Ganassi Shines On Oval

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Marlboro Team Penske – two teams that have struggled in IRL IndyCar Series competition the past two years – dominated the “Spring Training” open test at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

After the Penske team dominated the road course portion of the test, Ganassi drivers Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon were fastest in Sunday’s session on the 1.5-mile oval. Wheldon ran a lap of 24.508 seconds – 218.126 mph – followed by Dixon, 217.185 mph.

“I think we’re in great shape,” said Wheldon, who joins Ganassi after winning six races – including the Homestead opener and Indianapolis 500 – and the 2006 IndyCar Series title. “It’s going to be a fight this year, no doubt about it. We’re going to work these next three weeks on improving this for the race. Today, we did our own program. You don’t get any points for winning a test, you don’t get any prize money. Everybody on this team is experienced enough to know that. For me, it’s more seat time with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and I’m proud to be part of it.”

Both of the IRL powers are coming off lackluster years running Toyota engines, and will join all of the IndyCar Series teams in 2006 running with Honda power. The Homestead testing gave teams a unique multi-day session, running on both the fast variably-banked oval and the 2.21-mile road circuit.

“We’ve been saying over the last couple years that we thought we were down on horsepower,” said Sam Hornish, a three-time winner at Homestead and third quickest on Sunday. “Now, it’s up to us to show that we’re as good as we think we are.”

Hornish was third fastest Sunday, 216.882 mph, followed by teammate Helio Castroneves, 216.652 mph.
Andretti Green’s Tony Kanaan was fifth, followed by Ed Carpenter, Buddy Rice, Dario Franchitti, Danica Patrick and Tomas Scheckter. The top seven were faster than Scheckter’s 2005 pole here, 215.115 mph, while Wheldon bettered Rice’s track record. The 18 competitors were within seven-tenths of a session.

Earlier in Spring Training, Castroneves led both days of testing on the road circuit, leading Hornish and Dixon on Thursday and Dixon and Hornish on Friday.

“It’s been a fresh start for everybody at the team,” Dixon said. “Everybody’s a lot more enthused, and we’ve got the bits and engines and everything that we need to win. It’s pretty much an even field now, and I think this team has a lot of depth to it, so it can make those fine adjustments to get us up front. I think Dan and myself work well together and get the most out of the car. So, I think it’s going to be a strong year for us.”

While rookie Marco Andretti ended the day 13th fastest, his father and team owner was impressed with his progress, and not concerned with his team's showing on the speed charts.

‘Marco’s doing well,” said Michael Andretti, who did not drive in the test but is set to race in May’s Indianapolis 500. “He right there with his teammates. As a team, we’re struggling a little bit for speed, but in race trim, we’re pretty good. We never seem to have the speed, anyway, for qualifying. But I think we’ve got pretty good race cars.”

Spring Training concludes Monday with IRL Indy Pro Series testing on the oval.

The 2006 IRL IndyCar Series season opens on the oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway Sunday, March 26, with the Toyota Indy 300 presented by XM Satellite Radio.

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