Gil de Ferran is going in style. Driving the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota to MBNA Pole Position tonight in his final Indy Racing League IndyCar Series event, the urbane Brazilian posted a lap of 23.5031 seconds (222.864mph) to best his 21 competitors and lead Toyota-powered drivers to the top five grid slots.
"First is a great place to start, but the race is another thing altogether. Regardless of where you start, this will be a race of patience Sunday. The start is always very different from the end and pole just underlines the fact that you're fast," de Ferran reminded.
Dixon lines up outside row one in his #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota with a lap of 23.5040 seconds (222.856mph), "Qualifying at night like this doesn't make much difference, even though we're racing during the day on Sunday. We did slow down a little bit with the density of the air, but so did everyone else. Gil's lap was quite a surprise and it's good to start up front. We expected a bit more speed from the lap, but that was pretty respectable," the Kiwi said.
Tomas Scheckter, who took MBNA Pole for the June night race starts third in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, turning 23.5988 seconds (221.960mph). While he'd prefer to start on the front row, Scheckter was sanguine about his chances on Sunday. "My job is to help my teammate gain the championship," he stated. "For the last race with Team Target, I'm hoping for a good result on Sunday," Scheckter said. "We have a lot of data from June and I'm confident we can do well."
"They're going for the championship but I'm looking for the win," smiled Felipe Giaffone after lapping fourth quickest in the #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota. "We tried different stuff in practice and we ran pretty fast in the second practice without a tow. This was actually better than I was expecting," he remarked on his 23.5995-second, 221.954mph lap.
One of the happiest guys in the paddock after de Ferran set his quick mark was Castroneves, who lines up fifth in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 23.6073 seconds (221.881mph). While he expected more from his own qualifying, "We are still starting in the top five, which is good. The important day is Sunday and the car seems to run well in traffic. The weather tonight seemed to hold us back a bit," he noted.
Vitor Meira is driving the fastest Chevrolet-powered car this week and took the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy to a 6th-place lap of 23.6095 seconds (221.860mph). While his lap "wasn't perfect, we're working more on racing than we used to. I'm pretty sure we'll be there" on Sunday, Meira voiced. "This was the first track I drove in an IRL car" and Meira was on pole for this race last year.
Kenny Brack lines up seventh on the 22-car grid in his #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda with a lap of 23.6492 seconds (221.487mph). The second car out for qualifying, Brack "didn't know what to expect. It felt pretty good but there were other guys we knew would go faster. Everyone drafts so much [at Texas] that you need to be in the lead pack, so we'll take seventh. I'm sure it will be a wild race on Sunday. The races are always crazy here."
Making his final run in the #27 Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda, Bryan Herta starts eighth with a lap of 23.6928 seconds (221.080mph). He's glad the season is over because he started too late to be part of the points chase. "We thought we'd go quicker tonight but conditions changed a lot. I had a very good car and I feel as good about this race as I have all year," Herta stated.
Currently third in points, Tony Kanaan isn't terribly excited by his 9th- place starting slot after touring the banks at Texas Motor Speedway at 23.7186 seconds (220.839mph) in his #11 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. "I don't know what happened between practice and qualifying," he wailed. ""We didn't touch the car and we went slower, but that's the way ovals are. We know we can race so I'm not really worried; I've never really worried much about qualifying this year."
Robbie Buhl is pretty happy to be starting tenth in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet after lapping at 23.7244 seconds (220.785mph). "We were faster than this morning and, knowing we were late in the draw, we raised the ride height to the maximum. I was on the limiter on the gear and knew we had a pretty good car. We've had a pretty good car the last couple of races handling-wise."
Tora Takagi holds 11th on the grid in the #12 Pioneer Panoz G Force/Toyota and thinks "we will be alright for the race." Sam Hornish Jr., however, isn't exactly where he wants to be in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet. Starting 12th, Hornish has a lot of real estate to carve through in order to gain his third straight IndyCar Series title. "It's not where we want to be but we have a chance to win this championship. We'll try to stay out of trouble, have good pit stops and be there at the end." Hornish is currently fourth in the standings with 448 points.
Al Unser starts 17th in the #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota and Richie Hearn holds 18th place in the #91 Metabolife/Delta Faucet/Life Fitness Dallara/Chevrolet. A.J. Foyt IV took 19th on the grid for the #14 Conseco Panoz G Force/Toyota entry and Scott Sharp starts 20th in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota. The final row is comprised of Sarah Fisher (#23 GMAC/AOL Dallara/Chevrolet) and Ed Carpenter, doing double duty in the Infiniti Pro Series race and driving the #18 PDM Metabolife Ultra Dallara/Chevy.
There will be two more opportunities to get cars sorted out before Sunday's 200-lap contest that will decide the IndyCar Series title for 2003. While Sam Hornish put it aptly, "MBNA Pole pays $10,000 but the title earns you $1 million," there are plenty of reasons for drivers to pay attention to de Ferran's idea that patience can be rewarded Sunday afternoon. The top five know what it takes to win the title, but for all 22 drivers involved in this contest, the race is the thing.