IRL: Richmond: Friday practice, qualifying rainout report

CASTRONEVES EARNS POLE FOR SUNTRUST INDY CHALLENGE RICHMOND, Va., Friday, June 23, 2006 -- Marlboro Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves will start first at Richmond International Raceway for the second time in three races this season after ...

CASTRONEVES EARNS POLE FOR SUNTRUST INDY CHALLENGE

RICHMOND, Va., Friday, June 23, 2006 -- Marlboro Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves will start first at Richmond International Raceway for the second time in three races this season after earning the pole for the SunTrust Indy Challenge presented by XM Satellite Radio.

Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Honda-powered Dallara, posted a lap of 15.5645 seconds, 173.472 mph -- the fastest lap of the two combined practice sessions. Delphi Fernandez Racing's Scott Sharp will make his first non-Indianapolis 500 front-row start since Kentucky 2001 after a quick lap of 172.712 mph in the second session.

"I'll take it," said Castroneves, who also started from the pole at Watkins Glen (practice speeds) and Motegi (points because all cars didn't have equal practice time). "I'm not upset that we didn't qualify. Every time you have a chance to start on the pole position without qualifying, it's a blessing in disguise."

It is Castroneves' seventh consecutive top-five start this season and his second pole start at Richmond International Raceway (2004). He was midway through his first warm-up lap in qualifying when he spotted two raindrops on his visor. Obviously, he immediately stepped off the throttle.

Sam Hornish Jr. (172.561 mph) and reigning IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon (172.492) will occupy the second row. Wheldon was the provisional pole sitter (173.991 mph) when rain cloud engulfed the facility.

Rookie Marco Andretti (172.068) and Panther Racing's Vitor Meira (171.972) will share Row 3, while Tony Kanaan (171.950) and Kosuke Matsuura (171.802) are in Row 4.

The cars of Buddy Lazier and Felipe Giaffone would not have made qualifying attempts. Lazier's Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone made contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4 in the first session. The team will have the back-up car prepared for the race. The A.J. Foyt Enterprises team changed the engine and multiple other components after a plume of smoke was visible after eight laps.

DAY 1 NOTEBOOK:

This is the sixth IndyCar Series event at Richmond International Raceway. Helio Castroneves is the defending race winner. Sam Hornish Jr. holds the qualifying record with a lap of 15.3197 seconds, 176.244 mph set in June 2005. All five previous winners at Richmond are expected to compete in the SunTrust Indy Challenge presented by XM Satellite Radio: Buddy Lazier (2001), Sam Hornish Jr. (2002), Scott Dixon (2003), Dan Wheldon (2004) and Helio Castroneves (2005).

*** Six Indianapolis 500 winners are entered: Sam Hornish Jr. (2006), Dan Wheldon (2005), Buddy Rice (2004), Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002), Eddie Cheever Jr. (1998) and Buddy Lazier (1996).

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Drivers entered in the SunTrust Indy Challenge presented by XM Satellite Radio have combined for 80 IndyCar Series victories, 64 pole positions and 1,057 starts.

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Two IndyCar Series rookies are entered this weekend: Marco Andretti (Andretti Green Racing) and Jeff Simmons (Rahal Letterman Racing). Both are eligible for the $50,000 Bombardier Rookie of the Year title.

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Honda will celebrate its 100th victory in North American major league open-wheel racing this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. Honda earned its first victory at New Hampshire in 1995 with Andre Ribeiro, LCI-sponsored Tasman Motorsports Honda Reynard 95I.

ROBERT CLARKE (President, Honda Performance Development): "Thinking back to 1995, when we got our first race victory after two years of testing, development and racing -- and knowing the effort and hardship that went into achieving that milestone -- it seems incredible that we're about to mark our 100th win. In New Hampshire in 1995 at the time of that first win, 100 wins would have seemed like a pure fantasy to us." (About the 100 wins): "I have personally been in attendance at every one of those 100 wins, and I remember each as if it were yesterday. I remember the joy and excitement of Andre (Ribeiro) , Alex (Zanardi), Helio (Castroneves) and Dario (Franchitti) and their teammates after those milestone wins, and I remember sharing cake and ice cream (a Honda tradition) with our HPD associates the following Monday. We've truly been blessed with some outstanding talents throughout our open-wheel racing program. I'd like to congratulate all of our associates at HPD, who have worked hard, made personal sacrifices and have made the success of our racing programs their top priority. I'd also like to thank Honda R&D for the continued assistance and support throughout our CART and IRL programs and our technical partners at Ilmor for their contributions to our IRL program."

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Patrick Francescon watched tapes of each 2005 IndyCar Series race -- while stationed in Iraq.

The Marine Corps lieutenant, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., will be able to see a race live as an honorary member of the Panther Racing over-the-wall crew this weekend. He will serve as the left-front tire assistant, passing the Firestone Firehawk during pit stops to former active-duty Marine Lance Perry.

The No. 4 Panther Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone will carry a decal of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division in the SunTrust Indy Challenge presented by XM Satellite Radio. Francescon, who returned to the United States in March, and his wife, Sherry, took Indy Racing Experience two-seater rides on the 0.75-mile oval June 22.

