Indy Car’s first day of Daytona testing

Panther Racing's Vitor Meira turned the first official IndyCar Series lap at Daytona International Speedway as the series began a two-day compatibility test on the 10-turn, 2.73-mile road course.

Meira was joined by three-time IndyCar Series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr., 2004 IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan and 2003 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon. Dan Wheldon, the 2005 IndyCar Series champion, is scheduled to join the test on Sept. 27.

"It's pretty cool (to be here)," said Dixon, who won here in January when he teamed with Wheldon and Casey Mears to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona. " I think it's a very special day for the IndyCar Series to bring an open-wheel car to Daytona. It's definitely exciting to race around here and drive on the banking. The difference from when I have been here in the past in the 24-hour cars is a lot different."

Kanaan and Hornish debuted the 3.5-liter Honda Indy V-8 engine powered by 100 fuel-grade ethanol during the test, and had little trouble adjusting to the new package, which will be used by the entire field in 2007.

"We ran the 3.5-liter engine with the 100 percent ethanol and it's running great," Kanaan said. "We did a bunch of laps, and I'm working my butt off. It ran perfect. We have a couple of things to adjust mapping-wise because it's a different fuel, but so far and so good."

Meira and Dixon ran the 2006 spec Honda Indy V-8, though Dixon's car utilized a smaller 25-gallon fuel cell.

Full-time switch: Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which used the Panoz chassis for the road and street course events in 2006, is using the Dallara on a road course for the first time. The team intends to use the Dallara exclusively in 2007.

"It's been pretty exciting for us because we've made a change to Dallara for the first time (on a road course)," said driver Scott Dixon. "It's been a lot of work for us. The others have gotten to be pretty quick."
Getting ahead: After getting a late start to 2006 with Panther Racing, Vitor Meira is looking forward to getting some offseason testing in with the team in the next few weeks.

"Staying in the car is important, especially at tracks that we will get to race at next year," said Meira, who finished fifth in the point standings. "It's a little bit of a head start for next year. Every new venue we go to, there are a lot of new things to find out and that's a lot of fun."

In addition to testing at Daytona International Speedway on Sept. 26-27, Meira will also test at Iowa Speedway on Oct. 9-10. He will also keep his competitive juices flowing by racing with Highcroft Racing at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Sept. 30.

"Next year, there will be road races, and I've never done a major endurance race, so it will be very cool," Meira said. "It will be good for Honda to develop the car a little bit, and it will give me a chance to see if I can work with the team in the future for other events like this."
Interested specatators: IndyCar Series driver P.J. Chesson and A.J. Foyt IV and Indy Pro Series driver Jaime Camara were at Daytona International Speedway watching the test.

Camara spent much of the test with Andretti Green Racing, who fielded his Indy Pro Series entry, while Foyt arrived in the AGR pits later in the session. Chesson said he was just an interested observer.

"I'm just checking things out," Chesson said.
Take Me Out To The Ballgame: Following the Daytona test, Sam Hornish Jr. will visit Wrigley Field in Chicago on Sept. 29 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and lead the crowd in a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch.

This will be the third time this season that Hornish has thrown the first pitch at a Major League Baseball Game. He also participated in the pre-game festivities at the Mets game after he won the Indianapolis 500 and the Reds game just before he took the checkered flag in Kentucky.

"I'll be more comfortable this time around being my third time," Hornish said. "I'll be more nervous singing. I have no idea how I'll do."
He said it: Tony Kanaan on Daytona's 31-degree banking: "Obviously running an IndyCar and running through that banking is pretty neat. It feels like we're on a rollercoaster every lap when you get to the banking. You kind of forget how steep the banking is. They said it's 35 (degrees), to me it looked like 60. I was excited. Anything that is new for a racecar driver, especially a racetrack is exciting. Daytona being Daytona gave me an extra motivation."

BRIAN BARNHART (President and Chief Operating Officer, Indy Racing League): "We excited to be here and it's going well. I've been up in race control and from that vantage point it looked good. I have to acknowledge and thank Les Mactaggart and the job he does coming up with the technical specifications of our racecars. It's funny standing up there with Andrew Gurtis and Robin Braig and their staffs and seeing how pleased they are that this day has come to reality and to see IndyCars on track at Daytona. I have to thank Les because of the ability to take our cars from the three-quarter mile at Richmond to road and street venues and now at Daytona, it's quite a compliment to our package." (How much would you like to come back and race here): "I don't think any sanctioning body would go anywhere with the hopes of just testing. I think the ultimate goal would be to race, but we're a long way from there. This is our first day on track here and it's taken a long time to get to this point. We're going to take the necessary steps to get to racing here. That includes concluding this compatibility test and if things work out, we'll see if it's can work as an Open Test venue for 2007 and then look at racing. Our hopes would be to talk about, but it's a long way to get there."

