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Confidence abounds heading into Carb Day

5/26/2005

INDIANAPOLIS – On the eve of Indy 500 Carb Day, the last chance for teams to tweak cars before Sunday's race, a few things were abundantly clear.

Danica Patrick is extremely confident. And so is pole-sitter Tony Kanaan. Ditto for two-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves.

Dressed in what she called her most comfortable blue jeans and fielding most of the same media questions she's faced in a frenzied month under the spotlight, a steely-eyed Patrick said Thursday she expects to win the Indy 500.

"There's nothing I want to do more than win this race," she said. "I will be fair, but I will do what it takes."

She went on to say that her story is good for America. She's done more than 70 interviews this week, a Rahal Letterman public relations official estimated, leaving Patrick exhausted but clearly beaming.

But not everyone's feeling warm and fuzzy.

Kanaan took a swipe at Patrick, saying that almost winning the pole isn't the same as actually winning it and that he, based on experience and lap times at Indy, should be considered the race favorite.

"People say 'almost, she almost did, if she hadn't wobbled,' " Kanaan said of Patrick's first-lap bobble in qualifying that likely cost her pole position. "The moment she had, she caught [the car and kept from spinning] pretty good. That showed her talent.

"But it's unfair to say 'almost,' because then you have to say Sam [Hornish] almost did it, too; [Scott] Sharp almost did it, too; the other 32 guys almost did it.

"I was the only one that got it right," he added. "That's how it is. That's how you get poles, and that's how you win races. It's not fair to say almost."

Patrick and Kanaan weren't the only drivers talking tough. Castroneves, who famously climbed the fence at Indianapolis after winning back-to-back in 2001 and '02, was asked where he would rate his chances of doing it again.

"Eleven," he said.

The scale was 1 to 10.

"That's Helio," said Kanaan, laughing. "Wow."

Meira's perfect ending
Vitor Meira, one of Patrick's teammates at Rahal Letterman Racing, has quietly been fast all month and it's no secret his team has this track figured out. Buddy Rice won here last year, Kenny Brack took his spot this year after Rice got hurt and posted the best qualifying time of the month, and Patrick's been dazzling every time out.

Because of this, Meira envisions a scenario where he becomes the story on Sunday.

"If I'm a little bit under the radar, that's out there [in the public], it's not within this team," Meira said. "If everybody wants to underrate me, that's good, but the team doesn't think like that.

"It's good to have time for myself and everything," he added, noting how Patrick hasn't had that luxury. "I just hope that after Sunday I'll be pretty busy."

Giaffone settles in
Expressed in terms of an hourly wage, Felipe
Giaffone must be the highest-paid performer this month at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 30-year old from Sao Paulo, Brazil
didn't get called into action until Bump Day, and by the time
Sunday's Indianapolis 500 ends, Giaffone will have spent less than
seven hours in the A.J. Foyt Racing's No. 48 Panoz-Toyota.

In the unlikely scenario that Giaffone wins the race, his take-home
pay rate will be about $200,000 an hour. Even if he finishes at the
back of the pack, Giaffone will rake in a cool $30K for every 60
minutes of work.

Though it wasn't as dramatic as some of Indy's Bump Day banzai runs
from decades ago, Giaffone still joined a unique group of Brickyard
heroes including Jerry Sneva, Bob Harkey and John Mahler who stuck an
unproven car in the show with very little seat time.

"That's a good payday, though I haven't thought about that way,"
Giaffone said with a grin. "In one way, you're right. But on the
other hand, I would rather have had a lot more time in the car."

Giaffone did his May 22 practice laps and qualification run using one
of Larry Foyt's seats, and he is looking forward to running on
Carburetion Day with a more comfortable seat molded around his own
contours.

"Using Larry's seat wasn't ideal, but obviously we didn't have a lot
of time," Giaffone said. "I'm sure the car is going to be a lot more
tailored for me for the race and I'm optimistic if we finish on the
lead lap we can have a good result."

Franchitti knows history
Of all the IndyCar drivers, the one you
will most likely find curled up with a good book is Dario Franchitti.
The Scotsman is a particularly keen observer of racing history, so he
is well aware that 40 years ago this month, Jim Clark scored a
dominant and historic victory in the Indianapolis 500.

"I started thinking about that before I even got here," Franchitti
admitted. "I've been a fan of Jim Clark for as long as I can remember
and my wife [Ashley Judd] recently bought me a copy of Time magazine
with Jimmy on the cover after his Indianapolis win. So it would mean
a lot for me to be able to win here as well."

Reunification, the latest chapter
Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais poked his head into a circle of reporters surrounding IndyCar champ Kanaan, seeing how his buddy on the other side of the American open-wheel split was doing.

The two shared a good-natured laugh with each other, but Kanaan turned serious when he spoke of the need for one open-wheel series in the U.S.

"We all do [speak about reuniting], it's going to help everybody," he said. "You guys are gonna travel a lot less, we're going to have a bunch of cars, and we'll have more fans, great parties, so what's wrong?

"I don't know, [maybe] I'm being optimistic," he added. "Every year we talk about it but I see this year it's getting more serious. The right people are getting involved now. The only people getting hurt in this thing is us."

Jaques Lazier is comfortable
Indy Racing League mainstays in the
late '90s, the Lazier brothers were seemingly left behind as the
engine manufacturer-supported superteams like Andretti Green and
Ganassi came to dominate the IndyCar Series in recent years. But
Buddy and younger sibling Jaques feel confident for this year's 500
even though they are no longer season-long participants.

"I'm very excited for Sunday," Jaques said. "I think the team
[Playa Del Racing] has worked very diligently for race day and we've
been very conservative throughout the month. Every lap we have done
has been in race trim, so I'm excited about our car. It won't be the
fastest, but it will be consistent and I feel like I can go almost
anywhere on the track."

Playa Del Racing hoped to run a full-season campaign but didn't raise
the necessary budget. Lazier hopes a solid run at Indy will lead to
additional races later this summer.

"We hope we can run another four or five races this year and
hopefully we can be fully funded for a full season in 2006," he said.
"We'll probably run the speedways because that's what we have the
wings and aero package for. We're looking at Fontana and Chicagoland
and Michigan. It's so expensive to buy wings for the mile ovals and
it depends on what Toyota wants us to do."

Lazier won an IndyCar race while driving for John Menard's defunct
team but he says he has had fun going back to basics with Playa Del
Racing.

"I'm enjoying being the little guy, but then I've done that before
with Truscelli Racing," he noted. "To be honest, I'm having a blast.
They are relying on my expertise and my knowledge so I feel like I
have responsibility for every facet of the team, which is something I
enjoy."

Justin Hagey is motorsports editor for ESPN.com. John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.