Hornish fastest again


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – On the eve of qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sam Hornish Jr. was fastest once again.

But defending champion Dan Wheldon still owns the quickest lap of May.

“He’s walking around with a swagger, so you know he’s feeling pretty good right now,” Wheldon said of Hornish, who has led six of the seven days this month when the weather was good enough to run.

That included Friday, the first uninterrupted day of practice, when Hornish topped out at 227.925 and attempted a simulated four-lap qualifying run. On the other hand is Wheldon, who hit 228.663 in a single lap last Sunday, but hasn’t been able to push his car that hard for four laps.

“I can’t do that right now,” Wheldon said, “so that’s just what we’re working toward.”

He’ll have no choice during today’s qualifying, which was pushed back from last week because of rain.

Indy officials are hoping a fair weather forecast allows them to fill the 33-car field in what’s setting up as a duel between the consistently quick Hornish and the superlatively fast Wheldon.

“Have these guys showed us everything they’ve got?” Hornish asked, nodding toward Wheldon and his teammate Scott Dixon, who briefly pushed Hornish to second place Friday with a lap of 227.322.

“I guarantee,” Hornish said, “they haven’t.”

Wheldon didn’t deny that his team is working on picking up speed.

“But I’m sure Sam’s got more,” he said.

If they’re right, it may take the fastest laps of the month to win the pole.

It is understood that the Hornish’s Marlboro Team Penske and the Target Chip Ganassi team of Wheldon, which have dominated the first three IRL races this season, are the ones to beat. While Wheldon is looking to build on last year’s victory, Hornish is determined to overcome the problems that have plagued him in his first six years competing at Indy.

“The way I think we look at this year is we have a great opportunity here,” Hornish said. “The big thing is how do you not trip yourself up, not make any mistakes?”

He’s made plenty, crashing out of three races. And Hornish has yet to complete more than 196 of the 200 laps in the 500-mile race and has not finished better than 14th. But winning the pole in Saturday’s rain-delayed start of qualifying for the May 28 race would be a great way to get started on the turnaround for the two-time IRL IndyCar Series champion.

Hornish, in his third year with Penske, which has won 12 poles and 13 races at Indy – both records – set the early pace Friday on the 2.5-mile oval. He had a simulated four-lap qualifying run in which each lap was above 227 mph, topped by a 227.281.

That’s when Dixon briefly bumped him. But Hornish quickly rose to the challenge and came back with three more quick laps, including one at 227.925, the day’s fastest.

Thirty-one other cars posted speeds Friday, the first day since practice began that rain didn’t cut short or wash out the on-track activity.

Among the other fast drivers were Wheldon at 227.040 – well short of his month’s best 228.663 last Sunday – two-time race winner Helio Castroneves, Hornish’s teammate, at 226.654 and former series champion Tony Kanaan, part of the Andretti Green Racing team, at 226.104.

The busy Friday produced 2,316 total laps and two incidents.

Marty Roth, a 47-year-old Canadian aiming for his third Indy start, wiggled coming out of turn three and did a half spin before getting the car back under control and driving it slowly into the pits.

Jeff Simmons, hoping for his second start here, wasn’t as lucky. Simmons, who replaced Paul Dana at Rahal Team Letterman after Dana was killed in a crash in March at Homestead-Miami Speedway, had just turned his fast lap of the month at 225.287 when he spun and crashed hard.

“Right now, I’m just upset,” said Simmons, who was not injured. “This was the same car that I clipped the inside wall with last week. We have a backup car, but I have to check and see if we can bring it out for qualifying.”

Meanwhile, his Rahal Letterman teammates, Danica Patrick and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice, who missed last year’s 500 due to injury, both struggled to find more speed.

Patrick, who was among the fastest drivers here last year, was 14th Friday at 223.601, with Rice right behind at 223.536.

Qualifying was rained out last weekend, but mostly sunny skies were on tap for Saturday as well as Sunday, when any non-qualified entries to try to bump out the slowest drivers.

AP-ES-05-19-06 2025EDT