Ray fastest in Atlanta practice

After a one-month break between races, the Indy Racing Northern Light Series has returned to the track and Greg Ray, the beleaguered defending series champion, was the fastest driver in Thursday night's practice session at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Ray fastest in Atlanta practice

Ray recorded a fast lap of 213.616 miles per hour in a Dallara-Oldsmobile Aurora in preparation for Saturday night's Midas 500 Classic IRL race.

Pole qualifications for the 500-kilometre, 312-mile race are Friday night.

Ray won the series title last year with three victories, but has struggled this season with no wins, one top 10 and is 19th in the IRL point standings. There are plenty of rumours in the garage area that team owner John Menard is dissatisfied with the effort from both Ray and team manager Thomas Knapp and could be looking for a new driver and team manager for next season.

With just three races remaining in the IRL season, time may be running out for Ray as he hopes to salvage part of his season.

"Our private test a few weeks ago provided us good information for race weekend," Ray said. "Our team is in good shape for Saturday, and the car feels really good."

While Ray was a man of few words following his fast lap, Stephan Gregoire of France was a little more verbose after running the second-fastest lap at 212.573 mph in a G-Force-Aurora.

"The team did a great job, and it was easy to go fast," Gregoire said. "My car just got faster and faster. I didn't do anything more than drive it. We were still using my Pikes Peak motor for this session with 200 laps of racing on it.

"The set-up we now have in my primary car is almost perfect. I am very pleased because even in traffic the car is very stable. That's very important to me, as I need a stable car in traffic for the race. So, we will fit a fresh motor tomorrow and be ready for qualifying."

Sarah Fisher, the 19-year-old rookie from Columbus, Ohio, was third quick with a lap at 212.064 mph, set in the first session.

"I think it's real neat to come to a new track and never have tested here or ran here before, and to have run so well right out of the box," Fisher said. "We had a fuel-pressure problem, which kept us from getting through all of the other things we had on our list of things to try during the session.

"We accomplished a lot of things we did not accomplish in the first session, which made the car more free, enabling it to be faster and almost perfect. With the performance we've displayed today, I'm truly looking forward to the remainder of the weekend."

Donnie Beechler was fourth quick at 211.973 mph in a Dallara/Aurora and Ray was fifth quick at 211.906 mph in his backup Dallara Aurora.

Eddie Cheever, who enters the race with an eight-point lead over Buddy Lazier in the IRL standings, suffered mechanical problems and had the 14th fastest speed at 211.152 mph. Lazier was ninth at 211.682 mph in a Dallara/Aurora.

"We had a terrible day," Cheever said. "We had two problems that would have taken us out of the race. In the first practice, we had a clutch problem and lost 10 minutes, and in our second session the fuel pump developed a leak with 25 minutes remaining. We worked on some qualifying stuff, but we never really had a chance to get up to speed.

"Hopefully, we're getting all of our bugaboos out of the way before the race on Saturday."

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