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Fastest lap at Indy since practice opened

5/14/2004

INDIANAPOLIS -- Sure, Tony Kanaan is fast, but not as quick as he'd prefer.

Kanaan turned a lap of 222.668 mph Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the fastest trip around the 2½-mile oval since practice began Sunday for the Indianapolis 500.

"Really, to me, nothing's changed," Kanaan said, shrugging off the fast lap."I know what car I have and what I can do by myself."

The Brazilian driver pronounced himself more lucky than fast.

"I got (Bruno) Junqueira coming out of the pits, and I drafted him. Then he pulled in and my teammate Bryan (Herta) pulled me around for two laps.

"I did the 222.6 two laps in a row. I wish I could have done that by myself, but it's not the reality."

Close behind Kanaan was Dan Wheldon, another Andretti Green Racing teammate, with a 221.953 late in Wednesday practice.

All four AGR teammates, including Dario Franchitti, have been trading information, giving them a boost as the week goes on.

Franchitti, working on race setup and coming up short of the 219.026 he had Monday, is pleased with the way things are going for the whole team.

"We were very consistent," said Franchitti, who topped out at 217.466 on Wednesday."Bryan and I got a chance to do a long run together, and it was good to get some results from that.

"So far, Tony looks very comfortable, so I'm happy about that. That bodes well for qualifying."

Roger Yasukawa was third at 221.733, followed by Adrian Fernandez at 221.195, IRL champion Scott Dixon at 220.941, rookie Kosuke Matsuura at 220.605 and Buddy Rice at 220.530.

This year, with an engine reduction from 3.5 liters to 3.0, new restrictions on fuel and a change in the aerodynamic package, IRL officials were hoping to cut speeds that were above 232 last year by about 10 mph.

So far, so good, although there are still two more full days of practice before pole qualifying.

The top four in Wednesday's practice were driving cars with Honda engines.

Engineers for Honda, Toyota and Chevrolet -- the three manufacturers providing engines to the IRL -- all said Wednesday that they are making big strides in finding more power in the new motors.

"Every day, they look at all the parts and pieces in the engine to see what is wearing and what isn't wearing and see what can be changed," Honda spokesman Dan Layton said."Our guys liked what they saw and turned things up a notch.

"Hopefully, they can turn it up another notch before qualifying on Saturday."

Dixon had the fastest Toyota on Wednesday, with Tomas Scheckter, eighth at 220.434, in the top Chevrolet.

With the engine manufacturers obviously making improvements, there were some forecasts of a pole speed of 225. But Kanaan laughed that off.

"If the weather helps, maybe it will be 222.6 or maybe 222.8," he said."If they could do 225, I might as well just try to put my car in the field. I can't do that."

Fernandez, an owner-driver who also fields cars for Matsuura, has made great strides since switching from the rival Champ Car series before the Phoenix race in March.

Matsuura and Fernandez were 1-2 in Tuesday's practice, and Fernandez improved Wednesday on his best speed of the week.

"I am getting more confident every time we go out," the Mexican driver said."Conditions were just a little bit hotter and windier than yesterday but, still, the car is performing beautifully.

"Obviously, there are some tows out there, but, I think from what we can see, we are pretty competitive."