Thomas Wolfe may have been wrong: Bryan Herta can go home again to his Michigan birthplace and find success. The Andretti Green Racing driver earned his third 2005 Marlboro Pole Award this afternoon on the Michigan International Speedway's 2-mile...
Thomas Wolfe may have been wrong: Bryan Herta can go home again to his Michigan birthplace and find success. The Andretti Green Racing driver earned his third 2005 Marlboro Pole Award this afternoon on the Michigan International Speedway's 2-mile oval as the IndyCar Series grapples with the Firestone Indy 400, race #11 in the 17- event campaign.
Not far from his first home of Warren, MI, Herta was the third driver in the 23-car line to take timed laps on a warm, sunny afternoon was fastest with his second lap of 219.141mph, calling his tour "pretty uneventful, which is always a good thing around this place. I was surprised initially at the speed the car did; it was faster than we practiced. I full expected one or two of the cars later on were going to get us and they didn't!"
Herta didn't like some of the changes his team made to the Dallara/Honda/Firestone earlier in the two practices but the "setup changes we made for qualifying were just what we needed. If we make it as good for the race I'll be happy."
Tomas Scheckter was the speedster in initial practice but couldn't convert to give Chevrolet another pole this afternoon. "The run, I think was all I had. We had a good car," the South African acknowledged of his 219.100mph lap, "and I'm happy with that. I think we look very good for the race (after doing a good deal of race prep work earlier) and the car is unbelievable."
Reigning Michigan champion Buddy Rice starts third and may have gotten rid of the black cloud that's seemed to follow him all season. Trying some new bits from chassis maker Panoz, Rice is "back at a track that we put the car in victory lane last year. There is a confidence level for this team and, while race strategy was very important for us to win (in 2004) I think you will see that again on Sunday." His best lap was 218.909mph.
Scott Dixon set the fastest lap of the afternoon in practice with a pretty good tow and came back to turn 218.890mph for fourth on the grid. "Things started out pretty decent for us this weekend," Dixon explained. With a new engine installed between practices "you could see pretty clearly the gains they have made. The car is pretty comfortable on the high line so we're expecting to do well here tomorrow."
Scott Sharp's lap of 218.745mph puts the veteran fifth and he thought it was "a good run. We took it up more than a mile an hour so I'm real pleased with that," the veteran pronounced. "The guys did a great job tweaking the balance and gears a little bit right before qualifying."
Back for another stab at victory with Panther Racing, Buddy Lazier starts sixth with his posted speed of 218.683mph, turned on his first timed lap. Lazier "learned something on the second lap that we can use mainly for the race. This race is closest to Indy with a lot of pit stops and I think the Chevy will be very competitive tomorrow."
Dario Franchitti qualified early and had a good run to take seventh at 218.570mph. "That was all she had but I think we've got a bit more in race conditions. I'm surprised how little grip there is here today; it's going to be a challenge to run behind anyone in this race so we've got to get the balance right for the whole run," the Scott explained.
Rookie Danica Patrick starts eighth, her eighth top-10 start in her eleventh IndyCar Series race after her first lap of 218.479mph. She had a difficult practice while trying different combinations but was "more comfortable than this morning. The car felt its best in qualifying and we ran a couple of miles per hour faster than we had."
Teammate Vitor Meira had the ninth best qualifying speed of 217.590mph and was a bit circumspect about it. "That is a good start; I've raced here enough to know that qualifying really isn't that important so I am ready to go." He shares row 5 with Townsend Bell (217.502mph), standing in for injured Tomas Enge in the third Panther car. "The power in my car was not quite the same as my teammates," so he could get some needed miles. Like many teams, Panther will change engines tonight, permitted on a two-day weekend of over 300 miles.
Dan Wheldon starts 11th and admitted, "We always seem to struggle in qualifying." Kosuke Matsuura recovered from a tough Milwaukee weekend to earn 12th on the grid. Sam Hornish Jr. holds 13th grid slot and said, "That's all we had for qualifying but the race car is better." 2004 IRL champ Tony Kanaan holds 14th grid slot and remarked, "That's what happens when you try four different things."
In his first drive for Chip Ganassi, Jaques Lazier qualified 15th with a familiar Panoz/Toyota package and "couldn't be happier," while Helio Castroneves holds 16th grid slot. Rookie Ryan Briscoe has 17th position and feels "pretty good" about his chances and Roger Yasukawa starts alongside in 18th.
Patrick Carpentier realizes "the shorter the track, the faster we are and the longer the track, the more painful it is." He'll start 19th with teammate Alex Barron next to him. Jimmy Kite and A.J. Foyt IV holds the 11th row and Ed Carpenter was the slowest driver in 23rd position.
The Firestone Indy 400 takes the green flags at 3:45PM EDT and airs live on ABC.