IRL: Motegi: Qualifying report

CASTRONEVES TAKES SECOND STRAIGHT POLE AT INDY JAPAN 300 MOTEGI, Japan,Friday, April 20, 2007 -- Helio Castroneves took the first step to completing a "double" for the third year in a row. The Team Penske driver will start from the pole in the...

CASTRONEVES TAKES SECOND STRAIGHT POLE AT INDY JAPAN 300

MOTEGI, Japan,Friday, April 20, 2007 -- Helio Castroneves took the first step to completing a "double" for the third year in a row. The Team Penske driver will start from the pole in the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi after topping the 18-car field with a quick lap of 205.393 mph (26.6416 seconds) on the 1.5-mile oval. The speed was just off the '04 track record (205.762) by race winner Dan Wheldon. Guess who will start alongside the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion? Castroneves is seeking to extend to three years a trend of consecutive victories at St. Petersburg and Twin Ring Motegi. He accomplished it last year and Wheldon won both races in '05. Last year on the mountaintop racetrack, Castroneves started from the pole (based on championship points after rain washed out qualifying) and dominated (184 of 200 laps led) in the No. 3 Honda-powered Dallara. Though recording his IndyCar Series-leading 18th career pole -- and second in a row -- Castroneves shouldn't expect to run away this time around. The top 10 qualifiers are separated by 0.2970 of a second.

"I found that speed in my pocket," said Castroneves, who gave Team Penske its third consecutive pole at Twin Ring Motegi. "The car was perfect. This series is very, very competitive, and I know a lot people will try to beat us tomorrow." Among those will be Andretti Green Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who appear to have their cars dialed in to the asymmetrical circuit. Wheldon, the final qualifier, jumped to second on the grid in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone with a best lap of 205.141 (26.6744).

"It's obviously very good to start on the front row," said Wheldon, who won the season opener on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway and was runner-up to Castroneves in last year's race at Twin Ring Motegi. "It's going to be a very competitive race." AGR teammates Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick will share Row 2, with Team Penske's Sam Hornish Jr. (203.803) and Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon (203.753) filling out the third row.

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IndyCar Series driver Tomas Scheckter is holding a charity auction on eBay to benefit the Gift of Hearing Foundation. The winning bidder will have their name or company logo placed on Scheckter's helmet for the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway on April 29. Proceeds from the final sale will be donated to The Gift of Hearing Foundation, which is dedicated to increasing access to cochlear implant surgery and services for those who have been identified as candidates for this technology.

TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 2 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I enjoy using eBay, and I thought an auction would be a good opportunity to gain some sponsorship and raise money for the great charity I'm involved with -- The Gift of Hearing Foundation. Everybody benefits from it."

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Dan Wheldon, Danica Patrick and Vitor Meira met and answered questions for more than 170 students from colleges and schools around Twin Ring Motegi on Thursday and Friday. Meira and Wheldon met with students from the Tochigi Prefectural School for the Deaf and Mute, while Patrick and Wheldon met with students from the Tokyo Motorsports College and Lily Vale Elementary School

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Indy Pro Series drivers Jaime Camara and Hideki Mutoh accompanied their IndyCar Series teammates to Twin Ring Motegi for the Indy Japan 300. Camara drives for Andretti Green Racing. Mutoh drives for Panther Racing.

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What does Danica Patrick being included on Victoria's Secret annual list of "What is Sexy?" have to do with IndyCar Series racing? Plenty actually Patrick was the pick among "sexy" female athletes, the lingerie company announced April 19. New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter was selected in the male athlete category. More than appearance, "sexy is about how you are as a person," Victoria's Secret spokesperson. Monica Mitro told USA Today about the list Some other notables: Cameron Diaz, Adrian Grenier, Josh Duhamel, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, David Beckham and Sienna Miller The honor for the 25-year-old Patrick, who qualified fourth (204.270 mph) for the Indy Japan 300, exemplifies her status as a professional athlete and corporate sponsor magnet. Along with personal deals with Tissot and PEAK Antifreeze among others, her No. 7 Honda-powered Dallara is laden with sponsor decals of Motorola, GoDaddy.com, Argent Mortgage, Air Tran Airways, XM Satellite Radio, Coca Cola and Meijer Sponsorship is the driving force behind Andretti Green Racing's operation and preparation in the ultra-competitive IndyCar Series. A marketable Patrick is beneficial for driver, team and the sanctioning Indy Racing League In a survey by TSE Sports & Entertainment released this week, Patrick ranks behind only LPGA star Annika Sorenstam among female athletes in regards to the business side of corporate endorsements.

