Andretti Tops At Homestead

Michael Andretti knows the fast lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway, regardless of the type of car.

Andretti, a two-time winner at the 1.5-mile oval in CART, was the fastest driver at the two-day IRL IndyCar Series Open Test at Homestead-Miami after turning a top lap of 26.0394 seconds, 207.378 mph Feb. 18 in the No. 7 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone. Andretti, who is joining the IndyCar Series this season as a driver-owner, was the only driver to reach 207 mph in the test.

"This was a good two days for us," Andretti said. "We learned a lot. We still have to improve things a little bit, but overall we're pretty good.

"We're ready for the season to begin. The team has the speed. We just need to make it a little more comfortable for the race. We're ready, basically. We're just as good as anyone else out there."

Drivers and teams tested at Homestead-Miami in preparation for the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on March 2 at the track.

Gil de Ferran ended up second on the day with the top lap of the morning session, 26.1178, 206.756, in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. de Ferran was fastest Feb. 17 on the first day of the test at 26.2440, 205.761.

1996 IndyCar Series co-champion Scott Sharp climbed to third overall today at 26.1843, 206.230 in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone.

de Ferran's teammate, Helio Castroneves, was fourth at 26.1943, 206.152 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. Andretti's teammate Tony Kanaan rounded out the top five at 26.3469, 204.958 in the No. 11 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

Andretti Green Racing drivers captured three of the top spots, as Dario Franchitti joined teammates Andretti and Kanaan among the speedy elite with a top lap of 26.4012, 204.536 in the No. 27 Alpine Dallara, good for sixth.

Two-time defending IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. enjoyed his strongest day in five days of Open Tests this month. Hornish, two-time defending champion of this event, was seventh overall at 26.4619, 204.067 in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

"We got a little bit further ahead than where we've been," Hornish said. "We're just chipping away at it. The hard part about this season for us is that we've got a new car, along with a new engine. We know it's the same for everybody, but we're one of the only one-car teams, and that makes it really tough. We don't have double information.

"We are sharing some information with the other Chevrolet teams, but it's mostly about engine work and not necessarily about car setup. It's going to take us a bit to get where we want to be. It's a challenge, and if it wasn't challenging, we'd probably go find something else to do.

"It will be a long season. Last season we got off to a great start. We had a 30-point lead at the end of the third race and started to take some chances we didn't need to and found ourselves 60 points behind. Then we spent the whole rest of the year trying to catch up and get back in the lead. So we learned that it's not necessarily the first part of the season that matters. You have to do good, and you have to finish races, but we just want to make sure that our product is reliable and gets us to the end of the race."

Hornish also holds the IndyCar Series track record at Homestead-Miami at 202.884, which he set while winning the MBNA Pole in March 2002. But don't count on that record lasting long when drivers return for the race weekend in two weeks, as 13 drivers were faster than the track record during testing today.

There were two incidents during the afternoon session.

Rookie A.J. Foyt IV was unhurt and cleared to drive after hitting the outside retaining wall in Turn 2. His No. 14 Conseco Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone suffered heavy damage in the rear.

"I was on my warm-up lap going into Turn 1, not even up to speed, and the car wouldn't turn; it slid up into the gray," 2002 IRL Infiniti Pro Series champion Foyt said. "It did a real slow spin and hit with the left rear and then the left front. Looking at it afterward, they think it bottomed out because there was a big scrub on the skid plate."

A few minutes later, Buddy Rice also was unhurt despite brushing the outside wall exiting Turn 2 in his No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

Twenty-two drivers turned a total of 2,320 laps today. Drivers completed a total of 4,030 laps - or 6,045 miles - during two days of testing. Damp morning track conditions and three afternoon rain delays reduced track time Feb. 17.

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