Rice sets oval test pace

Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice led the way on the first day of official oval testing at Homestead, as the entire IRL IndyCar Series field lapped within 0.5s of the pacesetting Rahal-Letterman driver

Rice sets oval test pace

New Fernandez Racing signing Scott Sharp was second ahead of Andretti-Green's Dan Wheldon. All of the top six cars were Honda-powered, as 2004's three powerhouse teams (AGR, Rahal and Fernandez) continued to dominate.

"I'm pleased with today's running and I know we learned a lot about the new Panoz," said Rice, who took his first IRL pole at the Miami track in 2004. "It feels good. We have some work to do on the road course settings, but I'm anxious to get to Phoenix to test the short oval chassis."

Sharp, who endured a miserable 2004 season with Kelley Racing, was delighted with the performance of his new machine.

"It was fun," he said. "I knew getting back on the oval that this kind of car would be strong. I got comfortable right away and we worked through some set-up issues and saved some tyres for the end.

"In traffic, we could go wherever we want. It's a testament to the Fernandez team."

Rice's team-mate Danica Patrick produced an impressive performance, setting the fifth quickest time. With a background in UK Formula Vauxhall Junior and Formula Ford, and Toyota Atlantic, she has less oval racing experience than most of her rivals, and today's sessions marked her first significant experience of lapping in traffic on a speedway.

"It's just a building process," she said. "This is the first time I've run on a big oval with cars so I'm fairly pleased with how I'm adapting. I know the car will be fast, the team is good and it has fast cars, and it's up to me to learn for when the race comes."

Dario Franchitti had ended last week's road course test at the top of the times, but he was only 11th on the oval.

"We didn't really gain the speed we were hoping for," he said. "It just seemed that the more we went through the day, the slower we got in comparison to everybody else. I'm frustrated, but we still have time to make improvements."

Bar a spin exiting the pits by Patrick Carpentier, the test passed without incident.



Buddy Rice (Rahal-Letterman Panoz-Honda), 24.918s
Scott Sharp (Fernandez Panoz-Honda), 24.953s
Dan Wheldon (Andretti-Green Dallara-Honda), 24.982s
Kosuke Matsuura (Fernandez Panoz-Honda), 24.991s
Danica Patrick (Rahal-Letterman Panoz-Honda), 24.995s
Tony Kanaan (Andretti-Green Dallara-Honda), 25.032s
Tomas Scheckter (Panther Dallara-Chevrolet), 25.034s
Bryan Herta (Andretti-Greeen Dallara-Honda), 25.036s
Vitor Meira (Rahal-Letterman Panoz-Honda), 25.049s
Helio Castroneves (Penske Dallara-Toyota), 25.102s

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