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Castroneves tops practice times at Nazareth.

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.


Related Pictures

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Helio Castroneves - Marlboro Team Penske Dallara-Toyota  [pic credit: IRL/Ron McQueeney]
Helio Castroneves pits during the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday August 24 2014. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Will Power (right), driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, is congratulated by teammate Helio Castroneves after capturing the pole Saturday, August 23, 2014 with the fastest qualifying time for Sunday`s IndyCar race at at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Helio Castroneves playfully congratulates team mate Will Power on winning pole position for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Saturday August 23 2014 (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves navigates the Turn 9 Esses during practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Will Power, driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races to a sixth-place finish Sunday, August 3, 2014 during the IndyCar Series race at Mid Ohio Raceway in Lexington, Ohio. The finish was good enough for Power to retake the drivers points championship lead from teammate Helio Castroneves. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Chevy Racing sweeps the podium with race winner Sebastien Bourdais (center), driver of the #11 Hydroxycut KVC Racing Technology Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrating his victory Sunday, July 20, 2014 during the first of two IndyCar Series races in Toronto, Canada. Second-place finisher Helio Castroneves (left), driver of the #3 PPV Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, and third-place finisher Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, join the celebration. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Will Power, driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races to a fourteenth-place finish Saturday, July 13, 2014 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Power lost the championship points lead to teammate Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, who finished eighth. (Photo by Dan Streck/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Tony Kanaan, driver of the #10 TNT Energy Drink Ganassi Racing Chevrolet V6, races to a third-place finish Saturday, July 12, 2014 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet V6, takes over the championship points lead with an eighth-place finish. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet V6, took over the championship points lead with an eighth-place finish Saturday, July 12, 2014 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Brett Moist/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, qualifies third Friday, July 11, 2014 for Saturday`s race at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.  (Photo by Brett Moist/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Helio Castroneves celebrates second place (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves on pit road (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves leads Ryan Briscoe (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves on pit lane prior to qualifications for the Pocono INDYCAR 500 at Pocono Raceway (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves heads down the Long Pond Straightaway during practice for the Pocono INDYCAR 500 at Pocono Raceway (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Race winner Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates with Helio Castroneves and Carlos Munoz on the podium after the Pocono IndyCar 500. (Photo by: Bret Kelley for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves hits the wall after contact with Sebastien Bourdais. (Photo by: Joe Skibinski for IndyCar Media)

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