Is this a 'new world order" with Danica Patrick earning her first IndyCar Series Marlboro Pole Award in only her eighth race as a rookie in this ultra-competitive series? "I hope I'm ready to win," Patrick remarked after lapping the ...
Is this a 'new world order" with Danica Patrick earning her first IndyCar Series Marlboro Pole Award in only her eighth race as a rookie in this ultra-competitive series?
"I hope I'm ready to win," Patrick remarked after lapping the Kansas Speedway 1.5-mile oval at 214.668mph. "I've been waiting for this for 14 years and, in order to get to this series you're already good" at driving the race car.
The 23-year-old realizes that qualifying is "so straightforward" an exercise. "There is no time to stop and make changes to the car. It's just a matter of getting in and going." The changes her team made to the car in the morning paid off for her and the car was better, she explained.
"There's no extra pressure in having pole position but there's certainly more excitement. This feels very satisfying and shows how far our team has gone."
While she didn't find her achievement historic - Sarah Fisher earned an IndyCar Series pole at Kentucky Speedway in 2002 - Patrick thinks what could make it different is "staying up there tomorrow during the race. It's all about how balanced you can get the car and how far you can take it before you go overboard. There's a fine line to that," she explained.
Admittedly, Rahal Letterman Racing has the Kansas oval figured out with their package of Panoz chassis, Honda engines and Firestone tires, after Buddy Rice won the Argent Mortgage Indy 300 here last year by a whisker over teammate Vitor Meira.
Those two will line up second and third for tomorrow afternoon's 200-lap enduro, respectively. Rice - the fourth driver to take timed laps - set the benchmark at 214.650mph while Meira preceded Patrick - the penultimate qualifier - and turned 214.546mph.
"Any 1.5-mile oval we go to we're strong at," Rice stated. "With three cars now we've got that much more info. Our cars excel on this kind of track and we know we're going to run strong," he said. "This is a good performance for our team," Meira added. "I know we've got good cars for the race. It's not a bad thing," Meira smiled, "for all three cars to start up front."
Tomas Scheckter placed his (once again) silver-colored Panther Dallara/Chevrolet fourth on the 22-car grid with his lap of 214.543mph but "in the morning I didn't think we'd be that good. We did mostly race simulations and Tomas [teammate Enge] worked on qualifying. The team did a great job and I'll be happy to be in the top 8-10," the South African remarked after being tenth to take a qualifying run.
Darren Manning earned fifth with the first of three Panoz/Toyota cars from Chip Ganassi's stables. While eighth in morning practice, the Briton "got the setup right" and hauled in a lap at 214.321mph. "You always put more on the line for qualifying and taking the green the second time by put a little less push in the car. I couldn't do anything better," he grinned.
With time trials coming fifteen minutes before 1PM CDT, the temperatures had warmed significantly since practice ended an hour earlier. Sunny skies and temps in the mid-80s greeted the Indy cars as they came to the line.
Dario Franchitti was the second driver out and worked to a sixth-place speed of 214.214mph, less than his practice-leading 214.942mph in the morning yet best of the four Andretti Green Racing drivers. "We lost a bit of grip," he remarked of his Dallara/Honda, "but I think the car is pretty good in race trim. As long as we're toward the front of the grid, I'll be happy."
2003 IRL champ Scott Dixon was pretty pleased with his seventh grid slot in the second Ganassi Panoz/Toyota at 213.778mph. The Kiwi thought his car "was pretty neutral; it's got good balance," the quiet Kiwi shrugged. "The car felt good with race setup and we've got pretty decent balance."
Taking eighth grid slot with the first run of the afternoon, 2004 IndyCar Series champ Tony Kanaan knew he was a sitting duck despite putting up a speed of 213.411mph in the second AGR Dallara/Honda. "We knew we weren't the strong for qualifying today but we did two long runs this morning. I think we've got a competitive car," Kanaan noted.
Scott Sharp lines up ninth with his lap of 213.376mph in his Fernandez Racing Panoz/Honda. The veteran thought, "That was all we had. The car is handling great and when I drafted with Buddy [Rice] this morning, we could go inside and outside. We're just not the fastest guys out there right now but we're about as well set up as anyone."
While he's made it known anything less than the front row never pleases Sam Hornish Jr., the Penske driver acknowledged his Dallara/Toyota's tenth-place lap of 213.116mph was "simply not fast enough. That's just part of this deal but we were pretty happy with the way the car was handling on the longer runs this morning," he acknowledged.
Rookies line the sixth row with Ryan Briscoe, in the third Ganassi Panoz/Toyota entry 11th and Tomas Enge 12th in the second Panther Dallara/Chevrolet. Briscoe lost some speed from practice to qualifying and wasn't sure what happened. "The car just felt like it was dragging," he said. Enge too was disappointed to be slower than he expected: "We had a better run in the second practice, but I'm happy with our racecar and how it works in traffic," he explained.
Continuing his difficulties with qualifying, Dan Wheldon starts his AGR Dallara/Honda in 13th place tomorrow, calling his effort "a challenging weekend so far." Helio Castroneves, the winner last weekend in Richmond was scratching his head after taking 14th on the grid with his Penske Dallara/Toyota. "I don't know what happened and I'm surprised to see other guys much faster," he said.
Kosuke Matsuura put the Super Aguri Fernandez Panoz/Honda 15th in the field and noted, "The handling was good but the speed was slow." Bryan Herta had a similar complaint with the fourth AGR Dallara/Honda after taking 16th grid spot: "We just don't seem to have qualifying figured out on the mile and a half ovals," he remarked.
Roger Yasukawa's Dallara/Honda from Dreyer & Reinbold Racing starts 17th while Alex Barron's Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota has the outside spot on Row 9. Ed Carpenter missed a shift on his Dallara/Toyota during his second qualifying lap, relegating the car to 19th while Patrick Carpentier lamented, "We're back to reality" with 20th on the grid in the second Cheever Dallara/Toyota.
The final row belongs to Jimmy Kite in the Hemelgarn Dallara/Toyota who "found more speed" after practice and A.J. Foyt IV, who only took a single timed lap at the close of qualifying in his grandfather's Dallara/Toyota.
The Argent Mortgage Indy 300 takes the green flags at 12:25PM CDT on Sunday and is race #8 in the 17-event 10th anniversary Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season. It's shown live on ESPN2.