No matter what they do, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan always seem to find themselves in parallel positions. Their scenario won't be much different tomorrow when 22 Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series combatants take the green flags for Race #14, the Delphi Indy 300 at the 1.5-mile D-shaped Chicagoland Speedway.
"I'm extremely happy with the car," Castroneves exclaimed as he exited his machine. "It's always a boost to start at the front and we worked so hard to get here. My hat goes off to the entire team. Hopefully, tomorrow in the race we're going to be in good shape because when you add the downforce (for racing) that's really when the power shows up."
Kanaan, resigned to the constant alignment with Castroneves noted, "We turned the same lap as this morning [in practice], so I'm pretty happy. We are only worrying now about winning races; our concern is on the race rather than qualifying," he noted. "This was not the best run, but it's a long, 200-lap race. If I could be on the pole I would, but we did our best and we have a good race car."
Buddy Rice lines up third for the Delphi Indy 300 with his Indy 500-winning #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda after lapping this banked oval at 213.843mph (25.5889 seconds). The laconic Arizonan thought, "It was a pretty good number for us. We know we have a very good race car and is what we are looking for on Sunday. There's no need," Rice insisted, "to change the things that have been successful for us this year. This team knows how to win and run up front. That has given me a lot of confidence," he said.
Dario Franchitti, who missed Friday morning practice with a penalty for a pit road infraction during practice for the Firestone Indy 225 two weeks ago starts fourth with his #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda, posting a lap of 213.644mph (25.6127 seconds). The Scot thought his lap was, "okay. The car is balanced well and I'm pretty lucky because we unloaded quick yesterday. In traffic [Friday afternoon] the car felt comfortable."
Teammate Dan Wheldon, who lies second in the championship placed fifth in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda with a lap of 213.130mph (25.6745 seconds). "We're going to be up there," he warned. "We're focused on the race car, but I'm still a little bit disappointed in our qualifying effort. I think we've got a good race car, but we've got to make sure we stay on top of conditions."
During the late morning qualifying session run under mostly clear conditions with temps in the mid-70s young A.J. Foyt IV earned his first top-10 start in the IndyCar Series. With a lap of 213.023mph (25.6874 seconds), Foyt will place the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota sixth on the grid tomorrow afternoon.
"The car has been good since we got here," Foyt noted. "We worked hard to set it up to run as free as possible and it paid off. Toyota has been working real hard to get us up front and their hard work is showing. It feels good," he said.
Sam Hornish Jr., who also missed Friday morning practice for his pit road infraction during the final Nazareth race starts seventh in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota with a lap of 212.991mph (25.6912 seconds). "Qualifying went pretty good but we're still not where we want to be," Hornish explained. "We need to get our car working well in the draft and we lost some by sitting out yesterday morning."
Vitor Meira starts next to Hornish in the #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda. "I was looking for more out of the car in qualifying, but it was pretty freed up," he said after posting 212.989mph (25.6915 seconds). "Qualifying really doesn't mean that much at a place like this. We have worked on our race setup this weekend and the car is very good so I expect the usual crazy three-wide type of racing as everyone gets in position for the final 20 laps."
Bryan Herta earned ninth on the 22-car grid with his lap of 212.983mph (25.6922 seconds) in the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda. While he "wish we would have had a little more in the car, it's what we had and we'll take it." Herta finished third here in his Chicagoland debut and believes, "The track is in great shape and it's a beautiful day, so we couldn't ask for much better conditions in which to qualify."
Kentucky race winner Adrian Fernandez lines up tenth in his #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda with a lap of 212.871mph (25.7057 seconds) and said, "Qualifying was fine. Obviously we would have liked to qualify a little bit better because we did a better time yesterday, but Sunday is going to be a tough race. I think we've got a good race car; we ran well in traffic yesterday so I think we're looking good."
Darren Manning's lap of 212.116mph puts his #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota 11th on the grid. Suffering from some congestion from a summer cold Manning noted, "That's about as fast as we're going to get out of the car. Townsend Bell rang up the best qualifying lap for a Chevrolet-powered car as he turned 212.083mph in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy. After doing an engine swap Bell thought, "That's pretty straightforward. We didn't change much but we were excellent in traffic yesterday and that bodes well for the race."
Scott Sharp starts 13th in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota after being the final driver to qualify with a lap of 212.116mph. "We're not doing handsprings but given where we have been qualifying I would have to say we're pleased with this effort," the veteran noted. The IRL's 2003 champion, Scott Dixon makes it an all-Scott seventh row after turning 212.083mph in the #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota. "We're where we thought we'd be and the car appeared all right in race trim."
Row eight belongs to the Red Bull Cheever Racing drivers, Alex Barron (#51) and rookie Ed Carpenter (#52) respectively, who incredibly turned identical qualifying laps of 211.325mph with their twin Dallara/Chevrolet machines. Barron, starting 15th said he ran the same lap as in practice yesterday and noted his "set-up is very good. We just have to hang with the lead pack." Carpenter reminded, "It's kind of funny how things worked out, but when you're running identical setups, it's bound to happen."
Rookie Kosuke Matsuura starts 17th in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda with his lap of 211.317mph. While thought qualifying was "very bad," the Japanese driver is still optimistic for Sunday. "I think in the race we will be much better; I'm optimistic," Matsuura declared. Felipe Giaffone lines up 18th in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet. Giaffone doesn't know why his 210.432mph lap is "so slow. The main goal for tomorrow," he said, "is to go with the big draft and move up." He, too, had an engine change before qualifying.
Mark Taylor qualified 19th in the #13 Access Motorsports Panoz G Force/Honda (210.032mph). Jaques Lazier starts 20th in the #20 Patrick Racing Dallara/Chevrolet with his qualifying lap of 209.288mph. The final row on the grid belongs to Tora Takagi's #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota at 208.481mph and the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet of Tomas Scheckter, whose team elected to swap engines and forego qualifying. "During the morning practice today we found a little engine problem and decided to change it out. We can run the race motor in the last practice session and be a lot stronger tomorrow," the star-crossed South African said.
Race #14, the Delphi Indy 300 is set to take the green flags at 1:30 PM CDT Sunday afternoon and is being televised live by ABC. A few weeks ago Tony Kanaan told anyone who'd listen that the championship picture should be a bit more clear after this weekend's event is complete. "I'm not worried about the championship," he insisted. I think now the title should be clear at Texas, probably not before!"
As for Castroneves, he hopes to ride off in the sunset with a 2004 win tomorrow afternoon but acknowledged, "I think the race will be tight and a lot of people will be shoving and trying to find space. We just have to be patient. I know Tony wants to win the championship and I want to win the race. I don't expect anything different from that."