ROBIN BRAIG (President, Daytona International Speedway): "It's an exciting time for us. Some of my fellow track presidents have called already to ask me how it is going. As I sat up in race control when the first car went out on track and hearing that noise – we haven't had any neighbors call yet. The first thing I thought of is our friends from Indigo Pines and Pelican Bay that tolerate the Richard Petty driving school. That was not a Richard Petty driving school noise this morning. That was quite amazing to hear that. They look great out there for me." (About hosting IndyCar Series at Daytona): "I remember back when the NASCAR cars ran at the Brickyard. Having the IRL at Daytona, especially the way it has been growing. Any time you can see a Penske or a Chip Ganassi transporter pull into the track, it's exciting. That Sam Hornish Jr. and some of the other drivers shows this is a serious deal on the racing side."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "A while back if people would have asked me, 'Do you think you'll ever drive an IndyCar at Daytona?' I would have probably told them, 'No.' I never would have thought I could after running the 24 hours or on the oval and the road course in IROC series. Now to run an IndyCar here, I feel that it's a pretty unique experience to run here. This seems pretty fast now, and looking forward to getting more time." (What is the challenge of getting this course ready to run IndyCar): "At first, you would have thought that the bumps would be the biggest thing. You see the stock cars, when they run here, move around quite a bit. I thought it would have been bumpier. There are a lot of different things to have an open-wheel car run. I think they've done a good job, so far." (Have you reached top speed and what is the most difficult part of the course): "We haven't reached top speed. Not knowing exactly the track was going to be like, we weren't 100 percent of where we wanted to be. We've already reached speeds of 190 mph, and we're not really pushing it, so I think it will be a fast track. One of the keys is getting the chicane on the backstretch. It's a big passing zone and it gives a lot of opportunities to pass in (Turns) 3 and 4 on the oval and on the frontstretch."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I've been here, but it was many years ago, in '98 to race the 24 hours. Obviously running an IndyCar and running through that banking is pretty neat. It feels like we're on a rollercoaster every lap when you get to the banking." (About testing the 2007 IndyCar Series engine package): "We're trying to make the best of what we can with this engine package and the fuel. When you come test, you have to concentrate on what you've came to do." (Do you feel like you're invading a sacred stockcar territory): "I hope they don't feel that way. In Brazil, if they feel that way, they kick you out. I felt very welcome. Actually, I forgot my hard card when I came in this morning, and the guy at the gate recognized me, so I felt pretty honored. I thought I was going to have to find someone on the inside to come get me. I don't think we're trying to compete with NASCAR. They run Indy and we don't feel that way. I don't see that it's a problem" (What was your first thought when you heard you were coming): "When I heard we were coming I knew they had already figured out how to do it. I wasn't worried about that. I was excited. The last time I was here was '98. I've always watched the NASCAR races and the 24 hour race on TV. You kind of forget how steep the banking is. They said it's 35 (degrees), to me it looked like 60. I was excited. Anything that is new for a racecar driver, especially a racetrack is exciting. Daytona being Daytona gave me an extra motivation."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Dallara/Honda/Firestone): (Do you plan on returning to defend the Rolex 24 win?): "I believe so. I know it's going to be a Target car. From what they're talking about, it will be me and Dan (Wheldon) and (Juan Pablo) Montoya, as well. I may need to switch to the 01 car because Montoya will bring it back with no wheels on it. That's what we want to do. I think we'll be announcing it soon." (Do you feel a sense of history being here?): "I think it feels strange. The only times I've been here, I've seen tin-top cars or NASCARs or things like that. To see an IndyCar here, even sitting on the pit lane in interesting. There's some history here with the Daytona 500 or the sports cars. I've been able to witness it. It is special there is a lot of history for us to be here is a big day for everybody."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Lincoln Tech Panther Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "It's a big, big pleasure for me to be here. There's so many big names and events that happen here. It's a pleasure to be part of history for motorsports here at Daytona and for the IndyCar Series. It's not my first time here, but everything is so new that I consider it my first time here. Coming on Turn 3 and 4, it was very cool. We were the first car out. That's the most bank I've ever ran. It's so cool being here and making it happen." (Were you trying to be the first out?): "No, it just happened. As I was getting in the car, everyone else seemed to be getting ready, too. It just happened this way. It's nice to first."

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