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Ganassi off to a strong start

Target Chip Ganassi Racing's pre-season revival continued Friday when drivers Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon topped the speed chart during the first day of preparation for Sunday's season opening Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Wheldon was clocked at 24.8004 seconds - 215.561 mph - around the 1.5-mile oval in the No. 10 TCGR Honda/Dallara during the afternoon session, topping Dixon's lap of 214.721 mph in the No. 9 TCGR Honda/Dallara during the morning session.

"I just want to go out and show Andretti Green Racing that I can win as many races with another team as I did with them," said Wheldon, the 2006 IRL IndyCar series champ who left Andretti Green Racing during the off-season.

Other top laps in preparation for Saturday's qualifying included Sam Hornish Jr., who was clocked at 214.718 mph in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Honda/Dallara; Tony Kanaan, who recorded a lap of 214.418 mph in the No. 11 AGR Honda/Dallara; and Helio Castroneves, who went 214.381 mph in the No. 3 Penske Honda/Dallara.

The only incident of the day occurred early in the afternoon session, when Vitor Meira's car struck the wall in Turn 4. Meira was not injured, but the left rear of the No. 4 Panther Racing Honda/Dallara was badly damaged. The Panther crew was preparing a second car Friday evening.

Drivers said they were pleased with the first race-related practice session under the IRL's new era with Honda as its sole engine supplier. The new detuned Honda, in conjunction with the removal of traction control, has created a starkly different feel, drivers said.

"I'd much rather have the Honda I had at Fontana when I clinched the championship last year," Wheldon said. "The wing angle has changed the way the cars handle considerably. That's where you've got the separation, to some extent.

"Before, we were very comfortably flat-out around here. Even if the car was somewhat bad, you could still get around the place flat, just not as quick as the quickest guys."

The changes are expected to bring close racing, as was witnessed during Friday's practice sessions. For a time during the second session, Wheldon and former teammate Tony Kanaan dueled wing-to-wing

"It feels pretty good; I can't complain," Dixon said. "The main difference is that everybody is equal. The teams and drivers can sort out the rest.

"It's a big change for the series and the competition. The racing is going to be huge Sunday. It's going to be very close."

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