Helio Castroneves put his Marlboro Toyota on top of the speed charts in both of Friday's practice sessions in preparation for Sunday's Firestone Indy 225 at the Nazareth Speedway – 100th IRL race.
Castroneves, the defending race champion, registered the fastest lap of the day at 165.667 mph during the afternoon session for the race, which also marks the final time the IRL will race at Nazareth.
Vitor Meira led the Honda effort on his first visit to the circuit, the Rahal Letterman Racing driver just pipping series leader Tony Kanaan on the time sheets.
“I had never seen the track before this weekend,” Meira said afterwards. “But Buddy [Rice] took me around in the rental car and showed me a few lines to run. It is a lot like a road course, it has uphills, downhills, flat turns and banked ones. So it is very different than the other short ovals. It is a very fun track, a driver's track. The car felt very good from the start and a lot of that is because of Buddy's test here a few weeks ago.
“We have been quick in qualifying [this year] but today I wanted to concentrate on the race setup. That is the most important for me right now. From the exit of turn three all the way to turn two is one big turn and you have to be hooked up for that. Then you can try to pass on the outside of turn two and the inside of turn three.”
Sam Hornish took fourth ahead of Darren Manning, although his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon struggled down in 18th.
"We've been working predominantly on race set up and it's been a bit more of a struggle than expected,” Dixon said, “but then again we have been trying out a variety of set ups. Our biggest challenge at the moment is turn two.
“We just can't seem to find the right balance there for our Toyota/ G Force at the moment. The Target team has made gains in other places though and we're going to build on that. The good thing about these three day events is that we have more time to try a bunch of things and that's what we've been up to today."
Buddy Rice was sixth on the time sheets, ahead of Adrian Fernandez – looking for a third straight podium finish after a win at Kentucky a fortnight ago and a second place last weekend at Pikes Peak.
“It was a good day,” the owner/driver said. “The car has been good which makes me pretty happy because we didn't test here like a lot of teams. We have a good baseline, and I think we are looking good for the whole weekend. It is nice to be back at Nazareth. I have been in many races here going back to Indy Lights. It is nice to be here for the last race.”
Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and Tomas Scheckter completed the top ten.