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Castroneves stays on top

Helio Castroneves continued to lead the way on day two of the IRL IndyCar Series' road course test at Homestead

With Castroneves and his Penske team-mate Sam Hornish Jr sandwiching Ganassi's Scott Dixon at the top of the timesheets, the test provided further evidence of the two great teams' resurgence. Both Penske and Ganassi switched from Toyota to Honda engines shortly after the end of the 2005 season, a move that eventually sent Toyota out of the IRL a year earlier than expected. Since then both teams have been among the pacesetters in testing.

Castroneves waited until the final few minutes of Friday's session to knock Dixon off the top of the timesheets. The Brazilian's chart-topping 1:10.5683 lap was almost 0.5 seconds better than his Thursday effort, and 0.099 seconds quicker than Dixon's fastest lap.

"You don't want to create too much expectation when you're going into your first race, but this is great," Castroneves said. "The team did a hell of a job. It wasn't easy today; it was very tough. We tried different things today and different things yesterday. Both things we tried went very well."

While Castroneves' best lap was impressive, one of the most notable aspects of the test was the strong performance of the increasingly unpopular Panoz chassis. Dixon and team-mate Wheldon are expected to use Dallaras on ovals, but are toying with the idea of retaining the Panoz for road courses. Both Ganassi drivers, and fellow Panoz driver Scott Sharp, turned in solid laps at Homestead.

"We started both cars somewhat similar to where our drivers liked it last year," Dixon said. "Then we headed off into our own area to see if we could find something that suited us a little more.

"Our baseline has been pretty close; we haven't changed too far away from it. Dan has found little things here and there that are all about driver feel. I think it's best for the team to let him go off a little bit and find what he likes."

Wheldon, who hadn't been in a Panoz before Thursday's test, turned in a strong 1:11.0968 lap that placed him among the top two before the lunch break but was only good enough for sixth on the final chart. Hornish had the third-fastest lap overall, just ahead of Sharp and Andretti-Green Racing's top performer Dario Franchitti.

"We didn't pick up as much speed as we wanted to after all of the changes we made overnight, but we're happy to be in the top five," Hornish said. "It's a lot better than when we tested here last year. I feel a whole lot better heading to St. Petersburg this year."

Although no rule change has been announced as yet, there is a strong possibility that traction control will be outlawed for the road course races this year. The teams had to run without the driver aid during this week's test, and with just one more road course test scheduled between now and the St. Petersburg street race on 2nd April, the drivers were keen to make the most of this opportunity to get comfortable with the new feel.

"I didn't hear anybody complain much about it," Castroneves said. "The good news is that it might create more action, especially when we're on old tires. The bad news is that almost any passenger car over $40,000 has traction control, so we're losing some technology."

The Homestead test resumes on the oval on Sunday after Saturday's scheduled media day activities. 

Pos  Driver       Team               Chassis  Time       Laps
 1.  Castroneves  Penske             Dallara  1:10.5683  89
 2.  Dixon        Ganassi            Panoz    1:10.6675  89
 3.  Hornish      Penske             Dallara  1:10.8459  82
 4.  Sharp        Fernandez          Panoz    1:10.8839  62
 5.  Franchitti   Andretti-Green     Dallara  1:11.0606  69
 6.  Wheldon      Ganassi            Panoz    1:11.0968  104
 7.  Kanaan       Andretti-Green     Dallara  1:11.3696  75
 8.  Herta        Andretti-Green     Dallara  1:11.4521  65
 9.  Rice         Rahal              Panoz    1:11.8286  65
10.  Scheckter    Vision             Dallara  1:11.9138  78
11.  Meira        Panther            Dallara  1:11.9382  99
12.  Andretti     Andretti-Green     Dallara  1:11.9543  69
13.  Matsuura     Fernandez          Dallara  1:11.9676  67
14.  Carpenter    Vision             Dallara  1:12.4207  81
15.  Patrick      Rahal              Panoz    1:12.4463  67
16.  Giaffone     Foyt               Dallara  1:12.6146  54
17.  Dana         Rahal              Panoz    1:13.0014  94
18.  Lazier       Dreyer & Reinbold  Dallara  1:13.8079  84

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