Rice Fastest In Opening Practice

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Admitting a little help from the draft, Buddy Rice turned in the fastest lap in the opening day of practice for Sunday’s IRL IndyCar Series opener, the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I think it’s one-tenth of a second faster than what you’ll see in qualifying,” Rice said of his lap of 25.0382 seconds around the banked 1.5-mile speedway, 213.514 mph. “However, our car is quite quick by itself. We’re happy with where we’re at.”

While Bryan Herta was second fastest in his Andretti Green Honda Dallara, 213.148 mph, the biggest news of the day was the time turned in by the Chevy of Tomas Scheckter, third at 213.025.

While the Toyota teams struggled in the opening session, at the end of the day 2003 Homestead winner Scott Dixon timed sixth quick, 212.194 mph, trailing the Hondas of Vitor Meira and Dan Wheldon.

Qualifying will be tight. According to Rice, the racing will be closer than ever this year, and he’s confident the Argent/Pioneer Honda Panoz fielded by Rahal Letterman Racing will be in the thick of the hunt.

“I think what you’re seeing is with some of the drivers moving around with their sponsorship, and other teams adding cars, and all it’s done is taken the 22-car group and actually compacted it even more,” Rice said. “I think it may be even more competitive. It’s so close, I think qualifying will be within a couple of tenths, three or four tenths, for the whole field. I think our chances will be just as good as anybody.

“You can’t make any mistakes, maybe more so this year than the past,” Rice added. “While this track won’t be a Texas or Chicago-type race, I think you’ll see a couple cars up front with the whole pack constantly jockeying and changing. With the new rules, there will be even more rules changes. There are probably eight or 10 guys who can win the championship.”

Scheckter hopes the strong showing will silence the critics.

“A lot of people have been coming up and saying, ‘Oh, what about Chevrolet, it’s probably a struggle for one team.’ Well, so far, so good,” said the driver of the Pennzoil Panther Dallara.

Twenty-two cars practiced in the sessions delayed to the afternoon following a rainy morning.

Looking back to last year, Rice felt that winning the pole at Homestead set the stage for a successful season.

“Considering we were almost last at the test, and sat on the front row for the race was somewhat shocking, with our limited amount of testing. It was probably a bigger shock to us than anybody. It got the ball rolling on the right foot. Going to the Panoz G Force was a move in the right direction, and it paid off. The crown at 16th Street and Georgetown, was the deciding factor. Whatever anybody says in the paddock, that’s their goal. From there, obviously, that’s the championship.”

The IndyCar Series competitors hold a warmup session Saturday beginning at 9:45 a.m., with qualifying scheduled to start at noon. A final practice will be held at 2 p.m., prior to the start of the Grand Prix of Miami Grand American Rolex Series race.

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Auto Club 500

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Saturday, October 19, 2013
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