Alex Barron provided a timely boost to team boss Eddie Cheever's morale after topping the timesheets on day two of the first open test of the new Indy Racing League season.

The various IRL teams left Homestead-Miami Speedway after the two-day session armed with more knowledge of their operations and experience of the revised circuit which hosts the opening round of the championship late next month. It proved to be a successful - and thankfully incident-free - test on the reconfigured 1.5-mile track, setting the teams up for another opportunity to test, in Phoenix in two weeks' time [11-12 February], before returning to Homestead for the season opener on 29 February.

Dialling in race and qualifying set-ups, and getting comfortable with their cars and a new track were high on the agenda for almost all the teams and drivers, and it was Red Bull Cheever Racing's Alex Barron who came out on top after putting his Dallara-Chevrolet through its paces. The under-used American ace topped the speed chart at 218.618mph.

"We were fortunate that we had a lot of time to run today and try out different things with the car," Barron said, "We went into this test very open-minded, and that showed with our positive results. We need to make sure we continue to do our homework because a lot of things can change in the next month."

Andretti Green Racing team-mates Bryan Herta (217.267 mph) and Dario Franchitti (217.188) were second and third on the chart, after both were recorded in the three-hour morning session.

"I'm very pleased with this test," Herta, who only agreed his deal relatively late in the day, said, "This was the first opportunity for the crew of the #7 car to work together, and everything has gone very smoothly. Plus, the car has been quick and it feels real good."

"I'm not surprised everything has come together so well, because the team was blended. I was expecting to be strong because some of the experienced guys moved over to our car and we brought in some new guys to make a good mix of people."

The other two AGR cars, of Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon occupied sixth and tenth spots on the list, and both drivers returned to base satisfied with what they had managed to accomplish in the two days.

"Our two days were very productive, especially since we've all been off for the past three months," said Kanaan, who took an extended winter break after getting married, "It's been a great effort by everybody at Andretti Green Racing this winter, and all the Team 7-Eleven guys as well. I'm happy. There is still a lot of work to do and a lot of things to improve, but this has been a good, clean couple of days."

Wheldon, the 2003 Bombardier Rookie of the Year, topped the speed chart on Wednesday, at 217.820mph, but was unable to repeat that on day two as he focused on a different programme.

"The test went really well," he reported, "The Klein Tools/Jim Beam crew has done a great job, and I've been fast in every session. Andretti Green Racing has also done a great job in producing four very competitive cars that are very equal. We just worked through a set programme which is going very well, and the main thing is we are prepared for qualifying and the race here."

Reigning champion Scott Dixon moved up the order on day two, taking fourth spot behind Barron and the two Andretti-Green drivers, while Tora Takagi underlined his potential by again registering a top five time.

Former champion Sam Hornish Jr lined up behind Kanaan as he completed his first real outing with the Penske team.

"I'm pretty happy with what we accomplished the last two days," he admitted, "We were able to try a number of things and I think we're well-prepared for the race. I look forward to coming back to Homestead-Miami Speedway at the end of February for my first race with Marlboro Team Penske."

New team-mate Helio Castroneves was only a fraction slower than the American and also featured in the top ten.

"Marlboro Team Penske has had a good two-day test here at Homestead-Miami Speedway," he concurred, "We were able to work on both qualifying and race set-ups, and I think we have a good, consistent race car. The track is very smooth, and the banking should make for a very exciting race. It will be probably be like Kansas or Chicago, with a lot of side-by-side racing. I look forward to coming back here at the end of February, as this is a 'hometown' race for me and a lot of my friends and family come out to cheer me on."

Series veteran Robbie Buhl only narrowly missed out on a top ten time on Thursday, putting the Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara-Chevrolet into eleventh spot.

"We're really pleased with our progress over the past two days, but that doesn't mean we're going to lay back and relax," he said, "We've got to keep working as hard as ever. We've done a lot of work since the end of the last race to be competitive. It's definitely smoother with the car on the track, so we can be more focused on pit in/pit out, launch control and seeing what Chevy can do to keep improving.

"Last year, we were behind at the start, so it's important for us to come out strong. As competitive as the League is, we have to keep improving. I'm really happy with the car, but hey, you always want to go faster."

While Barron top the charts on day two, former Red Bull Cheever driver Buddy Rice continued to come to grips with the team Rahal entry that he is filling while the injured Kenny Brack continues his recuperation. The American youngster clocked the 15th fastest lap of the day.

"We had a difficult day on Wednesday, and didn't get in many laps," Rice revealed, "The car needed some extra attention, so we are basically a day behind everyone. Plus, we are learning a lot of things about the G-Force chassis, which is new to the team and to me. The car hadn't turned a wheel until Tuesday. It's a quick learning curve for us right now, but the Team Rahal guys are good, and they will find us some speed."

British 'rookies' Darren Manning and Mark Taylor were listed in twelfth and 13th places.

In total, 18 drivers put in a combined 2271 laps, bringing the two-day total to 5062.

Leading performances (29 January):

Alex Barron Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara-Chevrolet 24.4536secs 218.618mphBryan Herta Andretti-Green Racing Dallara-Honda 24.6057secs 217.267mphDario Franchitti Archipelago AGR Dallara-Honda 24.6146secs 217.188mphScott Dixon Target Chip Ganassi Racing G-Force-Toyota 24.6505secs 216.872mphTora Takagi Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Dallara-Toyota 24.6665secs 216.731mphTony Kanaan Team 7-Eleven AGR Dallara-Honda 24.6694secs 216.706mphSam Hornish Marlboro Team Penske Dallara-Toyota 24.6958secs 216.474mphHelio Castroneves Marlboro Team Penske Dallara-Toyota 24.6965secs 216.468mphTomas Scheckter Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara-Chevrolet 24.7250secs 216.218mphDan Wheldon Klein tools/Jim Beam AGR Dallara-Honda 24.7490secs 216.009Robbie Buhl Team Purex/Dreyer&Reinbold Dallara-Chevrolet 24.7645secs 215.874mphDarren Manning Target Chip Ganassi RAcing G-Force-Toyota 24.7714secs 215.813mphMark Taylor Menards/John Manville Panther racing Dallara-Chevrolet 24.7723secs 215.806mphEd Carpenter Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara-Chevrolet 24.7846secs 215.698mphBuddy Rice Pioneer/Argent Team Rahal G-Force-Honda 24.7867secs 215.680mphAJ Foyt IV Conseco/AJ Foyt Dallara-Toyota 24.8718secs 214.942mphScott Sharp Delphi Kelley Racing Dallara-Toyota 24.9551secs 214.225mphKosuke Matsuura Panasonic ARTA SAFR G-Force-Honda 25.2401secs 211.806mph



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