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Rahal Letterman Racing drivers Scott Sharp and Jeff Simmons presented longtime Rahal Letterman Racing fans Taiko Hattori and Masahito Mori jerseys of Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Peyton Manning and Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka today in recognition of their support of the team. The couple, who live in nearby Mito, has attended every IndyCar Series event at Motegi and the past nine Indy car races here. Each year, they welcome Rahal Letterman Racing to Japan and they have set up team dinners following the race in Mito. Hattori is a longtime fan of Kenny Brack and has exchanged Christmas gifts over the years with the former Rahal Letterman Racing driver. She now roots for Scott Sharp and Vitor Meira. Mori, Hattori's boyfriend, was originally a Max Papis fan. He now roots for Buddy Rice.

POST-QUALIFYING NOTES:

* This is Helio Castroneves' second straight pole position and the 18th IndyCar Series pole position of his career, extending his series record. Castroneves' last pole occurred at St. Petersburg earlier this season.

* This is Team Penske's 31st IndyCar Series pole position. The team has won the last three pole positions at Twin Ring Motegi.

* Dan Wheldon will start on the front row for the second time this season.

* Tony Kanaan will start third, his best start of the season.

* Danica Patrick qualified fourth, her best start of the season and best start since California in 2005.

POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES:

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified third): "It was a solid run for Team 7-Eleven. It can always be better and I was expecting one-tenth quicker but Andretti Green Racing did a very good job. I think we have four good race cars. It's a long race and qualifying really means nothing at this track. I'm pretty confident that we have a strong car for the race."

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified fourth): "We're here to qualify on the pole but ultimately the races are long days and you can come from any position to win. The Motorola car felt very good but having a car that can do it for 200 laps is another story and I think we've got that car. I expect to have a good race. I click pretty well with this track and have had solid races in the past. I really thought we had the fastest car here today but that's alright. The Motorola car will start a little further back and make its way forward."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified fifth): "We had a vibration in one of the tires, which affected our qualifying run. I'm not sure if we had enough to get Helio, but I think we had a top-three car. We'll keep working on it and hopefully have a good run tomorrow in the race."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified sixth): "We're in the show and not too far back with a really good race car. The car was the most comfortable it has been all weekend. We were struggling to go flat in practice and made some adjustments just before qualifying, and it worked really well. I'm a little disappointed because we should have trimmed out more, but it's OK. I'm looking forward to having a good race and stay atop the standings."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified seventh): "The Canadian Club car has been OK this weekend. I was running wide open in the qualifying run. Our speed is missing in Turns 3 and 4. Out of the four Andretti Green cars, I think we have the most aggressive set up. We just have a bit of understeer, but we'll figure it out. Qualifying and the race are a lot different though. I think we are in good shape for the race tomorrow. I think all four Andretti Green cars will do well."

TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 2 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified eighth): "It was a decent run. I was flat-out all the way around and gave it all I could, so it was good. The car was a little loose going in a bit, but I stayed with it and turned out OK. We had a good practice session today and got to work on race runs and put up some good times so I'm looking forward to the race."

KOSUKE MATSUURA (No. 55 Panasonic Panther Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified ninth): "I was hoping that I could start from the better position, but I am very confident about the race setup, so I am looking forward to the race tomorrow. Since we do not have warm-up session tomorrow, we tried many things in the Panasonic Honda in the morning practice session. The car feels good, so I think I will be able to show a good performance tomorrow."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified 10th): "We took a lot of downforce out of the car and it was tough during that run. I couldn't get the car to go flat out. The first lap I had some understeer, so I did some things in the cockpit to adjust it and the next lap was worse. It was a bit of a bummer. I think we have a really good race car. We'll probably be mid-pack, but I think the NYSE car will be alright."

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The 2007 IndyCar Series season continues with the Indy Japan 300 at 11:30 p.m. (ET) on April 20. It will by broadcast live by the IMS Radio Network with live video streaming on www.indycar.com. The race will be telecast at noon (ET) on April 21 by ESPN. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The sixth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Freedom 100 on May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast as part of ESPN2's coverage of Carb Day at 4 p.m. on May 25.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Max Papis , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Jaime Camara , Hideki Mutoh , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing