Dixon Fastest in Carb Day Practice
John Oreovicz, ESPN.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- For the 33 drivers in the Indianapolis 500 field, Carb Day 2011 lacked drama.
And that's just the way they like it.
In ideal cool, cloudy conditions, the field completed an incident-free hour of practice. Now everyone gets to recalibrate for race day, when temperatures are expected to approach 90 degrees for the second year in a row.
Last year, a hot race played into the hands of Target Ganassi Racing -- specifically Dario Franchitti, who dominated the 500 on the way to victory.
The Target team certainly looked good this year on Carb Day, as Scott Dixon and Franchitti ran first and third.
"I love Carb Day," Franchitti said. "You can have the best car all month, then show up on Carb Day and the thing is just terrible. I've had one smooth Carb Day in however many years I've done this race, and that was last year, when I parked the thing and went to my bus happy.
"We were 1-2 on Carb Day and the race was hot too, and it just put our cars in the sweet spot," he added. "Had it been the same temperature as before, we might not have had the same advantage or any advantage at all. We may have had to change the setup completely. That's one of the tough things about Indy -- you practice, practice, practice at the same temperature, and if it changes for the race you have to start over again. That's where the experience comes in, from the team or from the driver."
Dixon has been a tick quicker than Franchitti all week and that trend continued on Carb Day. The 2008 Indy winner's quick lap of 225.474 mph was a full 0.7 mph faster than pole qualifier Alex Tagliani and Franchitti.
"It felt good, but we'll see what the weather brings," Dixon said. "It's always more difficult in the race. If you're in traffic it's a lot more difficult to stay close to the car, because you get less grip from the tires and less grip from the wings."
AJ Foyt Racing enjoyed a productive Carb Day, placing Vitor Meira fourth and controversial addition Ryan Hunter-Reay seventh. Meanwhile Team Penske's fastest representative was three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves in ninth. Will Power was 12th fastest and Ryan Briscoe was 15th, all in the 223 mph bracket.
Dixon tabbed Tagliani as the dark horse to watch on Sunday.
"Obviously Tag has done a hell of a job this month and it's good to see their team [Sam Schmidt Motorsports] working so well," Dixon said. "You never know until you get to the race, but he's a good friend and I'm glad to see what he's achieved. He's put together a team that can mix it up with the big boys."
The unquestioned feel-good story of the month, Tagliani vowed to create a happy ending.
"It's been an amazing week," Tagliani said. "Fortunately we rolled the car out of the trailer fast and every day we were strong. It's a pleasure to drive a very competitive car.
"Seems to me it's just unreal. It's too good to be true, but I'd like to think we deserve it. Maybe we did everything better than everything else and hopefully it will continue."
The history of the Indianapolis 500 includes countless episodes of David triumphing over Goliath. Can Tagliani add to that legacy on the 100th anniversary of the great race?