Rookie Scheckter wins historic MBNA Pole at Texas.
FORT WORTH, Texas, Thursday, June 6, 2002 -- Tomas Scheckter became the youngest pole winner in Indy Racing League history and the first rookie pole winner since 1997 by claiming the top spot June 6 for the Boomtown 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
2002 Indianapolis 500 Bank One co-Rookie of the Year Scheckter edged his teammate and boss, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr., for the MBNA Pole with a top lap of 23.7933 seconds, 220.146 mph in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. Cheever completed the team sweep of the front row with a lap of 23.9107, 219.065 in the No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.
"I have to thank Eddie," Scheckter said. "I saw the track for the first time today. I'm happy with the team. They always give me a good car."
And Scheckter, 21, made history with that car by becoming the youngest pole winner in IRL history. Defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr., 22, held the previous record after winning the MBNA Pole in March at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hornish qualified eighth for the Boomtown 500 in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
Scheckter's first career IRL pole also was the first for a rookie since Billy Boat won the top spot in October 1997 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It's also the second career IRL pole for an Infiniti-powered car, as Cheever captured the pole in March at California Speedway.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. qualified an IRL career-best third at 24.0040, 218.214 in the No. 7 Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, with rookie Laurent Redon starting a career-best fourth at 24.0303, 217.975 in the No. 34 Mi-Jack Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.
Points leader Helio Castroneves will start fifth in the race Saturday night after a lap of 24.1098, 217.256 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
Cheever took the pole from Unser as the 18th of 22 drivers to make a qualifying attempt. But Scheckter grabbed the pole from Cheever as the last qualifier on the 1.5-mile oval.
"I'm sure he is happy for me," Scheckter said of Cheever. "I hope to start paying him off. We have had some bad luck."
Said Cheever, "I think Tomas winning the pole is fantastic."
This was the second time this season that teammates swept the front row. Marlboro Team Penske drivers Gil de Ferran and Castroneves qualified first and second, respectively, at the Firestone Indy 225 in April at Nazareth, Pa.
While Scheckter winning the pole as the final qualifier was dramatic, it came as little surprise that he and Cheever shared the front row. They dominated both pre-qualifying practice sessions. Cheever was fastest and Scheckter second fastest in the afternoon, and they swapped places atop the speed charts in the evening practice.
Still, the strong performance provided a promising start to a crucial stretch of four races in the next five weeks for Red Bull Cheever Racing, which has endured a disappointing start this season.
Cheever is 12th in points with one top-five finish in five starts, while Scheckter is 19th with one top-10 finish. He led 85 laps at the 86th Indianapolis 500 -- more than twice that of any other driver -- before crashing out of the lead with just 27 laps to go.
"It is the second pole for our team this season, but we still have a bitter taste in our mouth from Indy," Cheever said. "It is time to start winning some races. This is a start."
Two-time defending race winner Scott Sharp qualified 16th at 24.3515, 215.100 in the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. Sharp is trying to become the first driver in IRL history to win the same event three consecutive years.
Practice resumes at 1:45 p.m. (CDT) Friday, with final practice at 5:15 p.m.
The Boomtown 500 starts at 7 p.m. (CDT) Saturday and will be televised live on ESPN. The race should be extremely tight, as this is the third-closest field in IRL history, separated by just .9356 of a second.