HOMESTEAD, Fla., Feb. 28 (UPI) -- As the Indy Racing League IndyCar series took the track Friday with its deepest lineup ever, there were some familiar names missing in action.
Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion and 2000 IRL IndyCar series titlist, was walking around the Homestead-Miami Speedway paddock in street clothes rather than a driving suit. The long-time supporter of the IRL has been unable to put together a sponsorship package for the 2003 season.
Two-time IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr., winner of this race the past two seasons, was missing from the top of the speed list. Hornish managed the ninth-fastest speed of the day at 198.320 miles per hour in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
In fact, Chevrolet was missing as the engine that dominated the series in 2002 was shut out of the top five Friday. Sarah Fisher turned in the fastest Chevy lap at 199.558 mph, seventh quickest on the day.
While the IRL's familiar names were struggling, Scott Sharp saved the day for the home-ground teams in the series as Kelley Racing had the fastest lap of the two sessions at 204.132 mph in a Dallara/Toyota.
This is the first IRL race for both the Toyota and Honda Indy V8 engines. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves was second quick at 201.967 mph in another Dallara/Toyota for Marlboro Team Penske.
"We changed some of our team personnel and going to the Toyota engine with a new chassis was a lot to learn in a short period of time," Sharp said. "Things started coming together pretty well. We had a good test here 10 or 11 days ago. It's nice to come out of the box strong."
Sharp said the racing surface at the 1 1/2-mile oval differs widely according to weather conditions, which were very hot and humid Friday. That will have a major impact in Sunday's Toyota Indy 300.
"The times are actually slower than the open test we had here, but track conditions today were extremely difficult," Castroneves said. "That is why there were such big gaps in the times today. I expect it will be more competitive on Saturday in the run for the pole. Hopefully, we will be in the ballgame."