Buddy Rice led a Red Bull Team Cheever 1-2 during the opening practice session of the weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway as Infiniti powered cars took four of the top five positions on the 1.5-mile track.

Although Buddy Rice and Eddie Cheever were the only two cars to break the 223mph barrier during the opening practice session for Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland, the main news from Joliet was a late session accident that caused damage to the two non-Team Penske IRL title hopefuls.

Felipe Giaffone in the Mo Nunn Racing G Force-Chevrolet spun backwards into the turn three wall causing considerable damage to his Hollywood sponsored machine. With cars already practicing running in small groups, Sam Hornish Jr found himself in an unfortunate position as he faced either running over some of Giaffone's debris or risk cutting down on the closely following Scott Sharp.

Hornish chose the former option and managed to escape without hitting the wall although there was damage to the front end of his Panther Racing Dallara-Chevrolet.

That collision wasn't the only drama of the morning as Hideki Noda also brought out the yellow flags when he smoked an engine in his Indy Regency entry but Scott Mayer, a driver many are predicting will make headlines for the wrong reasons this weekend, seemed to settle into his by now familiar surroundings in the PDM Racing Dallara and was 24th fastest of the 26 cars.

Behind Rice (24.4578secs) and Cheever (24.4690secs), Billy Boat completed an all Infiniti top three in his Dallara with a best time of 24.5529secs while Vitor Meira led the Chevrolet powered contingent in fourth spot.

Although largely unheard of in the U.S. before joining Team Menard, the Brazilian former European F3000 contender has proved to be a real asset to the IRL in his thus far short tenure with John Menard's team and looks hands down favourite to land the second Menard seat for 2003 should it materialise. Even though nobody was expecting anything major from Meira this year, the young Brazilian showed that the distinctive Menards sponsored Dallara-Chevrolet still has the potential to repeat Jaques Lazier's victory in Chicagoland one year ago.

Sarah Fisher completed the top five in the leading Dreyer & Reinbold G Force-Infiniti while Briton Dan Wheldon made a promising start to his IRL career by outpacing his Panther Racing teammate and setting sixth fastest speed.

Laurent Redon, a shaken but uninjured Felipe Giaffone and Buddy Lazier rounded out the top ten.

Both Marlboro Team Penske Dallara's were quiet but consistent with both Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran relentlessly clocking up the laps and tweaking their setups. Outright speeds weren't a target and it was just as well with Castroneves 12th on the timesheets and de Ferran 15th.

 

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