Originally created 02/28/04

Scheckter races to front



HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Tomas Scheckter is making a smooth transition to his new team, turning in the fastest lap on the first day of practice for the IRL's season-opening Toyota Indy 300.

After posting a lap of 216.894 mph on Friday on Homestead-Miami Speedway's reconfigured 11Ž2-mile oval, Scheckter found himself sitting between champion Scott Dixon and Alex Barron.

The middle spot at the end-of-the-day press conference is reserved for the fastest driver.

"I'm feeling pretty comfortable right now," the young South African driver said, grinning as he looked on either side at drivers racing for his two former IRL teams. "Especially sitting in the middle."

Barron, starting his first full season with Red Bull Cheever Racing, where Scheckter drove in 2002, was second on Friday at 216.596.

Dixon, Scheckter's teammate last year at Chip Ganassi Racing, followed at 216.460.

Scheckter was released by Ganassi at the end of 2003 and hooked on with Pennzoil Panther Racing after two-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr. left that team to join Marlboro Team Penske.

Scheckter, the son of former Formula One champion Jody Scheckter, was expected to be an instant star when he arrived in the IRL with Cheever in 2002. But the 23-year-old driver has won only once in 28 starts and crashed in 11 those races.

RACER DROWNS: In Victoria, British Columbia, four-time NASCAR Winston West Series champion Roy Smith drowned when a commercial fishing trawler sank off northern Vancouver Island, rescue officials said.

Smith, 59, of Malahat, was a crew member of the 80-foot Hope Bay, which foundered in heavy seas early Thursday about 60 miles north of Vancouver Island in Queen Charlotte Sound.

Two other members died, and one was rescued, Dennis Kimoto of the Rescue Coordination Center in Victoria said.