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Photo by Brady Whitesel,
Photo by Brady Whitesel,
May 27th 2010 - By:  Mark W. Theisen

     INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA MAY 28, 2010:   Dario Franchitti, Wade Cunningham and Helio Castroneves were the big winners this afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the stage is now set for the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 this Sunday.
     Franchitti and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon posted the top speeds during the one hour final practice session, or as it has been know forever as “carb day” to give the team a “psychological edge” over the favorite Penske Racing team of Castroneves, Will Power and Brian Briscoe.
     Franchitti’s 225.574 edged Dixon’s 225.159 for bragging rights this day and gave indication that they will have to be reckoned on Sunday as well as the Penske trio.
     The Target team again displayed the speed that they have enjoyed on all the oval tracks that comprise the IZOD Indy Car series over the past few years and did show at the 500 last year only to falter in the pits when it counted at the end of last’s year’s race.
     “We were fast today and that is an edge but we have to continue this on Sunday,” said Franchitti, the winner here in 2007 and who exemplified the speed to win last year.  “The speed today is what we are capable of but it has to continue Sunday.  It will be warmer, and a lot longer than today and we have to keep it up to beat the competition.”
     Asked if they have made strides in their pit stops Franchitti would only say that it is a work in progress.
     Penske’s Power was third at 224.993 while dark horse Bruno Junqueria was fourth at 224.898 as his short, but impressive month of May at Indy continues.  Not on the track until last Sunday in a team car to Alex Tagliani Junqueria outshined his boss today as Tagliani was 10th on the overall speed chart at the conclusion of the session.
     Odds on favorite, Castroneves, was fifth at 224.753 as the speeds continue to be tight among all 33 starters for the 500.
     Tony Kanann, driving for Andretti Motorsports, who crashed twice last weekend and whose crew assembled his car for a last minute qualification run on Sunday, withdrew his backup car in favor of his primary car and will move from the 32nd starting spot to 33rd moving Sebastian Saavedra to 32nd.
     In his first practice in the rebuild car, Kanaan posted a top speed of 222.411 as his team scrambled to get the car ready for Sunday.
    “They (his team) have worked incredibly hard for me and I need to do event better for them,” said Kanaan. “Nobody has won this race from the 33rd starting position but I will give it may all, that is for sure.”
     Cunningham qualified second to Pippa Mann in yesterday’s time trial runs for the Firestone Freedom 100 Firestone Indy Lights race as Mann became the first female driver to win a pole starting position for a race in the 101 year history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
     In today’s Freedom 100 Cunningham outraced Mann into the first turn as was ahead at the end of the first lap of the 40 lap race followed by Charlie Kimball as Mann, from Ipswich, England began to slip back in the field.
     Her day came to a premature end on the third lap as Jeff Simmons lost control of his car in the first turn and with no place to go on the track Mann hit the errant Simmons machine sending both out of the race.
     “I’ve got some pretty bruised feet and I’m going to have a very sore neck tomorrow,” said Mann, “and I’m pretty angry now, but I’m OK.  It was an accident that didn’t need to happen as the blue car (Simmons) was pinched down on to the white line by another car and spins.  He got pushed down really, really hard.  I saw it unfolding and there was nothing I could do about it.  It is a shame, we had a good car.”
     Cunningham paced the race until lap 10 when Kimball nosed ahead to lead that lap but on the next circuit Cunningham was ahead and lead until lap 32 when Kimball again was able to muscle his way into a short one lap lead again succumbing to Cunningham on the next lap.
    From then on Cunningham cruised to his second straight and third overall Indy Lights win at Indianapolis finishing .4388 of a second over Kimball with James Hinchcliffe finishing third. Cunningham is the only Light’s driver to win the event more than once.
     “The whole time I thought Charlie (Kimball) was driving a smart race and hanging back,” said Cunningham.  “I thought he was going to have something the last ten laps, but really when we got to lapping cars his car wasn’t that good in the draft and that allowed us to get the final lead.”
     Cunningham, who joined the Sam Schmidt Motorsports organization, last year, gave that organization its fifth victory in the Freedom 100, more than any other team.
     Kimball who now has finished second in three straight Light’s races this year said, “The set up wasn’t exactly where we wanted it to be.  I ran out of tools midway through the race.  His (Cunningham’s) experience around here helped him win the race, that’s for sure.  It was a great effort for us.”
     Castroneves and his pit crew won the final event of the afternoon, the IZOD sponsored pit stop challenge, for his second straight win in the event and 12th overall for Team Penske.
      Castroneves’ crew edged the team of Newman-Haas Racings Hideki Mutoh to win the event that featured a run off of the twelve teams that entered the competition and gave the Target Ganassi team something to think of for the race as well.  Both Target cars were eliminated in earlier runs and were not seen at the end and this has to be a big factor in Sunday’s race as they know they have their work cut for them in the pits despite having the speed on the track.
     One could say that even though the Target team was fast on the track today, the “psychological” edge still remains with Penske.  Last year’s race was won in the pit and with the closeness of the field this year on speed it certainly looks like this year’s race will be won in the pits again and you have to look no further than today’s pit competition to pick a favorite.
     Sunday should be fun to watch.