The opening day of practice and qualifying for Sunday's Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise was not one that Walker Racing will look back fondly on as Darren Manning unusually failed to make the top ten and gearbox problems sidelined Rodolfo Lavin for most of the day.

Manning, who finally gave up his chase for the 2003 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Championship at the last round in Mexico, spent the day trying to figure out how to make his #15 RAC backed Reynard-Ford handle comfortably over Surfers' comparatively massive kerbs.

Although Manning is known as a street race expert, the 2.795-mile Gold Coast track requires an ultra-aggressive approach and hammering the kerbs is a major factor within that.

Manning started the day with seventh fastest time in the opening practice session of the day and despite lowering his own time as the day wore on, as has often been the case this season, others lowered theirs further. Ninth fastest time in second practice preceded a disappointing 1:35.425secs best effort in provisional qualifying. Initially quickest for only 13th place on the provisional grid, Manning was promoted to 12th when provisional front row qualifier Alex Tagliani had his times disallowed for failing post-qualifying technical inspection.

"I've been in Australia for a little over a week now having a great time, but I was ready to get back to work today," grinned a rather tanned-looking Manning. "This is a difficult track to learn in a short amount of time, especially with limited data. It takes a while to develop confidence over the curbs. You spend a lot of time in the air.

"We still have a lot (of speed) to come through the chicane in getting the RAC Walker Racing car better over the curbs. We were debating between two changes for the car on that last outing in qualifying and we chose the wrong one, but at least have a better direction for tomorrow."

Things were even worse in the sister Walker Racing pit as a gear selection problem in the first two laps of Friday morning's first practice session resulted in terminal gearbox damage to Rodolfo Lavin's primary #5 Corona Reynard-Ford.

CART's rules regarding the restricted use of the back-up car eliminated the team's option to switch cars as the primary #5 machine was repairable; however time was insufficient to fix the gearbox and the young Mexican rookie was left as an unhappy spectator for most of the day.

As a result Lavin only turned two laps during the morning sessions and failed to set a provisional qualifying time.

The lack of a qualifying time wasn't down to slow work on the Walker Racing crew's part however as the team completed a total gearbox assembly change to eliminate any doubt in the reliability of the gearbox in time for the pre-qualifying warm-up session.

Lavin circled the 2.795-mile street circuit for just two laps during the short session to insure the gearbox functioned properly. As Lavin did not have enough time to learn the circuit, the #5 car did not take the track during qualifying as to not interfere with others' qualifying efforts.

"It's a disappointing way to start the weekend, but I think we made the right decision," said Lavin afterwards. "I simply did not have enough laps to learn the track. I don't know the braking zones, the apexes or how the car was going to handle. Rather than try to learn the track during qualifying, hopefully the car will be OK mechanically and we can start fresh tomorrow."



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