Sharp takes over at the top on Wednesday

For the second-straight day, Kelley Racing jumped to the top of the speed chart in Indianapolis 500 practice. This time, it was with a different driver as Scott Sharp turned the fastest lap of the month at 226.137 miles per hour in Wednesday's 'Happy Hour'.

Sharp takes over at the top on Wednesday

On Tuesday, Mark Dismore of Kelley Racing had the fastest lap at 224.823mph. Both are in Dallara-Oldsmobile Aurora Indy cars with engines built by former CART engine manufacturer Ilmor Engineering. Sharp credits his fast lap with getting a little help from the suction of another race car ahead of him.

"I got a great tow from Airton Dare," Sharp said. "I went out on new tyres without a lot of fuel in the car and for a couple laps, I couldn't get a window. I kept running into traffic, I would back off, then got a little bit of a run going. At that time, I would have had to pit if I didn't put a hammer down. I put the hammer down, caught him going down the front straightaway and he carried me all the way around back to the start/finish line. It was a pretty awesome draft I got."

The fast lap on Tuesday helped Sharp's team rebound from a blown engine on Sunday and an electrical problem on Tuesday. His crew worked until 3am to get the car ready for Wednesday's seven hours of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sharp's lap was faster than NASCAR Winston Cup star and former IRL champion Tony Stewart, who drove the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing entry to a best lap of 225.004 mph in a G Force-Aurora. Team Menard's Greg Ray, who held the fast speed the first two days of practice, was third at 223.848 mph running just seven laps on Wednesday. By contrast, Sharp ran 52 laps and Stewart ran 63, with his best lap coming on his last.

CART driver Michael Andretti continues to struggle in the IRL machinery. He turned more laps than any driver on Wednesday with 90, but had the 15th fastest speed of the day at 221.668 mph. Two-time winner Arie Luyendyk was fourth at 223.499 mph in a G Force-Aurora and Jaques Lazier was fifth at 223.310 mph, also in a G Force-Aurora.

A total of 38 cars took laps at the Speedway on Wednesday as the pressure continues to build for Saturday's pole qualifications for the 85th Indianapolis 500 on May 27.

"I think the pole will be competitive, but I think the race is really going to be incredibly competitive," Sharp said. "When it gets down to running the kind of downforce we all need to run for the race, I think you will wake up race morning with 20 guys who can honestly win this race. There will be 13 IRL teams that will be competitors here and another seven cars from outside the IRL that will do well here.

"It seems like Menard's number one goal for the year is to win the pole here. They put a lot of resources into that. They have shocked us all everywhere we have gone when it comes qualifying time and we are waiting for that as well here."

Kelley Racing believes that Ilmor is improving the reliability in the engine department, which is giving Sharp confidence in the motor.

"There are some issues I think they are continuing to work through with their development cycle," Sharp said. "Think about where they were, they didn't have an IRL engine on their dynamometer until December. To see how quickly they have bridged the gap is mighty impressive. To see how they tackle problems, they really jump on it.

"They have been through the development cycle on so many engines in CART. That is what was so encouraging for us to go with them in the IRL engine was they have seen so much of this before."

The two-car cooperative that includes Panther Racing's Sam Hornish Jr. and Team Green's Andretti have not found the speed secret this week. Hornish was the 23rd fastest on Wednesday at 220.002mph after winning the first two IRL races this season.

"I'm a little surprised," Sharp said. "They have shown incredible speed everywhere. This is a different animal itself, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and it changes so quickly. We expected with the combination of Michael and Sam, it would come quicker than it has, but this is only Wednesday."

Sharp wasn't surprised to see Stewart breathing down his tail as the Winston Cup driver ran for his third day with CART's Chip Ganassi Racing.

"I knew they would get rocking here," Sharp said. "You better include those guys. Last year, they were in the middle of the front row at 223-something and you know they have faster cars this year, so you know they are going to get there."

Stewart admitted he got a little drafting help on his fast lap, but is confident that he will be one of the drivers capable of winning the pole on Saturday.

"We made some really big changes today suspension-wise and spring changes that got us to the end of the day today," Stewart said. "It took me about 10 minutes to learn how to work with these guys. It takes time when you are with a new organisation who the new guy is. I was timid around them, but every lap we take on the track, we get closer. We're going to be tough by the end of the weekend."

Stewart drives for Joe Gibbs Racing in NASCAR Winston Cup but said now that he is racing for Chip Ganassi's CART team in the Indianapolis 500, he understands why that team has been so successful.

"We made some big, big changes today and some changes that are typically very time consuming," Stewart said. "They were very efficient and precise with what they did. My engineer, Bill Pappas, was not afraid to make those changes and they were right on target. To have a guy who is not scared of making changes is how we got to where we were today.

"I call it determination and effort. The guys are putting the time in and it is paying off. It's not about dollars and sense, it's about finding the right people who do it right."

Sharp and Stewart were able to find what works the best on Wednesday, but they both know that's not the day that counts.

"Everyone's goal here is May 27," Sharp said of race day. "That's the race and that's the date that stands out in my mind, not Saturday."

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