13.6996, 101.113 mph) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry.

            Vitor Meira was third, Ryan Briscoe fourth and Danica Patrick fifth. Reigning race winner Tony Kanaan was sixth.

            Castroneves, who won the pole at Infineon and is the reigning pole sitter at Belle Isle, will attempt to win the PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award on Aug. 30.


            Oriol Servia is using a helmet featuring the face of a tiger this weekend. Servia chose to debut the helmet in Detroit after attending a Detroit Tigers game with teammate Will Power in May. The tiger also represents Servia’s sign in the Chinese zodiac. Servia’s helmets always feature an image of fellow Spaniard Salvador Dali on one side and the Catalonian flag on the other side. Images on the middle of the helmet vary.

            ORIOL SERVIA (No. 5 KV Racing Technology): “I came here in May for a Tigers game and when I returned home, my painter showed me this image of a Tiger, because that’s my symbol on the Chinese (zodiac). When I saw that, I knew I had to use it in Detroit.”


            A year ago, Helio Castroneves met his “Dancing with the Stars” professional dance partner, Julianne Hough, for the first time. The couple went on to win the competition on ABC’s hit show, and Castroneves even participated in a brief “Dancing with the Stars” arena tour before the IndyCar Series season began.

            Recently, the next celebrity cast for the show was introduced, including singers Lance Bass and Toni Braxton, actors Kim Kardashian, Cloris Leachman, Ted McGinley, Brooke Burke, Cody Linley, Susan Lucci, former NFL defensive tackle Warren Sapp, and chef Rocco DiSpirito.

            HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske): “I didn’t see all of it, but I’m a big fan of the Olympic Games, and it’s nice to see the volleyball player (Misty May-Treanor) and Maurice Greene the sprinter there. I still have to get familiar with the rest of the names, but it will be a lot of fun.”


            Firestone Racing executives participated in an event with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to launch the agency’s National Lead-Free Wheel Weight Initiative. The program is designed to phase out the use of lead wheel weights, which can fall off and possibly contaminate the environment, and replace them with other materials.

            Firestone Racing stopped using lead wheel weights in the IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights in June, replacing them with 3M steel wheel weights.

            AL SPEYER (Executive Director, Firestone Racing): “We’re taking many, many steps to be environmentally sensitive. The way we look at the environment is many small steps by a lot of people add up to a big impact. That’s part of what we’re doing right now. The racing industry is all about performance. The fact that we have a new product that is better for the environment and equal if not better performance on the racetrack is really a win-win for all of us.”

            RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol, winner with the 3M wheel weight system at Watkins Glen in July): “There’s never one silver bullet to lightening our footprint on the environment. If we can keep most cars from using lead, it’s a huge plus. I had the opportunity to win with these wheel weights, and I had no idea they were on the car. The fact that we had the same performance is great.”


            Andretti Green Racing announced it has reached a multi-year agreement with 7-Eleven, Inc. to extend the company's long-running sponsorship program of the No. 11 entry driven by 2004 IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan.            7-Eleven, Inc., the world's largest operator, franchisor and licensor of convenience stores with more than 34,600 units worldwide, has been affiliated with Andretti Green and Kanaan since the team began competing at the beginning of the 2003 IndyCar Series season.            Kanaan, who drove the Honda-powered Team 7-Eleven car to the 2004 IndyCar Series championship, signed a five-year contract extension earlier this month with Andretti Green that will keep him with the Indianapolis-based team through the 2013 season.            7-Eleven will also continue to have a branding presence on AGR's three other IndyCar Series cars, which are driven by Marco Andretti, Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick.

            JOHN LOPES (Chief Marketing Officer, Andretti Green Racing): "7-Eleven is one of the cornerstones of Andretti Green Racing, and we're thrilled to extend ouragreement with them. We've accomplished a lot together, but we feel like we can do even bigger things in the future. The Team 7-Eleven car has been a fixture at the top level of the IndyCar Series since it debuted in 2003 and we expect to keep it there for a long time."            RITA BARGERHUFF (Vice President, Marketing, 7-Eleven, Inc.): "We joined forces when Andretti Green began racing in 2003, the year Tony joined the AGR team, and have worked together over the last five years to build an even stronger 7-Eleven brand through this international platform. Tony exemplifies the leadership, team orientation and values we embrace at 7- Eleven and has been a terrific spokesperson. The unification of open-wheel racing earlier this year has made the IndyCar Series even more relevant to our customers. We're looking forward to enjoying future successes together."



HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, fastest): Today was a good day for us. I really enjoy (this track). It is a very technical track, combining bumps and quick corners. It is always very good. We are headed in a good direction, but we are going to have to keep working.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, second): “This morning was pretty good. I had a problem with hitting the wall twice and bent the tow link. We actually had to repair the car in the middle of the session and had to end early because we had to fix it. The car was actually quick out of the box. I think we were quickest in the first 10 minutes, but we had a lot of understeer. We tried dialing it out and made the car a lot worse. We put a set of stickers (new tires) on the car and it was pretty average. I think the car can be a little bit quicker, and using the baseline setup from this morning, it should have been quicker. Helio is quite fast, but I don't know if the track changed because of the weather. A lot of people seemed to have a lot of understeer during the session.”

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, fourth): “It's been a little busy today, with me doing double-duty (Briscoe is running both the IndyCar Series and ALMS events at Belle Isle) this weekend. Today was the first day I've been around this track in an IndyCar and I think practice went really well. Team Penske made some good progress and I learned a lot today, so now I think we just have to go back and figure out what we need to do to be a little quicker tomorrow.”

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, fifth): “The car felt really good today during both practice sessions. The key to all road courses is track position, so hopefully we can get the Motorola car into the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow and have a good finish. I feel really good about this weekend.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, sixth): “The Team 7-Eleven car was pretty strong today. We are still chasing some guys, but I am pretty happy. Overall, I think we should have a good day tomorrow.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol, seventh): “We rolled out with a good race car today. We were in the top four for 90 percent of the session. We made some changes at the end of the run that didn’t help us as much as we would have liked. I really think the traffic kept us from showing what we could really do today, but we still have work to do before qualifying.”

DARREN MANNING (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./AJ Foyt Racing, eighth): “After the hard weekend at Sonoma, it's good to come back to a track where we have some good memories and more importantly, good information from last year. We rolled off strong, so now we can just fine-tune the car to make it better, which we've been able to do. There's still more speed in the car, so that's good.”

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 5 KV Racing Technology, ninth): “KV Racing Technology made some changes for the second session that I liked a lot more; the car was a lot more reactive. We only needed a few laps and we looked decent, so hopefully tomorrow we continue with the improvement.”


SATURDAY’S SCHEDULE (all times local):

6:30 a.m. Garages open8:30-9:30 a.m. IndyCar Series practice (two groups)11:30 a.m. PEAK Motor Oil Pole Qualifying


           The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the Detroit Indy Grand Prix presented by Firestone Aug. 31 at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 3:30 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 The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season concludes Sept. 7 with the 100 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race will air live at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 7 on ESPN2. The

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