Three rookies find trouble on busy final full day of practice at Indianapolis

Updated: May 17, 2008

AP Photo/Mark Miller

Rookie E.J. Viso found out just how unforgiving the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Amazingly, the weather cooperated for a second consecutive day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But after an incident-free Thursday practice, the famed 2.5-mile oval had some bite Friday -- just in time to create a little more intrigue going into the final qualifying weekend.

E.J. Viso and Will Power crashed in the first hour in single-car incidents, and Graham Rahal bounced off the SAFER barrier in the final half-hour, the three rookies giving their crews overtime work before Saturday's qualifying (ESPN2 and ESPN360.com, 4-6:30 p.m. ET).

Power had been carrying plenty of momentum and speed into Saturday, when positions 12 through 33 will be filled on the grid after the rainout Sunday. His KV Racing Technology No. 8 was the fastest of the non-qualified cars Thursday, sixth-best overall, and was good again Friday at 223.039 mph in limited action before the Dallara-Honda spun in Turn 1 and the left side slammed the SAFER barrier.

"There was a lot of blustery wind out there, and I just got caught out," said the Australian, who emerged with a few bruises but wasn't seriously hurt. "I wasn't even up to speed yet and the car came around on me, sending me into the wall.

"This is obviously a setback because of the track time [lost Friday afternoon], but I know the team will do what needs to be done and we will be ready to qualify tomorrow."

Power is first in the qualifying order Saturday, which should provide quick feedback as to how he and his team recover from the crash.

Three spots after Power on Saturday is Rahal, who did extensive damage with what at first glance didn't appear to be a bad hit. But he broke his right front and rear suspensions and cracked the engine, so the Newman/Haas/Lanigan team will have to put in a replacement Honda powerplant.

"The car was pretty quick, and we were trying to do a qualifying run simulation when I white-walled the tires," Rahal said. "It was due to wind. I had lifted already, and at that point, there is not much you can do."

The tough day for the rookie class began with Viso's backing into the Turn 3 wall before getting up to full speed in the HVM Racing machine in what was the car's first full-fuel run.

Coincidentally, Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dan Wheldon -- who will start the Indy 500 second -- mentioned Viso in a news conference Thursday when asked about his impression of the rookie class, calling the Venezuelan "the craziest by far" and saying that "you can tell he hasn't hit the wall yet."

That meeting came Friday, but Viso said he wouldn't be worse for wear Saturday.

"You can take [what Wheldon said] in two directions. It's OK, I have no problem with it," Viso said. "A small touch with the wall isn't going to change my point of view of the race; I'm stronger mentally than that."

Other rookies struggled in the final full day of practice while trying to juggle the needs of getting laps in race trim and running flat-out in qualifying setups. Rahal teammate Justin Wilson went out late in the afternoon in a qualifying mode and was horrible, just avoiding a near disaster.

"The balance wasn't too good. I had a big moment in Turn 1; I think it was more luck than judgment that the back [end] came back in line. I basically crashed but didn't hit anything," Wilson said. "It was the crash that never happened but should have. We thought that was enough for today, so we put the car away.

"We're going to try to sort out the qualifying setup in the pre-qualifying session [Saturday morning]. We'll just take a big breath and try to sort it out."

The incidents weren't limited to the rookies. Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe wrecked his No. 6T backup car late in the session in Turn 1.

"I think the tires were getting a bit old, and I lost the rear," Briscoe said. "I was a bit surprised because I wasn't at full speed, I was just coming up to speed."

Still, he was third on the speed charts for the day in the backup, at 223.372 mph. Teammate Helio Castroneves was second in his backup car, at 223.411 mph, and pole-sitter Scott Dixon ended another day as the best in the house, reaching 223.713 mph.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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Steering system wins award

A variable rack-and-pinion steering system, new at Indianapolis this year, won the 42nd annual BorgWarner Louis Schwitzer Award on Friday. The award, named for an early racing pioneer, is presented every May to engineers who explore new racing technologies.

The variable-ratio system, developed last year with help from Panther Racing and Andretti Green Racing, combines a range of steering-rack teeth into one system. In the past, teams had to select one steering-rack tooth size for a race.

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Quote of the day

Danica Patrick

Patrick

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"If we go 226 in race trim, we'll be in really good shape," Patrick said with a knowing look to the crowd before turning back to Thiebaud. "I'll explain later."

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