IRL: Briscoe best in Sonoma's inaugural qualifying

Ryan Briscoe proved to be the class of the 21-car IndyCar Series field once again today, nabbing his first Indy Racing League Marlboro Pole Award in the driver's rookie season. In the IRL's second street/road qualifying session in its 10-year ...

Ryan Briscoe proved to be the class of the 21-car IndyCar Series field once again today, nabbing his first Indy Racing League Marlboro Pole Award in the driver's rookie season. In the IRL's second street/road qualifying session in its 10-year history, Briscoe had the option, which he took, of being the final driver to take a single flying lap.

His tour of 107.606 mph put the Australian in the catbird seat, leading the Fast Six 10-minute shootout and enabled Briscoe to earn top slot on his fifth of eight total laps, the sole driver over 108 miles per hour at 108.248 mph. "Nothing's really changed since St. Petersburg, where I qualified tenth aside from general improvements but I have changed. There, I didn't optimize the equipment so this pole today is huge for me," Briscoe admitted.

Helio Castroneves took second place, just as he did in practice yesterday at a qualifying speed of 107.664 mph on his eighth and final lap. With the added heat of the day the track became quite greasy and his team "made the wrong 5th gear choice. I had to make up two-tenths and really can't be greedy," he smiled. "Tomorrow, with 80 laps to run it's important to start up front and dictate the race pace," Castroneves related.

Tony Kanaan starts third after turning 107.346 mph on his fourth of seven laps as only the top three improved in the 10-minute shootout.

Rookie Tomas Enge in fourth, using his single-car qualifying lap of 106.903 mph. The Czech "improved the car since Friday; we were in the top six this morning and really improved a lot and more than anyone, I think." Enge thought his car was "well balanced for the track but we want more grip. We will still have to work on that."

Sam Hornish Jr. occupies the fifth starting slot, using his first lap of 106.669 mph and revealed, "This track is very difficult. It's slick when it's hot and sunny like this. The car stepped out on me in the carousel (turn 6) and I was just happy to finish my lap. We were pretty loose in qualifying so we'll have to work on the little things," Hornish said.

Buddy Rice starts sixth, his single-car tour of 106.594 mph giving him a chance to be part of the shootout. "The track was much hotter than this morning and really lost grip," said the 2004 Indianapolis 500 race winner. "It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. This place is like a roller coaster and it's really an exciting track. Tomorrow will be a long race," Rice advised, "and it's really new to everybody."

Point leader Dan Wheldon was dissatisfied with his lap of 106.454 mph but thought "the balance wasn't too bad. We didn't do a particularly good time and I wish I could pinpoint where we're slow. The margin of error is very minimal here and it's pretty easy to make a mistake," Wheldon said after taking seventh on the 21-car grid.

Teammate Bryan Herta starts eighth (106.413 mph) and remarked on how slippery the track was this afternoon in the near-90 degree temperatures. "The car was stepping out and I made a mistake," Herta admitted. "When you can't see you've got to commit to a turn and on the second right-hander I got on the curb."

Scott Dixon thought his ninth-place effort of 106.365 mph was "pretty average. The car was better this morning when we had a problem with the tire heaters. We didn't use them for qualifying and I had a big moment in the carousel, getting sideways," he revealed.

Alex Barron starts tenth after turning 106.334 mph and said the result was "refreshing for me after so many ovals. It's cool to do something different and the car felt really good. We were a couple of tenths off what we thought we could do but the car was pretty good in qualifying trim."

Vitor Meira's 11th place showing in single lap qualifying was the result of "making our car better. We analyzed what we needed, but so did the others. I think this will be the hardest race of the year for us physically and I think we've got a better race car and driver than what you saw here in qualifying this afternoon."

Patrick Carpentier's 12th place run came after he lost some time in the third and fourth turns. "I had the wrong angle of attack there, unfortunately and, while the car wasn't fast for qualifying, I think I've got a great race car for Sunday," he grinned.

Giorgio Pantano, making his IndyCar Series debut in the third Target car. He found it "more difficult to put together one lap," even though he has 14 races of experience in Formula One, which uses the same procedures. "I did some mistake in turn 10," the Italian noted, "and couldn't stop the car."

Tomas Scheckter, who didn't test at this track was quite dismayed by his 14th place showing but didn't think it was unexpected. "You can get away with a lack of test time on an oval but there are 14 or so different entry and exit points on this track and this starting place makes me and the team look bad. Every session we were quicker, but you can't make up a full two days of testing" in a day and a half of practice.

Struggling to find mechanical grip, Kosuke Matsuura starts 15th and Danica Patrick earned the 16th starting spot. Patrick and her team continue "to work through what the car needs and it's tough right now. I don't enjoy it when I'm not fast and I don't think we had the car balanced as well as we would have liked."

Making his first start for A.J. Foyt Jr., second-generation driver Jeff Bucknum is "starting to figure out what the car wants. We made some good changes for qualifying and had to be conservative as it's simply a one-lap attempt and there's a huge downside if you go off. The car is so solid," he confirmed, "and it's easy to trust." He starts 17th.

Roger Yasukawa holds 18th grid spot and thinks he's "getting better but I still have to learn this track. It's changed a lot since the [April] test." Scott Sharp had a tough time, taking 19th after his team "tried to tighten the car and made a lot of changes. It just wouldn't turn." Ed Carpenter, slowest in practice was first out and had downshifting problems that relegated him to 20th.

Easily the man many expected to be amongst the Fast Six, Dario Franchitti will start last tomorrow after getting it all wrong in the uphill approach to the second turn. He spun across the inside then nearly backed into the tire barrier outside the turn and chose not to complete the lap. Franchitti had been fastest in morning practice and was clearly devastated by his error.

The Indy cars will take 80 laps around the 2.26-mile, 12-turn Infineon Raceway Sears Point tomorrow in the Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix. The race begins at 12:45PM PDT and will clearly be the most physically demanding contest of the 17-race season.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Giorgio Pantano , Tomas Enge , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Patrick Carpentier , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Kosuke Matsuura , A.J. Foyt Jr. , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira