Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway it started out breezy, overcast, and dry for the delayed 'Opening Day' of practice for the 2009 Indianapolis 500.

Wednesday's Opening Day was all but rained out, so the schedule was to start at 10:30 am instead of noon, to allow more practice time. There was, however, a 25-minute delay to dry the damp track and then it was all systems go. The clouds did part late afternoon to allow the sun to shine warmly, and by the end of the day at 6 PM local time, the skies were blue and it was 76F/24C degrees ambient while the track was 99F/37C. The peak temperatures were recorded at 5:45 PM - 77F/25C and 102F/38C.

The fastest driver overall Friday was Marco Andretti at 225.478 mph/00.39.9152. He turned that lap mid afternoon on his thirty-fourth of 52 laps. He said

"It wasn't a bad day for Team Venom Energy, we obviously had tow and had the fastest time today," he said. "But I think on our own, we are not bad as well, the positive thing is we worked really hard on the car balance and it's pretty good. We're doing our best, for sure."

Second fastest was Helio Castroneves, the only other driver in the 25's at 225.237 mph/00:39.9579. Behind him were
Ryan Biscoe, last year's champion Scott Dixon; and his Ganassi team-mate, Dario Franchitti. Castroneves, Dixon, Franchitti and Dan Wheldon - who was sixth quickest despite brushing the wall late on - are all past Indy 500 winners.

Top rookie was Robert Doornbos in seventh place. This is only the Dutchman's second ever oval race, the first being his run last weekend at Kansas Speedway, where he qualified second, but finished twelfth, one lap down. Doornbos has run two other races at the Brickyard - two Formula One races on the road course configuration.

Doornbos is being coached this month by fellow Dutchman and two-time Indy 500 winner, Arie Luyendyk.

"I'm so happy to be here at the Indy 500," the Newman Haas Lanigan man said. "I was here before for the Formula One races in 2005 and 2006, but to be here for the Indy 500, you know you are part of something special. You feel the vibe when you see the row of bricks and feel part of the history.

"I really like driving on the ovals. Rookie Orientation went well, and I was able to get up to speed quickly, so I was looking forward to getting back on track. Arie Luyendyk has been coaching me and helping me make some changes to the car, and we have run well. It has been fun today. We stayed inside the top four for most of the day, and it is looking good. It was nice to be P1 for a while even though it's just testing. It's a good motivator for everybody, including the driver. I'm feeling comfortable, and I really enjoy driving here. I liked the qualifying format in Kansas, and I am looking forward to doing it here where it has always been done this way."

Rookie Raphael Matos took the most advantage of the day, turning 132 laps - the most of any driver. He's been busy all week, running 212 laps so far, more than any other driver. Matos was twenty-sixth of the 31 drivers on course Thursday.

All but one of the 2009 Rookies have passed their Rookie Orientation. For Stanton Barrett, it's still a work in progress. He was last on the times.

Thirty-two separate driver/car combinations were on track, with 31 separate drivers. Ryan Briscoe drove his #6 Penske Racing car and also the #12 Team Verizon Wireless car, which is for Will Power, who is running just this race. Power also drove his #12 car. No doubt Briscoe was helping set up the car for Power.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was seen and released from the Clarian Emergency Medical Centre, cleared to race by Dr Geoffrey Billows, medical director for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. RHR spun and made a moderate hit on the Turn Two wall Thursday afternoon. He attributed the half spin to a calibration and weight issue with some vibration in the tyres. The car sustained front and rear suspension damage, but the crew said it is taking its time today repairing the car to make sure everything is alright. The car will be out on track Friday morning, "bright and early."

Paul Tracy is one of two returning open wheel racers with prior Indy 500 experience and are only running the first weekend of practice. He's run six Indy 500's, three under the IRL banner. Tracy feels he can get everything he needs to run this weekend. He ran Tuesday with the Rookies, as a 'Refresher' run for returning open wheel racers who have run the Indy 500 in the past, but not last year. Tracy was fastest overall of nine drivers, running only 25 laps of a possible eighty plus.

"We had a good day with the GEICO-KV Racing Technology car," the Canadian said. "We ran a lot of laps in traffic with a lot of race-level downforce. Our objective today wasn't to try to be the fastest but to work on the race setup. We are inside the top 12 in race trim, which is great because it looked like most of the teams were working on their qualifying setups. So from that standpoint, I am happy with how the day went. However, we are not where we feel we should be for qualifying, so our goal tomorrow will be to start trimming the car out and get ready for qualifying."

Scott Sharp also ran the Tuesday Refresher Course, and was second fastest overall with 26 laps on track. He ran the inaugural IRL season in 1996 and won the 1997 championship with Buzz Calkins. Sharp still holds the record for the most IRL race starts (146) and most consecutive starts (138), among other stats. Sharp was fifteenth fastest Thursday.

Thursday there was 45 minutes of caution, mostly for track inspection.

The Fast Friday schedule calls for cars on track at noon for six hour.

by Lynne Huntting