PHOENIX, March 17, 2001 - Oldsmobile began its fifth year in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series today at Phoenix International Raceway by claiming its 39th consecutive pole in Indy Racing League competition. Greg Ray continued his mastery of ...
PHOENIX, March 17, 2001 - Oldsmobile began its fifth year in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series today at Phoenix International Raceway by claiming its 39th consecutive pole in Indy Racing League competition. Greg Ray continued his mastery of one-mile ovals and will start Team Menard's Oldsmobile-powered Dallara on the pole for the third straight year at PIR.
The Valley of the Sun lived up to its reputation as qualifying for the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 was completed under clear skies and balmy breezes. Ray circled the low-banked track in 20.263 seconds at a speed of 177.633 mph, eclipsing the 177.139 mph track record for naturally aspirated IRL cars he set in 1999 with a 4.0-liter Oldsmobile engine.
Phoenix International Raceway is hosting the opening round of the 13-race series for the first time in IRL history, but the qualifying results were quite familiar as Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 captured the pole at PIR for the fifth consecutive year. Oldsmobile engines swept the top seven spots on the starting grid and powered 25 of the 27 qualifiers. The fastest Nissan-powered entry qualified eighth with a speed 4.5 mph slower than Ray's pole-winning lap.
A rule revision that eliminated three bonus points for qualifying on the pole didn't affect Ray's motivation. "It's no secret that I really enjoy qualifying," said Ray. "I love walking to the very edge, but that really has nothing to do with winning the championship.
"We raced most of the engines we qualified with last year," he continued. "If people think you're doing something different to be fast, Team Menard should take that as a compliment because we're taking care of business just like we did last year. There's no black magic, just a bunch of guys working very hard."
But for a miscue on his second qualifying lap, Ray's speed advantage might have been even greater. "I made a huge mistake and didn't get the car down to the apex," Ray reported. "I had to back way off the throttle. I think we would have been about a tenth of a second quicker."
Sam Hornish Jr. earned a starting spot on the outside of the front row in his first race behind the wheel of Panther Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara. "It feels great, and that puts us two-thirds of the way to what we want to accomplish this weekend," said Hornish. "We were fastest in practice, we had a good qualifying run, and now we have great motivation for the race. Speedway Engine Development has given me the power I need to go fast."
Jeff Ward nailed down the third spot on the starting grid in his first race with Heritage Motorsports' Oldsmobile G-Force with a 175.710 mph lap. Ward will start alongside Stephan Gregoire in Simon Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara.
"My crew chief Mitch Davis knew we could do a quick time but we never did any testing in qualifying trim," said Ward. "I was nervous about letting it all hang out, so I'm pretty excited about that time. The race car is unbelievable, but going for the pole would have been a little risky."
Gil de Ferran, the reigning CART champion, qualified Penske Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara fifth on the grid. His teammate Helio Castroneves is 17th.
"I didn't get up to speed quite fast enough and I had a little too much push on my fast lap," de Ferran said. "We changed absolutely everything in the car after practice - springs, bars, everything. The car was handling a lot better today.
"This car is quite different than my Champ Car, especially in one-mile oval configuration," he continued. "These cars run a lot more downforce so you have to keep your boot down all the way around the track."
Stephan Gregoire, Dick Simon Racing Oldsmobile Dallara, fastest in preseason testing at PIR, qualified fourth: "I think we did yesterday in practice will help a lot in the race. We worked on setup for the race with full tanks. Hopefully that will pay off."
Buddy Lazier, Hemelgarn Racing Oldsmobile Dallara, IRL champion, defending race winner, qualified sixth: "We haven't been the quickest every time out, but we've been close and that's what it's all about. I think we have a good race car, but we won't know until race day. The surface gets very slippery with the heat, and there are a lot of different cars running this weekend with different kinds of rubber. That makes it hard to pass."