Sharp Fastest On Opening Day
May 4, 2003 | 12:36 A.M. EST
Showers arrived at the historic 2.5-mile oval at 4:27 p.m. (EDT), just less than 2 1/2 hours after practice started. It was the first time rain ended Indianapolis Star Opening Day since 1997, when the first day of practice was completely washed out.
But 2001 Indy MBNA Pole winner Sharp, in his No. 8T Delphi Dallara, was one of 24 drivers turning laps in chilly, 55-degree temperatures with southeast winds at 13 mph.
“A great job from the Delphi guys,” Sharp said. “It was a pretty compacted afternoon with the rain. I think everybody got some help, some drafting help. Obviously, I did.
“I think we have a really good car. We have a strong baseline. I don’t know how much we can take from a day like today, but this is certainly a start.”
Two-time defending race winner Helio Castroneves was second at 39.4585, 228.088 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara as he started his quest to become the first driver ever to win the race three years in a row. Indy rookie Tora Takagi rounded out the top three at 39.4937, 227.884 in the No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force.
“We know that nothing is going to be easy, nothing is going to fall out of the sky,” Castroneves said. “We have to keep working.”
Rookie Dan Wheldon was fourth at 39.5230, 227.716 in the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara. His teammate and team co-owner, Michael Andretti, rounded out the top five at 39.5672, 227.461 in the No. 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara.
Andretti plans to make the final start of his driving career on Race Day, Sunday, May 25.
Gil de Ferran and Scott Dixon each returned to the track for the first time since suffering injuries earlier this season.
De Ferran turned a top lap was 40.0335, 224.812 in the No. 6T Marlboro Team Penske Panoz G Force. He suffered a concussion and minor fracture of the lower back in an accident during the Purex Dial Indy 200 on March 23 at Phoenix.
Dixon’s best lap was 40.0799, 224.551 in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force. He suffered a broken wrist in an accident in the Indy Japan 300 on April 13 at Motegi, Japan.
Robby Gordon also turned laps Sunday as he started the road toward the “daily double” on Race Day. Full-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Gordon will attempt to drive the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race at Charlotte, N.C., on May 25.
Gordon’s top lap was 40.7912, 220.636 in the No. 27T Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara fielded by Andretti Green Racing. He is replacing regular AGR driver Dario Franchitti, who suffered a fractured back in a motorcycle accident in early April. Gordon finished fourth in the NASCAR Winston Cup race Saturday night at Richmond, Va.
“I got home (Charlotte) from Richmond about 2 a.m., and then I woke up at 7 a.m. to fly to Indianapolis,” Gordon said. “I normally only sleep about five hours a night, so today was no problem.”
There were 29 cars and 24 drivers on track Sunday, turning 697 incident-free laps. 2001 IndyCar Series Bombardier Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone was the first driver on track for the event in the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force.