Long Beach: Power tops Friday practice
Last year's Long Beach race winner Will Power turned the fastest overall lap Friday afternoon on the streets of Long Beach. The Penske driver Power won the last Champ Car race ever a year ago and established himself as one of the favorites going into Sunday's race despite finding out this morning that he has lost a possible full-time ride at Penske Racing to a returning Helio Castroneves. Penske Racing will expand to a third car this weekend to make room for Castroneves.
Power lapped the 11-turn, 1.968-mile course in 1 minute, 10.5486 seconds, 100.424 mph, edging 2008 series champion Scott Dixon by just 0.0192 for the fastest lap of the day.
Tony Kanaan was eighth at 1:11.1238 and 99.612, Graham Rahal was 10th at 1:11.1768 and 99.538 and Danica Patrick was 20th out of 22 cars at 1:12.2254 and 98.093 on the 1.968-mile street course.
Power will move to the No. 12 Team Verizon Wireless entry Saturday, relinquishing the No. 3 seat to Helio Castroneves, who will return to Team Penske following the conclusion of his trial. Castroneves has competed four times at Long Beach, winning his most recent start at the circuit in 2001. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner finished second in the IndyCar Series championship last year.
John Erickson, general manager of Penske Racing's Grand Am program, will be the race strategist for the No. 12 car. He was Briscoe's strategist in the 2007 Indianapolis 500.
The logistics/planning to run three cars if necessary was a feat unto itself, according to Cindric, who said getting back in a race car was "the best medicine" for Castroneves.
"I know he wants nothing more than to get back in that race car, and I have 100 percent confidence it will be like riding a bike for him," Cindric said.
Afterward Power said, “I feel good. We got the car to a very nice, consistent balance. Tomorrow I’ll be in a different car, but the guys are really good here and will transfer everything over from this car to my new car, the No. 12 Verizon Wireless car. They’re ready for Helio (Castroneves) to drive and are in very good shape. I look forward to a good weekend, and I’m happy the way everything has turned out for Helio. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through that considering what a good career he’s had. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Scott Dixon thinks he has a good shot at the pole Saturday.
“I think there were a couple of guys who didn’t run (new) tires, so there’s a bit of an unknown there. The car definitely came together at the end of the session. We were struggling a bit on the first practice and the start of the second, but the engineering guys did a hell of a job to bring some compliance back into the car and make it a little more predictable for me. We’ll just have to see how tomorrow goes when everybody’s on new tires and going for a quick time. I feel much better than where we were at this time at St. Pete. The car is definitely more consistent, and hopefully we can put something together.”
Activities continue here Saturday with final practice and "Firestone Fast Six" qualifying. Sunday's 85-lap race starts at 4:30 p.m. EDT, with live television coverage on the Versus Network starting with a pre-race show at 3:30 p.m. EDT.
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 2 US Air Force Luczo Dragon Racing, third): “Today was a very good day. We made a lot of improvement. Really, we carried on from what we had in St. Pete and took another step forward, and we still have room for improvement. I have to praise the team. They have done so well getting the car ready. I\'m really proud of the work they have done. We made a lot of positive changes throughout the day. We\'re not looking for ultimate speed right now, we\'re just looking for balance and to make sure our tires last long and are consistent. Where you start is so crucial here, so we\'re trying to maximize our performance so that we start in a good position. I\'m very happy with the car, and I\'m very confident that we will continue to improve.”
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, sixth): “I’m pretty happy. The Target car was good all day, right off the truck. I was very happy with our race pace. Hopefully we’ll have the qualifying pace when it counts as well. We didn’t run any new tires, so we don’t know what the car will be like balance-wise. Hopefully our new tires will be as good as the old tires and we’ll pick up the pace. I’m very happy. It’s good to be back in Long Beach.”
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, ninth): “It wasn’t the best opening day for the No. 6 Team Penske car. I had a little incident with the tire barrier in the second session that set us back a bit, but I still feel like we’ve got a good car. We’re going to make a few changes tonight and go for it tomorrow. We were second fastest in the first session today, which is really promising. I think we just need to find our rhythm again and we’ll be right back up at the front tomorrow.”
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team, 10th): “Overall it was a pretty good day. It seems like a bunch of guys ran new tires at the end and went a little bit quicker, and we didn’t really get a new tire run at all. When we tried to go out, I was locking my tires like crazy, so I really only got two laps on new tires, both of which I locked up in Turn 1 and blew the run away, so I just pitted. We’re still pretty happy with where we are. I think the McDonald’s team is competitive, but we still have a little ways to go. It’s tight, and it’s going to be tough.”
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