FONTANA, CaliforniaDespite fielding cars for a mere seven of 22 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series drivers, Panoz G Force runners secured five of the top ten slots in practice for the Toyota Indy 400 at the 2-mile California Speedway oval.
Led by 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner Buddy Rice and his #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone challenger, second quick with a lap of 216.949mph to Dan Wheldon, drivers of the sole American-designed and built chassis in the Indy Racing League looked smart in both practice sessions. In the cool morning, “It was pretty much of a drafting exercise,” Rice revealed. “This afternoon was much different with hotter conditions,” when most teams worked on race setups.
The heat didn’t bother Mexican Adrian Fernandez, sixth overall in his #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda at 216.107mph. “We had a good day, actually a great day with myself second and Kosuke [Matsuura] third in the afternoon session. I feel confident and hope we can fight for the pole for the first time this year,” Fernandez declared. “I feel we have a strong car, but we’ll see tomorrow.” Vitor Meira’s morning lap of 216.096mph was good for seventh with his #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda. “The big thing right now,” he said, “is to be comfortable in the car for the race and, to be honest, we aren’t right now.” In the heat of the afternoon Meira said his car was sliding in traffic he encountered.
Matsuura’s eighth place in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda came in the afternoon with his lap of 215.364mph. The Japanese rookie said, “The car has much less drag [than in the morning] and it was really fast. We have a big push in the draft and, if we can find a good setup for drafting, I think we can fight for a win.” In his first drive of this bumpy 2-mile oval,
Darren Manning rounded out the top ten with his #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, turning 215.057mph in morning practice. “We did some qualifying simulations this afternoon and we’re pretty pleased. The Panoz G Force was right no, but we still have a little left to go,” Manning revealed.
Designer Richard Wilks confirmed the Panoz G Force engineering staff isn’t slacking off. “We have new front wing endplates for this race tunnel-tested the week before last, with other bits for optimal aero tweaks on our chassis. We’re still pushing for advantages. There are still two races to be won.” Qualifying for the 200-lap Toyota Indy 400 takes place Saturday afternoon at 2:30PM PDT.