Indianapolis 500: Dixon Leads Final Practice, Briscoe Wins Pit Stop Competition

On Miller Lite Carb Day, Scott Dixon led the final practice session with a quick lap of 225.474mph.

“It’s more of just a systems check,” Dixon said, who will start second on Sunday. “The car’s obviously been in a million pieces since we last drove them. It’s just to make sure they’re all functioning. We came in and did a few pit stops. Because of the lack of on-track time that we’ve had, we made a few changes. We tried some dampers, aero downforce levels, things like that. It’s obviously very cold and probably not very close or in line with what we’re going to run in on Sunday. All in all, it was pretty decent. The car was good. There was loads of traffic. There was lots of action going on out there with people speeding up and slowing down. It was pretty good for both Target cars.”

Pole Sitter Alex Tagliani was second on the speed charts at a speed of 224.739mph for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

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“Yeah, it was an amazing week that we had last week,” Tagliani said. “We’re really fortunate that we rolled the car off the trailer fast. The team has done a great job to fine-tune it. Every day we were out there, and we were strong. So it’s been a pleasure for me to drive a very competitive car. Today it was nice to be back on track. Obviously, we have a very different car that we’re going to drive in the race. And I feel the car is very racey. I love it in traffic. It got some consistency out of the car on the older tires. So I don’t know. It seems to me to be unreal and too good to be true sometimes. But I want to think that we deserve it. We did everything better than everyone else, and hopefully it will continue. All winter long, the team fine-tuned the car. They just put their love into it, brought it back this year. Same car, same aerodynamic package, same track, and the car did better. So Penske and Ganassi have done that 10 years in a row. They have done the particular program that we have done for one race 10 years in row: Have a good car and keep improving it every year. And we’re trying to close the gap in a year and a half. It’s not an easy task.”

With the single car operation, Tagliani has been turning a lot of heads, including Dixon’s.

“Tag has done a hell of a job this month,” Dixon said. “It’s good to see that it’s been working so well. You know, you’re never going to know until you get to the race. He’s a good friend, and I’m definitely proud to see what he’s achieved, obviously, with a start-up team and to be able to mix it up with the big teams.”

Tagliani says when he leads the first lap in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 Sunday, it will mean a lot.

“I’ve been very appreciative of what’s happened to me as a driver,” Tagliani said. “But what we don’t want to forget is that we have the chance to participate in a historical event. And to just have the chance to qualify in it is already a big thing. Leading the field, I think it’s going to be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Meanwhile, Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti was third at a speed of 224.658mph.

“We can always learn something from today,” he said. “It will be a lot different on Sunday. We think we know how to turn the car around for those conditions. It will be a tough race. I think there is less grip than last year, and that’s going to make it really interesting. The slower speed (start and restarts) will be better. We may be going 190 into the first turn on the start. Turn 2 will be Turn 1 speed from years past. Restarts, I still don’t agree with side-by-side, I think we’re just asking for a bit of marbles. Whatever happens will be interesting, it will be slick and interesting. Dixie (Scott Dixon) looks strong. He’s going to be tough. We’re pretty strong, but just like the month I had last year, he (Dixon) has been on a rail all month. I followed (Alex) Tagliani, and he looks pretty average in traffic. But when he gets off the corner, he really goes. He will be plenty tough to beat. There are a bunch of people you just know who will be there (challenging for the win). (Dan) Wheldon will contend, the Penske cars will be strong, and there will be others. It’s wide open.”

Victor Meira was fourth at a speed of 224.480mph with Dan Wheldon rounding out the top five at 224.439mph.

Meanwhile, Ryan Briscoe’s No. 6 IZOD Team Penske team won the IZOD Indy 500 Pit Stop Competition as they defeated Dario Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing team in the final round. His pit crew received a $50,000 first prize. Penske Racing has now won the competition a record 13 times, including the last six times in a row, though marks the first for Ryan Briscoe.

“I think what you saw now is a taste of what these guys are going to be doing for me in the race, and it’s so important,” Briscoe said. “I put so much pride in their pit stops, and I’m just lucky to have the best guys in pit lane. Helio has definitely been the favorite over the past few years, but I’ve got this guy (Matt) and I was never looking at who was beside me. We were really consistent, and after the first one we just wanted to keep repeating. They did it all. The Penske pride in the competition goes back a ways, so we don’t want to show up here and not be in the competition.”

Meanwhile for chief mechanic Matt Jonsson, it marks his second win as he led Sam Hornish Jr.’s team in 2005.

“This win means a lot,” he said. “It adds confidence for Sunday, of course, and we’re planning on doing the same thing on Sunday and trying to move up through the field. We win as a team and lose as a team, and that’s our job on Sunday, to try to move up the field. Ryan came in on a consistent speed, stopped right on his marks. That’s key for us. We don’t have to adjust; we just do the same thing every time. If everyone stays calm and collected, that’s the way it turns out to be: consistent.”

The winner of the competition has gone on to win the Indianapolis 500 six times, most recently with Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves in 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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