IRL: Fontana: Rahal Letterman Racing qualifying report

PATRICK AND RICE CRACK THE TOP-FIVE FOR FONTANA RACE FONTANA, Calif. - Danica Patrick posted her ninth top-five qualifying effort of the season by posting the fourth fastest lap and her Rahal Letterman Racing teammate Buddy Rice qualified fifth...

PATRICK AND RICE CRACK THE TOP-FIVE FOR FONTANA RACE

FONTANA, Calif. - Danica Patrick posted her ninth top-five qualifying effort of the season by posting the fourth fastest lap and her Rahal Letterman Racing teammate Buddy Rice qualified fifth for Sunday's IRL IndyCar Series season finale.

Patrick the 2005 Bombardier IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year posted a fast lap of 218.199 mph in her No. 16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Honda on her second lap of qualifying for the Toyota Indy 400. Patrick missed a chance to break the IRL IndyCar Series record for pole by a rookie, a record she currently shares with Tomas Sheckter.

"The wind was a factor in qualifying today," said Patrick. "We were trying for a two-gear strategy in qualifying and we just ran the one gear this time. There is no way to predict the wind. Qualifying is a whole different thing than the race. I think we'll be in good shape for the race on Sunday. I thought we had a good chance for the pole, but it didn't get it today. I'm a little disappointed but I have won three poles this year. I was looking for the rookie record with four poles, but now I'd take a win in my rookie year on Sunday. This track is like many of the tracks we have raced this year and we have been competitive. The race is a little longer than most at 400 miles and we will have a lot of time to work with the car in the 200 laps. I think we will have a chance to win but so will Buddy and Vitor. They have good cars too."

Buddy Rice collected his fifth top-five start of the season with a fast lap of 218.029 mph in his No. 15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Honda/Panoz/Firestone. A win at Fontana would tie Rice with Bobby Rahal and Kenny Brack for the most wins by a driver in Rahal Letterman Racing's history.

"We really didn't make any qualifying runs until the end of the last practice session," said Rice. "We worked on race setup during each practice today. It was a pretty decent run for not trying to do any qualifying setup. This is a big handling track during the race and that is what we worked on for all of practice. It would be great to finish off with a win after the tough season we have had this year. We'll have to play out the race strategy. Last year Helio, Tony and myself ran away from the field and I felt I had a car to win. We had a little problem late in the race and I lost the speed we had earlier in the race. So we faded to fifth at the end. We need to stay in the draft and see how everything plays out. There could be rain in the forecast too. So that could change the strategy for us. But overall, I think we can race with the leaders throughout the race and plan for the final 20 laps."

Vitor Meira qualified 13th for the 2005 season finale with a fast lap of 216.585 mph in the No. 17 Rahal Letterman Team Menard/Johns Manville Honda/Panoz/Firestone.

"We worked on our race settings during practice," said Meira. "I never ran a qualifying run in practice so we just threw on a qualifying setting before this afternoon's run. The race is the important thing here. Sure, we would like to qualify on the pole but it doesn't matter here. You can win the race from anywhere on the grid. We think we have a good race car and that is the key for Sunday. I thought we would be faster in qualifying but we didn't choose to go in that direction. We'll be ready for the race."

Andretti Green Racing's Dario Franchitti grabbed the pole with a lap of 219.398 mph edging Tomas Scheckter and Sam Hornish Jr. for the final pole of 2005.

Sunday's Toyota Indy 400 from the California Speedway will be seen live on ESPN at 3:30 pm Eastern.

-rlr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Bobby Rahal , Dario Franchitti , Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira