Tracy averages 236mph at Michigan!

Paul Tracy set the pace on the opening day of practice for Sunday's Michigan 500 at the high-banked 2.0-mile Michigan superspeedway.

Tracy averages 236mph at Michigan!

Late on Friday afternoon, Tracy produced a lap quick lap at an average speed of 236.749 mph, taking just 30.412 secs thanks to an excellent double tow from Roberto Moreno and Adrian Fernandez. Tracy also benefited from a new Honda engine, built especially for qualifying that features only one wastegate on the leftside of the engine.

"That was the tow of lifetime," Tracy grinned. "I got a tow from Moreno at the start of the lap and after passing him I saw Fernandez about 200 yards ahead. I followed him all the way around the lap and passed him coming off turn four. It was a little hair-raising at the end of the backstraight. I looked at the dash and it said 248!"

Tracy's data sheets showed a momentary fast speed of 245 mph, but the remarkable thing was that he was never under 230 mph at any point on his fast lap. "It's time for another change, I think," Tracy said. "It gets your attention. You don't realise how quick you're going until you look at the dash. The car is stable. It feels good, and I think the race will be OK. The race pace should be about 223-224 mph. As long as everyone else gives you room and is courteous, it's good, clean, fun racing."

Conditions today were perfect for fast laps with the temperature in the mid-70s (F). "I think conditions were optimal," Tracy said. "It was cool and there was some cloud cover and only a little bit of crosswind."

Nor were there any problems with the track itself. A NASCAR truck race is supporting CART at Michigan this weekend and last year there were many complaints from the drivers that the very different 'groove' and rubber laid down by the trucks made it very slippery. "The track is clean," Tracy said. "They've done a great job of preparing the track and keeping it clean. The trucks haven't upset our rubber. It was tricky last year but no problems this year."

Tracy says there will be less drafting or slipstreaming on Sunday there was last year and two years ago in particular when the Handford Wing was first introduced at this race. There was an all-time record 62 lead changes then, and last year's race witnessed just 29 official lead changes at the start/finish line.

"The drag has been reduced quite a bit by changing other parts of the car and the cars have been more refined in general," he said. "There's still a big tow but it's getting tougher. There's not as big a speed difference, so I don't think you'll see as much drafting and passing as in the past two years."

Michael Andretti was fastest in the morning session and was shaded at the end of the day by Tracy. Andretti's best lap averaged 235.479 mph, just 0.164 of a second slower than Tracy. Michael said racing at these speeds isn't difficult but it is very dangerous.

"Do I look forward to this race?" he asked. "No. It's a long 500 miles of drafting. You have to hold your breath for three hours. The driving is quite easy and fun but always in the back of your head you're worried that something might go wrong, and that's no fun."

Andretti says he hopes speeds will be trimmed next year. "I don't know how to do it. We definitely need to take some horsepower away, but it needs to be a package of horsepower, downforce and grip from the tyres. We need to keep a handle on it. If we stay with what we have speeds could jump five mph next year. I think the rulemakers need to stay on top of it because it could get out of hand."

The top 18 drivers were covered by one second at the end of the opening day with most people saying they were concentrating on race set-up rather than searching for all-out qualifying speed.

Qualifying is almost irrelevant for this race. The key is being able to run well in the draft rather than on your own. Qualifying takes place on Saturday morning starting at 11am Eastern with the field running in the reverse order of practice times. Every driver will run two flying qualifying laps with the quickest lap to count.

Stay with Autosport.com for the latest news from Michigan.

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On-form Andretti sets morning pace

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