By Paul Kelly

Thursday Mar 24, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS -- Menards Infiniti Pro SeriesT veteran Jeff Simmons was the quickest of 15 drivers who participated March 24 in the series' first test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Simmons turned a top lap of 1 minute, 25.8208 seconds, 109.064 mph in the No. 24 Team ISI Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone to lead the time charts by more than a second.

"We started off pretty cold, and it just took some time to get some heat into the tires," Simmons said. "We learned a lot and got through our testing program. We certainly learned some things for when we come back here, which was important as well. We definitely made headway on St. Pete and when we come back here."

Drivers and teams in the IndyCar® Series' primary ladder series prepared for its historic race on the 2.605-mile road course during the United States Grand Prix weekend, June 17-19. The next event for the series is the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 3 at St. Petersburg, Fla., the series first-ever race on a street course.

Menards Infiniti Pro Series rookie
Chris Festa was second overall at 1:27.0004, 107.586 in the No. 19 SpacePak/CareCentric/SSM Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, with Marco Andretti rounding out the top three at 1:27.0299, 107.549 in the No. 26 Vonage Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

"We decided to wait until after lunch to run," Festa said. "We shook the car down right before lunch and did seven laps, but we only did a system's check of gears and things like that. After lunch, we ran about 100 miles on our first set of tires. We did our quickest lap on our second-to-last lap on those."

Pos No Driver Name Best Time Best Speed Best Lap Total Laps
1 24 Jeff Simmons 85.8208 109.064 65 71
2 19 Chris Festa 87.0004 107.586 38 42
3 26 Marco Andretti 87.0299 107.549 33 42
4 33 Wade Cunningham 87.3298 107.180 50 52
5 3 Al Unser 87.8142 106.589 42 43
6 5 Arie Luyendyk Jr. 88.1995 106.123 29 35
7 21 Nick Bussell 88.4916 105.773 18 33
8 1 Jamie Camara 88.7499 105.465 30 30
9 4 Marty Roth 88.9872 105.184 64 65
10 27 G.J. Mennen 89.1848 104.951 51 53
11 7 Travis Gregg 89.4407 104.650 51 52
12 36 Larry Connor 89.5577 104.514 34 37
13 6 Jon Herb 90.5119 103.412 18 27
14 20 Jay Drake 90.6077 103.302 28 31
15 91 Mishael Abbott 105.7002 88.552 15 15

Andretti, the 18-year-old grandson of 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti and son of Indianapolis 500 standout Michael Andretti, drove a Menards Infiniti Pro Series car for the first time. He spun early in cool temperatures in the morning but recovered to reach the top three.

Mario and Michael Andretti attended the test to offer advice and support for Marco.

"It was a fun day,"
Marco Andretti said. "The first time in the car I felt pretty good, and we weren't slow; we were pretty quick, so it was a good day.

"They're (cars) a lot of fun on the road course. I love this track because you get the feel for an oval, except you're turning right. You're hauling the mail into (Turn) 1 here, and basically it's all about mechanical grip for the infield and trying to trim out as much as you can for the banking.

"It was pretty special coming down the first lap because of all of the history here."

Series rookie
Wade Cunningham was fourth overall at 1:27.3298, 107.180 in the No. 33 Visit New Zealand Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. Al Unser, the grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser and son of two-time Indy winner Al Unser Jr., was fifth at 1:27.8142, 106.589 in the No. 3 Brian Stewart Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

Unser and Andretti both were slowed by mechanical problems in the morning.

"Overall, I think it's a good day for the series," Unser said. "We're working on our road-course package. We lost a large chunk of the day. I'm loving these cars on a road course. I got out there and just drove it, and it started to pick up a push on me, so instead of letting it push out on me, I was trying to snap it loose to get it to point and direct for me.

"I'm glad Marco got out here. It's great that he gets out here."
Another legendary name of the Speedway was on track, as Menards Infiniti Pro Series veteran
Arie Luyendyk Jr. was sixth overall at 1:28.1995, 106.123 in the No. 5 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc. Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. Luyendyk is the son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk.

"It was a great experience," Luyendyk said. "I was just antsy the whole morning to get out, and then finally at 2:30 we got the car out. It's just an amazing experience coming through (Turn) 1 the opposite way. For us, the car was pushing a lot, and we have a long way to go to make the car good. For me, I had a blast out there even if the car was pushing a lot.

"The cars adapted really well. I was impressed. This is the first time for me on the road course, and I think the car did a really great job. The gearbox is great. We now have shift-without-lift, which is a new technology for the Pro Series this year, and that's really awesome, as well. I think it's going to be a competitive series. It's going to be way-close racing even though you've got a lot of guys out there with different experience levels. The car is really fun to drive."

The historical significance of running on the same track with an Andretti and an Unser also wasn't lost on Luyendyk.

"We just took some pictures," Luyendyk said. "It's neat, especially for our fathers to see us all grow up and race. I think we're going to be pretty competitive against each other. We'll see how it turns out with the F1 weekend."

The 15 drivers combined to turn 628 laps. The only accident occurred at 3:28 p.m. (local time) when series points leader
Jon Herb slid off course and hit the tire barrier in Turn 10. Herb was unhurt, but the damage to the No. 6 AERCON Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone ended his day.

"After lunch, we got our act together and really started running when I had a moment in the cockpit," Herb said. "I missed the braking zone and drove it in the grass. It was fine as can be, but when you get off in the grass and you are carrying speed, it doesn't turn too well. There happens to be wall there."

The Menards Infiniti Pro Series will return to Indianapolis on May 27 for the Futaba Freedom 100 race on the historic 2.5-mile oval during the Indianapolis 500. The series is the first to compete on the IMS oval and road circuit.