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Richmond International Raceway is displaying a collection of racing memorabilia, including an open-wheel car driven by Al Fleming in the inaugural race Oct. 12, 1946, in the midway area this weekend.

Also in the collection are photographs of participants in that race, including winner Ted Horn, Jimmy Gibbons and Fleming. A race helmet and goggles from that era, a piece of sculptured folk art of an Indy car and a vintage book on the life of Ted Horn also are on display.

"This is a great opportunity for our fans to see some rare and unique racing memorabilia," track president Doug Fritz said. "The fact that we will have a car on display from that race nearly 60 years ago is incredible. This collection will help reinforce our open-wheel heritage which began with our very first race."

The IndyCar Series has been competing at Richmond International Raceway since 2001.

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MARLBORO POLE QUALIFYING RAINOUT NOTES:

*This is Helio Castroneves' second earned pole this season and the 13th of his IndyCar Series career. This is the third time he has started first this season. He also started first at Motegi (points) and Watkins Glen (practice speed) when qualifications were cancelled.

*This is Marlboro Team Penske's sixth pole position of the season and its 25th pole in the IndyCar Series. The team has started on the pole for six of the seven IndyCar Series events in 2006.

*Scott Sharp will start second, his first front-row start of the season and his best start since he started in the third position, on the front row, for the Indianapolis 500 in 2005.

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MARLBORO POLE QUALIFYING RAINOUT QUOTES:

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified first): "I'll take (the pole). I'm not upset that we didn't qualify. At the same time, it's frustrating because this is the third time this year that it has happened. I'm happy. Every time you have a chance to start on the pole with or without qualifying, it's a blessing in disguise, literally. We felt that we had a very strong car. According to practice times, we seemed to be doing very good, very fast. We were looking good. I like this place; it's very challenging. We are extremely excited at Marlboro Team Penske, especially in Phillip Morris' backyard. It's nice place to start from, and hopefully we'll finish in the front.

SCOTT SHARP (No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified second): "I'm happy for the whole Delphi team. It's been a rugged schedule for everyone from Indianapolis and the two additional back-to-back races. The last six weeks have been pretty crazy. Instead of catching their breath, our guys worked really hard at developing a new set up last week to bring here. It was really a bit of an unknown when we started here yesterday. It's just been really strong, and I think it took us to the next step. It has been really consistent as well. We really have a lot of confidence in the car and when it comes to race trim, we're in pretty good shape."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified third): "Unfortunately, I think there's quite a bit of difference between our back-up and primary cars; we spent most of the day trying to find speed. Marlboro Team Penske is going to keep working hard, and hopefully we'll be in good shape for the race. Tomorrow night, we just need to make sure we run all the way to the end. It's a long race, and we have to remember to stay patient and bring the Marlboro Team Penske car home in a good position."

DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified fourth): "It's a shame for us because I think the lap was relatively good. The Nicoderm/Target car was working well. We've definitely improved as the weekend has gone on. It would be great to beat the Phillip Morris boys in Nicoderm country."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified fifth): "To be honest, I had to qualify early and I think the track was only getting better. I think maybe we would have ended up a little worse than fifth. Who knows? I'm happy to be in fifth. I think we'll have a good car underneath us for the race, and hopefully we'll bring it home."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Panther Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified sixth): "Starting sixth is a good thing here because you want to be out front as much as you can to avoid problems at the start. We've already done our race set up and our race simulations, and we're really happy with the car. Tomorrow is going to be a good night for us."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified seventh): "Obviously, we all would have liked to qualified. I don't think we would have had a shot at the pole, but I know we would have been top five. It's a shame for the fans, but I think the fast guys were where they were supposed to be. I think some guys are going to be coming from the back as well."

KOSUKE MATSUURA (No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified eighth): "I think we had a good car (for qualifying). In the first practice I was pretty good. In the second practice we tried to find something different but it didn't work. I think if we would have had qualifying, I would have been in the top-five. I'm really disappointed. I think we're OK and the car overall is OK. We'll wait and see tomorrow.

BRYAN HERTA (No. 7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda/Firestone, qualified ninth): "For me, it doesn't effect (the race) at all. I was real happy with my qualifying run but I think we were going to end up seventh, eighth or ninth anyway. It seems like we would have ended up about the same place whether qualifying had finished out or we went off practice times. It really didn't affect me."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Klein Tools/Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/ Firestone, qualified 10th): "I think we probably could have started a little further up (if we had qualified). We continually changed the setup on the car all day. Richmond traditionally a track where it doesn't matter where you start. Anything can happen in the race. We're looking forward to hopefully getting a final warm up and getting on with the race tomorrow night.

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The 2006 IRL IndyCar Series continues with the SunTrust Indy Challenge presented by XM Satellite Radio at 8 p.m. (EDT) on June 24 at Richmond International Raceway. The race will be televised live by ESPN2 and the IMS Radio Network. 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 channel 145 "IndyCar Racing" and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Liberty Challenge on July 1 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The race will be telecast by ESPN2 at 2 p.m. on July 6.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Marco Andretti , Kosuke Matsuura , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Andre Ribeiro , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Vitor Meira
Teams A.J. Foyt Enterprises , Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing