Series Birmingham qualifying report

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IZOD IndyCar Series press release

CASTRONEVES CLAIMS POLE POSITION AT BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Saturday, March 31, 2012) - Helio Castroneves won an IZOD IndyCar Series pole position for the first time in more than a year, topping a wild qualifying session at Barber Motorsports Park.

Pit lane
Pit lane

Photo by: Mike Geng

Castroneves set a best lap of 1:10.4768 in the Firestone Fast Six to claim the pole position for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Castroneves was the 2010 winner at Barber and the race winner at this season's opening race at St. Pete.

James Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 27 Team GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport, earned his first front-row start.

Honda-powered drivers Scott Dixon, the race runner-up at St. Petersburg, and Mike Conway will share Row 2, while Chevrolet-powered drivers JR Hildebrand and Tony Kanaan will occupy Row 3.

Will Power set a Barber Motorsports Park course record of 1 minute, 9.8529 seconds in the Chevrolet-powered No. 12 Verizon Team Penske on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn circuit in Round 1 of IZOD IndyCar Series qualifications.

But the Australian-born/North Carolina resident, who won the 2011 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from pole, will start ninth in the 90-lap race (2 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network). He had competed in the past 20 Firestone Fast Six sessions dating to the 2010 season.

Also on March 31, Firestone Indy Lights driver Sebastian Saavedra, driving the No. 27 Team AFS car, posted a best lap of 1 minute, 16.4968 seconds on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course to earn the Sunoco Pole Award for the 45-lap Grand Prix of Alabama on April 1.

Saavedra, who topped the time sheet in the lone practice session March 30 (the second was canceled because of a downpour), jumped to the top of the qualifying time sheet with just under five minutes left in the 45-minute session and remained there when a red flag flew for a one-car incident involving the No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car driven by Oliver Webb.

Tristan Vautier will start alongside Saavedra. It's his second consecutive front-row start; the 2011 Star Mazda champion won from the pole in his Firestone Indy Lights debut at St. Pete.

DAY 2 NOTEBOOK:

The recently unveiled "Women Empowered" initiative from TrueCar, Inc., which provides sponsorship to six female racers at various levels of North American motorsport, includes five drivers with strong ties to the Women in the Winner's Circle Foundation.

IZOD IndyCar Series driver Katherine Legge, Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear driver Ashley Freiberg, Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda racer Shannon McIntosh, Pirelli World Challenge Championships driver Shea Holbrook and Rally American Series driver Verena Mei are associated with the Women in the Winner's Circle Foundation established by Lyn St. James to help women achieve their goals in motorsports.

Appropriately, the new program launched in March, which is "Women's History Month." McIntosh opened her 2012 season at Sebring International Raceway on March 13-17, while Legge, Holbrook and Freiberg opened their respective seasons last weekend at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. All six of the "Women Empowered" drivers, which also includes SCCA Pro Racing Playboy MX-5 Cup Series driver Emilee Tominovich, participated in a meet-and-greet and autograph session during the weekend at St. Pete.

Three of the drivers - Freiberg, McIntosh and Holbrook - are graduates of the Women in the Winner's Circle Foundation's Complete Driver Academy, which is the most comprehensive educational and training program of its kind for talented women race drivers who aspire to the professional levels of motorsports

LYN ST. JAMES: "I want to congratulate TrueCar, Inc. for creating this remarkable motorsports campaign with its sponsorship of six women racers in six different professional racing series. After watching so many women racers struggle to secure funding just to get in a race car, now these drivers know they have the support to run a full season with proper race teams, which is history making. Too often, women drivers are only able to secure short term deals, and generally aren't funded well enough to have a competitive effort. "I look forward to watching them as the season progresses," St. James concluded. "I know they've worked hard and are prepared for the challenges ahead. Without having this opportunity, they know they might be watching from the sidelines, or just struggling to get on the racetrack."RR

KATHERINE LEGGE (No. 6 TrueCar Lotus Dragon Racing Lotus): "Lyn has been an inspiration and a role model for myself and many other young drivers both male and female," Legge said. "She has opened many doors before us and continues to help and support the up and coming young talent in the racing arena. She was the first person I called when I came to the USA and is still the first I call when I need guidance. She is a rock star!"

FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS SUNOCO POLE QUALIFYING NOTES:

· This is Sebastian Saavedra's first pole of 2012 and the fourth pole of his Firestone Indy Lights career. His last pole came in June 2010 at Iowa Speedway.

· Tristan Vautier qualified second. His second straight front row start. Vautier won the pole at St. Petersburg last weekend.

· Carlos Munoz qualified third, his best qualifying position in Firestone Indy Lights.

· Esteban Guerrieri qualified fourth, his 16th straight top-five start in Firestone Indy Lights. It extends his series record.

FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS SUNOCO POLE QUALIFYING QUOTES:

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 27 Team AFS, Sunoco Pole Award winner): "It was a very tough qualifying session. Very wet in a couple of places and you don't want it to be wet. A very big thanks to the No. 27 guys. They did an amazing job. This car was unbelievably fast all through the weekend. It was also very fast last week in St. Pete. It feels very good to have our first pole of the season and we will move forward from here."

TRISTAN VAUTIER (No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "I'm happy and frustrated at the same time. I'm happy because I feel like we made a big step from practice, and we improved the car a lot. The team and my engineer made the right calls for the car. I'm happy because I feel we could have had this pole, but I'm frustrated because with the red flag we didn't get to use our last set of tires, we just put it on and then it was red, we just did a warmup lap. But you know, we took a risk in waiting longer and it didn't work out, so great job from these guys at Andretti/AFS, they made the right call in qualifying and were strong from the start of practice here. So well deserved, and we'll do our best to do it in the race."

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES POLE QUALIFYING NOTES:

• This is Helio Castroneves' first pole at Barber and the 37th pole of his Indy car career. It is his first pole since he won the pole at Motegi in 2010.

• This is the third consecutive pole at Barber for Team Penske.

• James Hinchcliffe qualified second. It is his career best start in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Scott Dixon qualified third, matching his best start at Barber in 2011.

•Mike Conway qualified fourth, his second appearance in Firestone Fast Six at Barber. He started on the front row in 2010.

•JR Hildebrand qualified fifth, a career best start at Barber. His previous best start was 15th in 2011.

•Tony Kanaan qualified sixth, a career best start at Barber. His previous best start was eighth in 2010.

• There were eight different teams were represented in Round Two.

• There were six different teams represented in the Firestone Fast Six.

• Will Power's lap in Q1 (1:09.8529) eclipsed the qualifying record he set in 2010 - 1:10.1356.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES POLE QUALIFYING QUOTES:

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 Team GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, qualified second): "Obviously a great start for us to be on the outside of the front row. It's my best start and it's a great result after the way practice went yesterday and being rained out, then being fogged out this morning. We only had 14 dry laps coming into qualifying. We knew we had to take a little bit of a swing at it, and give it to the Andretti Autosport guys because that green Go Daddy guy was quick. As soon as we pulled out and we got into the Fast Six and we had only done I think one quick lap on those tires and two before the red came out. I feel sorry for Ryan (Hunter-Reay), he should have been up there too, but I knew we had good tires for the run and the pole. To miss it by half a tenth is just gutting, but it's a great start for us."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, qualified third): "It was OK. Definitely from yesterday, we really struggled. We did a lot of changes overnight and with the silly schedule, we didn't even get to get on track. So it was tough going in and not really knowing what to expect, and it's the first time in a long time that I've been in that situation. So, all in all, Q1 went really well, we made a couple changes, Q2 was strange with what happened with Hunter-Reay and a few people getting bumped out, but I think we had the speed in the Fast Six, but I messed up a sort of 14/15 complex and lost about a tenth. I think we would have been close to pole, but definitely as strong as second.

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 AAA Team Penske Chevrolet): "Great results for the AAA Chevrolet machine. The AAA Team Penske crew did a great job, and it will keep us in good shape. Unfortunately, we were the first ones out there because of no practice this morning. The red tires gave us a lot of bonus, so I apparently made it. We made some changes and that put us good for second qualifying. In the end, Will (Power) and some other competitors not making it was tough, but it is better to be lucky than good. (Strategist) John (Erickson), (race engineer) Ron (Ruzewski) and I were just going through the stuff and The Firestone red tires were great and have a lot of grip. The Firestone tires were able to give me Top 6 and thanks again Firestone.

MIKE CONWAY (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing, qualified fourth): "This is the first time for the team in the Fast Six since 2007, so we're definitely moving in the right direction. We made some good changes overnight and they certainly worked today, so it was quite good because we didn't get to run obviously at the end of the day yesterday with there being rain. So good job to everybody at ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing team, and I just want to keep up all the good work and keep it up front."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "It's a pretty frustrating qualifying result. Man, we had a great Verizon car today. We had a good first session and we were ready to fight for the pole. I know INDYCAR threw the red flag there but I'm not sure why they didn't allow our fast lap. It's definitely going to be tough starting ninth tomorrow, but we know we've got a fast car. We have to have a good start and be strong on the restarts and hopefully work our way up front."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Clorox Honda): "Lack of balance overall really is what we dealt with. Lack of track time, too, and we haven't been great so far. It didn't help that the second qualifying group was stout and there was a lot of competition there. Not where we want to be but we'll go back and work on it."

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "I don't think there was anything really different from yesterday. The car was great and it drives really well, it was just my fault for not getting more out of it. I feel bad for the team, I should have done a better job. It's so tight, we really only needed a couple tenths, I should have been able to get there. There was a lot more grip in the red tires, I just wasn't using them fully, especially in the brakes. That's the thing about this series- you can't leave anything on the table. You've got to be knife-edge perfect or as close to it as you can be, and today I wasn't."

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "We did pick up some good time from Friday. The Chevrolet engine is running great and I think everyone is a big fan of the Firestone Red tires. We only got one session on Friday, so this was our only time to test the improvements we made with the car. We made some pretty big changes today and we were able to gain time. We moved a second closer to Will (Power, fastest in practice) from Friday. So I feel we are moving in the right direction with the Fuzzy's car. This is my first competition at Barber, so it is a learning curve for me as well as the team. We are really understanding each other better too. I'm happy with the way we are working as a team. We are closing the gap on the field as we did at St. Pete. It stinks that we couldn't get some more track time this morning, but it is equal for everyone. We are a young team and we would like to get any track time we can get. We'll make some more changes for the race now."

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HVM Racing Lotus): "I think it could have been a little bit better session, but it is where we are and we have to try to go forward tomorrow. It will be difficult, but you never know…maybe some strategy will help us. It's just not where we wanted to start."

KATHERINE LEGGE (No. 6 TrueCar Lotus Dragon Racing Lotus): "It wasn't the qualifying that we'd hoped for, but having had only one dry session on the track yesterday, I think that when the tires came in, I wasn't up to speed. I'll attribute that to my inexperience on this track, I would say. That cost us almost two seconds. We'll try and fix it for the race."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central Honda): "Our car in qualifying was pretty good. The guys worked really hard over night to make a lot of changes. We didn't really have an idea where we were when we got out there but I was pleasantly surprised when I got out there. Obviously we're just frustrated over a yellow. We've got a really good race car, and we'll see how the strategy plays out but I think we'll be strong tomorrow."

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt-Hamilton HP Motorsports): "We got caught out with the flag. We didn't even get one fast lap on the last set of good tires. That's racing, you know. But you always want to start as high up as possible. We had a good car for that last run. It felt very well balanced and hooked up. It's a shame because my expectations were raised after I felt how good the car was on the warm-up lap. I think we would have been in the Firestone Fast Six. Now, we'll start P10. Last week, we started P16 and finished P6, so I feel good. We have a good crew in the pits, so I know we'll be strong in the race."

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 22 Lotus DRR): "Things are not going easy for us this weekend. Yesterday we needed laps and with this morning's cancelled session, we were only able to get an install lap in. We went out in qualifying and took it as a test session. We didn't even put on the Firestone Firehawk alternate (red-sidewall) tires. We were just trying to learn the car and save a better set for tomorrow's race and use them when it counts. We are going look at the data from this session, learn as much as we can and come up with the best car for tomorrow.

TAKUMA SATO, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda: "Qualifying was difficult because this morning we didn't have a chance to see how the car was overnight due to the fog that cancelled the session. We went straight into qualifying without running at speed today, and it looks like the red alternate Firestone tires have great grip but a short life so you have to get your quick lap time done within two laps. Once I was on track and up to speed, unfortunately on my first lap I caught traffic and that was it. The balance wasn't great but I think we would have been able to go to Round 2 so I am extremely disappointed because this track is very difficult to overtake on. Tomorrow's warm-up will be very important to see how both the red and primary black tires effect because it looks like managing the tires correctly will be a key factor in the race."

JAMES JAKES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): "It was a difficult day with our limited track time. We are making progress, but it would help if we had more track time. I think we will be ready for the race tomorrow and hopefully have a good finish for the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda car."

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): "We had a good first session and felt really good heading into the second round of qualifying with the No. 2 Hitachi car. We just had a problem with the clutch control unit and first gear. We could get it in first gear but the car wouldn't actually leave the gear. It's pretty disappointing because I really felt we had a car that was capable of winning the pole. It's a long race ahead of us though and I know Team Penske will come up with a good strategy to get a good result tomorrow."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 18 Sonny's Bar-B-Q Honda): "It was a tough day today for the #18 Sonny's Bar-B-Q Honda car. We couldn't get our 20 minute practice session in this morning since the helicopter couldn't land because of the heavy fog. And after the fuel line breaking after one lap yesterday, we only had one lap before qualifying today. We are trying to deal with a break issue right now. Normally that gets sort out before qualifying, but with no practice it makes it a bit harder. I feel a little beat up right now. We are going to be starting near the rear of the field tomorrow, so we will have to work a little harder, but I am confident that if we stay out of trouble in the race on Sunday, we should have a good finish in the race tomorrow."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 GEICO/Mouser Electronics - KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "It's a shame, we haven't had much track time with the rain yesterday and the fog this morning. The car so far feels quite good. I think warm-up tomorrow will be quite busy because everyone is going to be trying to figure out what to do for the race. We actually used the Firestone Fast Six this morning to start doing that, which helped me to get ahead of the game."

E.J. VISO (No. 5 CITGO/PDVSA - KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "Qualifying seventh is not bad. It is a pretty good position to start this race, however we had the potential to be in the top-four. Unfortunately, in the second round of qualifying a red flag came out toward the end of the session when I was on my fast lap which would have put me into the Firestone Fast Six. All the time we spent last night with the engineers paid off today. The improvements we made to the car were very good, I am looking forward to scoring some more championship points."

RUBENS BARRICHELLO - No. 8 BMC/ Embrase - KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "Oh Well. Once again I missed the next round by one thousand of a second. I wasn't able to run the morning session because of the fog and track time is so valuable for me, but no excuse, I have to get better and I will."

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet, qualified fifth): "I am really happy for the guys. This is what we are trying to accomplish this year and we are trying to improve our road program. Obviously this is going a long way to show that we are getting there. We kind of drew a good group and with the whole yellow thing with (Ryan) Hunter-Reay happened in the second group, you know, we ended up benefiting from that for sure and we are glad to be able to put that on a piece of paper now. We will take it and see what we have for tomorrow.

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Series INDYCAR
Tags andretti, castroneves, chevrolet, hinchcliffe, indy lights, penske