IRL: Hornish Jr earns his first Indy 500 pole

Sam Hornish will start from the pole position for the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 28. Hornish, who topped the speed charts in all but one practice session, averaged 228.985 mph for four laps around the historic 2.5-mile speedway to...

Sam Hornish will start from the pole position for the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 28. Hornish, who topped the speed charts in all but one practice session, averaged 228.985 mph for four laps around the historic 2.5-mile speedway to earn his first pole for the 500 race.

As if leading all but one practice session throughout the event wasn't enough, Hornish served notice early this morning by running a lap at 229.996 mph in practice. It was the fastest lap in the month of May. During his official qualifying run, Hornish's second lap was his best at 229.215 mph.

When Hornish came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year, he was hoping to start in one of the first few rows, "and I ended up second," he said. "I knew I was going to be disappointed if I didn't win the pole."

This year, his Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves will start second.

Under the new qualifying rules, each car is given three attempts to qualify. Although the drama never unfolded even though the Ganassi Racing drivers Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon, who will start third and fourth, respectively, returned to the track after qualifying in an attempt to find enough speed to knock Team Penske from the pole.

Roger Penske sat vigilantly on pit lane, Helio Castroneves ready to go, waiting for Ganassi to fire the first shot. But the shot never came.

"At the end, we wanted to get one more run a little more trimmed out," said Dixon. "We wanted to be confident that we had the speed," to knock Hornish off the pole but we didn't get a chance to do it."

"They took a lot of pressure off us when they didn't run," said team owner Roger Penske. "That team has the capability to knock us off where we were. As things turned out, Helio was ready. We'd have pulled in line right behind the two Ganassi cars."

While Castroneves sat in his car, waiting for the first shot to be fired, Hornish observed from the pit lane. "I was sitting there kind of watching what everybody was doing. I could see that Helio was still sitting in the car, which was making me a little bit nervous."

Hornish finally admitted that he was, "trying to think about anything other than somebody going out there and going faster than us. I was pretty happy with where we were and I know it's not over till it's over."

Hornish's first pole at Indianapolis is the 13th for Team Penske. Hornish, who earned the pole at Miami earlier this season, now has eight IndyCar Series career pole positions.

Starting just behind both Penske and Ganassi cars will be Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan. The five car team continued to struggle but Kanaan managed to put four laps together to average 226.776 mph. "We have to be realistic," said Kanaan. "We struggled a little bit the last couple of weeks. We finally found something, so we need not be greedy and try to get on the pole. I would love to say we always had that, but we found something working together as a team. We worked really hard to get the car to work for us, and we found something yesterday."

Marco Andretti, the rookie at Andretti Green will start ninth. Team cars tended to run similar speeds, but Kanaan outclassed his teammates with Michael Andretti 13th and Bryan Herta and Dario Franchitti starting 16th and 17th.

Nevertheless, as a rookie, Marco was pleased with his efforts. "I was really happy and the best thing was there were no surprises. Those were definitely the longest four laps of my career, but the guys did a great job, giving me a great car. It feels great to be done with it."

Despite qualifying 17th, Marco's father, Michael was happy with his effort too. "That's about where you expect to be if you don't work on qualifying setups in practice. I was happy with the speed and consistency of my car."

When asked if he had bragging rights over his father, Marco replied, "No, not at all. He's here to win the race, not take the pole."

Panther's single car entry, driven by Vitor Meira will start sixth and the Fernandez Racing pair of Kosuke Matsuura and Scott Sharp will start seventh and eighth.

"We set ourselves up to shine on May 28," said Sharp. "We ran a tick better in the morning and made a couple little changes hoping we'd gain a tick and actually lost half a mile an hour. When the green flag drops, other than remembering Sam was on the pole, I don't think anyone will remember where anyone else started."

Danica Patrick was the fastest of the three Rahal Letterman Racing entries and she will start tenth. "The better your car is, the easier it is," said Patrick. "That run was easy. Probably some of the four easiest laps I've done this month."

Looking forward to the race, Patrick said the speed she found for qualifying should "carry over to the race car."

Vision Racing teammates Tomas Scheckter and Ed Carpenter round out the fourth starting row. "I'm fairly happy with that," said Scheckter. "We can maybe go a little quicker, but not much." One of the keys to a 500 mile race is consistency and the Vision Racing team has been consistent all month.

"We've been solid all month," Carpenter added.

Unhappy with his initial qualifying effort, Vision Racing's Townsend Bell withdrew his first attempt and improved his qualifying speed from 223.659 to 224.374 mph. He will start 15th.

Bump Day will take place tomorrow at the Speedway with practice first at 10:15am (EDT) followed by qualifying attempts beginning at noon until the final checkered flag to set the 2006 starting grid at 6:00pm.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Marco Andretti , Kosuke Matsuura , Roger Penske , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter , Sam Hornis , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske