IRL: Herta holds court in Phoenix qualifying

Can there be anything better than starting first in a race sponsored by the company that sponsors your race car? Bryan Herta, who loves the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval showed it today by earning the Marlboro Pole Award for the XM...

Can there be anything better than starting first in a race sponsored by the company that sponsors your race car? Bryan Herta, who loves the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval showed it today by earning the Marlboro Pole Award for the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 Presented by Argent Mortgage in his #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car.

The third driver to take timed laps on a cool and overcast Friday afternoon in what's known as the Valley of the Sun, Herta cracked off his second lap at 176.612mph to pip teammate Dan Wheldon's #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda at 176.475mph. Wheldon had been quickest in both practice sessions held earlier in the day.

"I thought the lap would hold up but I was mostly worried about Dan," Herta acknowledged. "In 1995 I got my first pole here driving for Chip Ganassi. The fact that I'm still doing the great job in the world means a lot. The cars are surprisingly similar," he continued. "I think I'm 6/10ths slower than I was ten years ago.

"All credit to the team because this is the car I crashed at Homestead," Herta continued. "They put it back together and that was," he reminded, "a very hard hit. You know, I'm 34 years old and I'm not going to be doing this another ten years. I still have goals and my desire to win hasn't diminished one iota."

Wheldon, who won the season opening Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway looked like Herta's biggest threat throughout this qualifying session turned out to be the Californian's biggest supporter. "Bryan doesn't get the credit he deserves," Wheldon proclaimed.

"I knew he had a fast run and I'm very happy for him. This race is about track position and strategy," the Briton noted. "I'm happier around here than I've ever been and a lot of that is due to the work Bryan's done for this team."

Helio Castroneves took his timed laps right after Herta and put up a third- place run in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota at 176.081mph. The ebullient Brazilian is "positive the car is good for the race. It helps to stay out of trouble by starting near the front of the field. We had no surprises today; the car was solid out of the truck."

Keeping parity moving forward in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series, Tomas Scheckter lines up fourth with the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet after turning 176.068mph. Scheckter believes he has "a very good car here at both ends of the track, although qualifying could have been better.

"It's such a special feeling to be flat out on a track like this. You really have to suck it up to get rewards here," the South African reminded. Dario Franchitti's two timed laps didn't please the Scot terribly much. He had a gearbox problem this morning with his #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda and "couldn't really pull anything from the car. The balance is good," he shrugged after lapping the mile at 175.801mph, good for fifth.

Sam Hornish Jr. starts sixth with the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota with a lap of 175.772mph. Hornish "likes this track a lot because it's tricky to get the car handling well. I know we've got a better car for the race," he said. "I was really happy with it in race trim."

Rookie Tomas Enge's seventh place run of 175.641mph in the #2 ROCKSTAR Dallara/Chevrolet marked the Czech's first time qualifying on a mile oval. "This is a challenging track," Enge remarked. "You have to run a lot of downforce and as much grip as possible here."

2003 IRL champion Scott Dixon starts eighth in the #9 Team Target Panoz/Toyota based on his qualifying lap of 175.439mph. Dixon is "fairly happy with our car; we're definitely better in turns 1 and 2 and we were flat trimmed out this afternoon. We had a gearbox issue earlier but the car is pretty decent."

As they did during practice, the two "Scott's" in IndyCar Series competition are running close together again for qualifying. Scott Sharp's lap of 175.362mph in the #8 Delphi Panoz/Honda places him ninth on the grid.

Almost giddy as he prepares for his 100th Indy Racing League contest tomorrow, Sharp allowed, "We cut into our qualifying performance a bit by working on the race setup. The engineering staff here at Fernandez Racing really know the car and it's just solid," he crowed.

Phoenix native Buddy Rice, sleeping in his own bed this weekend placed the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda tenth on the grid with a lap of 175.115mph. He ran "lots of laps in practice with lots of fuel and I'm pretty happy. Qualifying wasn't what we were shooting for but we had a good test and the car is pretty solid."

Second to qualify today, Darren Manning starts 11th in the #10 Team Target Panoz/Toyota and noted, "I've always liked short ovals. That was pretty much all we had in terms of speed," Manning allowed. Twelfth on the grid, Vitor Meira's #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda isn't "what we were expecting after practice but we feel good about our race cars."

Roger Yasukawa earned 13th grid slot in the #24 Racing for Kids Dallara/Honda. The team switched to Ohlin dampers this morning, losing practice time in the process with some "minor installation glitches. We're just guessing on race setup." Rookie Ryan Briscoe starts 14th in the #33 Target Panoz/Toyota and thought his "qualifying wasn't perfect but it was pretty good. I hope to be strong in the race," the Aussie said.

On probation for his actions in the season opener in Florida, Kosuke Matsuura will bring the #55 Panasonic/ARTA to the flags in 15th place. Expecting to be quicker, "I don't know where we were losing the time," Matsuura said. Alex Barron, first to qualify in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota starts 16th and thinks his car "will be better for the long runs."

A.J. Foyt IV starts 17th in the #14 Foyt Enterprises Dallara/Toyota while Danica Patrick holds 18th on the grid in her #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda. "The car's not great but it's drivable," she said. The only other driver to take timed laps, Ed Carpenter starts 19th in the #20 Vision Racing Dallara/Toyota and says of his car, "it's drivable."

The big news was who didn't qualify. Tony Kanaan had an engine problem and had to change power mills in his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. After winning the last two IRL contests held at this track, Kanaan is - at least to his two front-row teammates - among the bigger threats in the contest.

Twelve minutes before final practice was scheduled to end, Patrick Carpentier made heavy right side contact with the SAFER barrier in turn 2. His #83 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota immediately burst into flames but the French Canadian was out of the car within 15 seconds.

"I was pushing the car to the limit," Carpentier explained. "Trying to make it very neutral so I wouldn't lose too much time mid-corner. We made it a little bit too neutral and it just snapped." He tried to save it but was unable to do so. He was taken to nearby Good Samaritan Hospital for precautionary x-rays to his chest and ribs, all of which were negative. He has been cleared to drive.

Rookie Paul Dana, too hit the SAFER barrier at turn 2, always a popular place on this fast mile oval. He was treated and released after he "lost the back end in the apex between 1 and 2" in the #91 Ethanol/REMY/LifeFitness Dallara/Toyota. "We've been fighting an understeer and there's not a lot of grip down there," Dana explained.

Although rain squalls are expected in this general area over the next couple of days, the IndyCar Series is hoping it can get 200 laps of racing in the XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 tomorrow afternoon. The race is slated to begin at 1PM MST and is being shown live on ABC television.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Darren Manning , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Paul Dana , Chip Ganassi , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske