Alexa

Duno stays out of trouble, gains experience in IndyCar Series debut

Duno stays out of trouble, gains experience in IndyCar Series debut

Milka Duno might have wanted to be more competitive in her IndyCar Series debut, but she played it safe and got what she needed: Seat time and a car that was still running at the finish.
The 34-year-old Venezuelan stayed out of trouble on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, and was rewarded with a 13th-place finish, eight positions better than her last-place spot on the starting grid, and valuable experience heading into next month's Indianapolis 500.
"I learned so much in this race," she said. "It's 200 laps with traffic, high speed. I learned a lot. I'm still learning, all this year."
Finishing the race running didn't mean the former sports car driver had it easy, though.
Duno, who was racing on three days' practice and only passed her rookie test on Thursday, struggled to control her car in the early laps.
"The car was a crazy car," she said. "Big, big crazy understeer at the beginning. It was so difficult to drive. I was lifting in turn one, turn three and four. There was no way to drive the car.
"Once the engineer made the adjustment, the car was fantastic."
Duno's entry into the IndyCar Series, like Danica Patrick's in 2005, brought increased attention to the open wheel circuit.
"I think it's good," said Dan Wheldon, the winner on Sunday. "It seems like the series right now is in the spotlight. A lot of people are talking about the different things, the new people that came to the series."
But Duno _ the first Hispanic woman to compete in an Indy car _ proved herself more than a publicity stunt with her first performance, Wheldon said.
"To be quite honest, some people were skeptical about Milka Duno," he said. "I think she performed pretty well, considering."
___
MARCO'S MYSTERY: Marco Andretti's mystery mechanical problems on ovals aren't over yet.
Last year's top IndyCar Series rookie finished 19th on Sunday when problems with grip forced him to drop out of the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 after only 43 laps.
"I was so scared," said Andretti, who qualified ninth for Sunday's race. "It's like my front and rear wings were upside down. There was no grip."
In the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, another 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) tri-oval, Andretti finished last when his car developed unexplained mechanical problems.
___
RINAMAN'S RETURN: Rick Rinaman, Helio Castroneves' chief mechanic, was back with the team this weekend after missing last week's race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan _ his first absence in 23 years with Marlboro Team Penske.
Rinaman took time off to have surgery to repair a torn right Achilles' tendon, an injury that happened more than two months ago and was originally diagnosed as a torn calf muscle.
During the race in Japan, he said, "I was following everything on the IRL Web site, and believe me, before that first stop I was probably more nervous than the guys were. I was shaking.
"It was tough missing it," he said. "This is something I've been part of for most of my life, and the guys did a great job in Japan. It's good to have a great bunch of guys to fill in while I was gone."
Rinaman, who is on crutches for the next 3 1/2 weeks, will be Castroneves' right front tire changer next month in Indianapolis.
"The only thing I can do is change a tire," Rinaman said. "Not because I don't think I could, but because I don't think they'll let me."
___
SPARK PLUGS: Wheldon is the seventh winner in seven IndyCar Series races at Kansas Speedway. He follows Eddie Cheever Jr. (2001), Airton Dare (2002), Bryan Herta (2003), Buddy Rice (2004), Tony Kanaan (2005) and Sam Hornish Jr. (2006).