New Chevrolet flies in practice

Sam Hornish Jr.'s first official practice session for Sunday's Firestone Indy 400 with the new Cosworth-built Chevy engine produced a lap faster than anyone else at the Michigan International Speedway

New Chevrolet flies in practice

Hornish was clocked at 223.618 mph late in the first session, topping the 222.983 mph lap turned earlier in the session by Kenny Brack's Honda. He did the same thing in Session Two, knocking Tomas Scheckter's Toyota off the point with a lap of 222.413 mph. That was before before Scott Dixon topped Hornish's best with a 222.483 in the final minutes.

While the Chevy numbers shocked most participants and observers - and provided fuel for dissent from Toyota and Honda - they didn't surprise Hornish, who has tested the engine several times in recent weeks.

"We knew how much of a shock this engine was going to be," Hornish said. "We knew after testing that it was good. We were excited about it then. We knew it would give us what we needed to be up front."

The new engine, dubbed the Gen IV Chevy Indy V-8, was approved last week for use in IRL IndyCar Series races after Chevrolet struggled during the first half of the season. Hornish's Pennzoil Panther Racing team is the only one of the five Chevy teams to have the new piece. The second-best GM team in points after Sunday's race at MIS will get the engine for the August 10 event at Gateway Internationl Raceway in Madison, Ill.

The remaining Chevy teams - Dreyer & Reinbold, Team Menard and Hemelgarn Racing - will be supplied as of the Kentucky Speedway fixture on August 17.

Toyota and Honda teams maintained a positive public spin on the sudden competition from Chevy. Until last week's race at Nashville, GM Racing - which has dominated the Indy Racing League since 1997 - hadn't led a lap this season. Suddenly, with an engine originally built to carry the Ford nameplate, Chevrolet is a threat to win a pole and a race.

Dixon, involved in a four-way points race with Tony Kanaan, Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves, said he welcomed the competition but wasn't comfortable with the way the IRL allowed the new engine in mid-season.

"The way they did it wasn't too fair," Dixon said. "I don't really know how the rules work, but I think it's kind of shady. It doesn't allow other manufacturers to introduce new parts, but it should. Otherwise it's not fair. If they whitewash this, I'm sure there's going to be some stirring in the camps, that's for sure. But it's not our problem."

Dixon's immediate problem, and that of other top Toyota and Honda drivers, is to keep Hornish and the Chevy off the pole when qualifying begins on Saturday. After Friday's blazing practice sessions, Hornish isn't concerned with the No. 1 starting position.

"I'm not even worried about the pole," Hornish said. "I'm just worried about the race. I'd rather win the race than win the pole. We're focusing all of our effort on the race car instead of the qualifying car. Points are paid by the race, not by the pole."

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