Andretti leads Texas Friday IndyCar first practice

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Three caution periods and fast tire wearing were the stories, more than speeds, coming out of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ lone practice session before qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway.

Marco Andretti led the 75-minute session, which had three interruptions, with a best speed of 217.950 mph in 43 laps.

Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan, in his first race with Sunoco/Turbo colors, was second ahead of Will Power, James Jakes and Simona de Silvestro. Kanaan made it in the 217 mph range with the other three in the 216s.

Five Hondas were sixth through 10th, Josef Newgarden ahead of Alex Tagliani, Target Chip Ganassi teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, and Detroit race two winner Simon Pagenaud.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who ended the session 13th, said his car was particularly difficult to handle with even less downforce on the car.

“It was interesting; it’s really hot and with less downforce, there was a lot of sliding around,” Hunter-Reay told IndyCar Radio’s Nick Yeoman. “I did about 30 laps and had a cut right front tire. We stopped early and decided to not to burn a set of tires.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Jakes, the breakout star in Detroit, turned the challenges into a positive for fans.

“It’s gonna be a tough race man,” Jakes told Yeoman. “We did a lot of race running. It’s gonna be an entertaining race for you all with the (tire) drop off, and it should be really spread out.”

Tim Cindric, Penske Racing president, explained the nature of the drop off for Firestone’s compounds. After a test in February, Firestone brought a tire that features a slightly softer body construction and tread compound on the left-side tires to increase grip and a slightly harder right-side tread compound to add durability.

“(Will said) he felt a good balance, but night conditions are a lot different with traffic and trying to figure out how to gear,” Cindric told Yeoman. “Tonight will tell us more.”

Oriol Servia and Pippa Mann clocked in 19th and 20th in their first sessions in the No. 4 Panther Chevrolet and No. 18 Dale Coyne Honda. Mann’s DCR teammate Justin Wilson had a substantially loose race car and ran only 14 laps; rookie Tristan Vautier completed the most laps, 62, but only with a best lap of 208.962 to end 22nd.

Qualifying occurs at 3:30 p.m. local time (4:30 p.m. ET) with final practice at 6:45 p.m. local time for half an hour. The qualifying order is below:

1. #5 E.J. Viso
2. #20 Ed Carpenter
3. #55 Tristan Vautier (R)
4. #19 Justin Wilson
5. #14 Takuma Sato
6. #18 Pippa Mann
7. #7 Sebastien Bourdais
8. #27 James Hinchcliffe
9. #25 Marco Andretti
10. #9 Scott Dixon
11. #11 Tony Kanaan
12. #67 Josef Newgarden
12a. #83 Charlie Kimball
14. #3 Helio Castroneves
15. #12 Will Power
16. #77 Simon Pagenaud
17. #98 Alex Tagliani
18. #78 Simona de Silvestro
19. #6 Sebastian Saavedra
20. #16 James Jakes
21. #15 Graham Rahal
22. #1 Ryan Hunter-Reay
23. #10 Dario Franchitti
24. #4 Oriol Servia

Female racer makes history with record finishes in dirt national midget events

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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Holly Shelton is riding high after setting a milestone for a female driver in a national midget series feature event on dirt this past weekend.

The Sacramento, California-area resident recorded the highest finish ever for a female dirt national midget series driver with a runner-up finish last Friday at the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League double-header weekend at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Shelton broke her own national record for top finish by a woman in a national dirt event – she finished third in a USAC race at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, last year.

One night after setting her new national record, Shelton and her Keith Kunz Motorsports Toyota roared back Saturday to finish third (started on the outside pole) in the second half of the weekend double-header, making her the first female dirt driver ever on the national midget circuit to earn back-to-back podium finishes.

“It’s cool making history as a female, but my number one thing is I just want to win,” said Shelton, who will be graduating from Cal-State Sacramento with a B.A. in Criminal Justice this fall. “Truthfully, on the track I don’t even remember that I’m a girl. I’m just racing all the guys with the same goal they have – to win.”

Only one other woman has finished second in either a USAC or POWRi midget feature – Sarah McCune at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway in 1999 – but that was on pavement, not dirt.

The record-setting weekend was great consolation for Shelton, who missed three races earlier this season due to surgery and then sat out three other races last month after suffering a race-related concussion.

“It felt good,” she said of her back-to-back podium finishes. “It builds up my confidence. The car is fast and we keep getting better and we want to build on it.”

Shelton was one of four women that competed in midget competition this weekend. The others were 19-year-old Maria Cofer and 16-year-olds Holley Hollan and Presley Truedson.

“It’s awesome seeing all the little girls come up to me excited to see me at the track,” Shelton said. “Hopefully, it encourages them to pursue their dreams as well and, as the years go on, more girls will get into it.”

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