Cunningham sets record time for Indianapolis pole

Wade Cunningham has won the pole for tomorrow's Firestone Freedom 100 race with a new qualifying record of 190.177 mph, eclipsing Jaime Camara's 2005 mark of 189.870 mph. Not quite satisfied with his first lap, Cunningham, who won the pole and...

Wade Cunningham has won the pole for tomorrow's Firestone Freedom 100 race with a new qualifying record of 190.177 mph, eclipsing Jaime Camara's 2005 mark of 189.870 mph. Not quite satisfied with his first lap, Cunningham, who won the pole and the race in 2006, dug deeper for his second. He also had the stress of qualifying late in the afternoon, wondering if he would be able to beat the speed of 190.023 mph set by Sebastian Saavedra earlier in the session.

"It was my second lap which won me the pole," Cunningham said. "I had to sit for twelve cars and watch Sebastian be the quickest. It was pretty nerve wracking. He put a very big time in. I wasn't confident that we would be quicker than him outright in that one lap. So when I saw my time after my first lap, I knew that I had to nail the second lap and just be more consistent."

"The track is so long, it's unbelievable what you can feel around here. You feel every bump and groove in the track, and you're feeling the individual RPMs drop away. And you're just praying that you don't lose too many because you know how many you need at mid-corner to make it off and to get the speed at the end of the straight.

"The feelings that you get when you're going 190 miles an hour and you've got so much time on the race track, you can really plan it and try to put yourself at the right position at the right time. It's just a momentum game around here. The first lap was good, but in my opinion the second lap was better.

"It was very, very exciting, it was very close. Sebastian's a tough and fair competitor. We had a great event at Kansas and he got the better of me. I'm going to race him probably a little bit harder now, and we'll see what happens tomorrow."

Outside pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra was happy with his results, despite losing the pole at the end of the session. Racing at the Speedway for the first time was on his mind.

"It feels wonderful," he said. "The whole AFS AGR Racing team has done an awesome job putting the car together. I think were looking forward to the race. The points are important. The championship is important. We have a very strong car for this weekend. We'll try to do our best. It's unbelievable (racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway). During the first five laps, I was like, 'Where are you?' It's a historic race. It's a historic racetrack. And here I am. It's a lot of feelings."

J.R Hildebrand, who ran well in morning practice, wasn't quite as philosophical about his final result of third fastest.

"It felt pretty good, Hildebrand said. "It's a little bit frustrating. I think we had a pretty good shot at the pole. It's just really close with my teammate here, Sebastian. I think everybody here is going to be a little bit bummed that we didn't get it. The two of us are quite fast and we hoped to take the front row here. I know we've got a really good racecar for tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the race."

Fourth quickest was Ana Beatriz, Cunningham's teammate at Sam Schmidt Motorsports. She was first out, and set a time that lasted toward the front of the grid.

"I felt pretty good," she said. "I think our second lap was a little bit slower than what we expected. It's so bad to qualify first because you have no test of what people are doing."

But running here is what counts for Ana, who qualified fourth and finished fifth as a rookie last year, and is looking forward to more time here.

"It's always special to come back to Indy. It's such a magic environment with all of the fans. Indianapolis is all about the Indy 500, so it's a great environment, and I am really excited about the race. It's good to have the team behind you taking photos. I am hoping to be in an Indy Car next year."

Rookie Martin Plowman qualified fifth, and had a great time doing it.

"It was exciting," he said. I love this qualifying format for the ovals. It's just one big adrenaline rush. I felt that first lap and a half of qualifying I did the best I could have done, but I made a small mistake on my second lap. It's just one of those things. We're still reasonably pleased, I think. Tomorrow is just a really big race, and we've got a strong car, so we'll see some action tomorrow."

Like Ana - and most of the other drivers - being here is important for Martin.

"(The Speedway) is everything that everyone describes of it. It's awe- inspiring. It's what dreams are made of, and it's what everyone dreams of as a young boy. The first time I drove around this place was just indescribable. It's pretty intimidating the first time you go out there, but once you get confident in yourself and the car out there, it's just a joy to race on."

The ever-confident and ever-ready Jay Howard qualified sixth, on the outside of the front row, with little preparation.

"At 9:30 this morning," he explained, "I got a phone call while I was actually on the sofa. And I got a phone call saying, 'You need to come qualify the car and come and get in the show.' So it was pretty cool to come here, and I've actually borrowed everything. I've got Scott Dixon's helmet on, so thanks to him and everyone who loaned me the stuff until tomorrow.

"Yeah, it was a good run, and we can't be unhappy with that. Just to come here and hop in the car, and let's take a guess, let's go, it was pretty good. I came here - I actually flew up here, because I live in Palm Beach now - just to be here, just to watch and just to be around it because I love it, even though I wasn't actually going to be taking part. And then the phone call this morning made everything just a million times better, so that's good. We're in the show. Let's see what happens tomorrow."

While Cunningham and Saavedra take the glory for qualifying faster than the prior pole record, the fastest man of the day was Chalrie Kimball, who turned a speed of 192.402 mph in the first practice session this morning. Things fell off a bit during qualifying, but he still managed seventh place on the grid.

"We had a starter break at the qualifying line," Kimball said, "so we had to push start it. The engine wouldn't turn over. It was a bit tense and very frantic there for a few seconds, but we got it fired, luckily. It wasn't an ideal run (because) we didn't quite get the engine as warm as we wanted before we went out. We didn't get the setup quite right. With everyone running in practice, there was a little more rubber down than we anticipated. The wind was blowing across the car instead of at our back.

Despite the problems, "We're pretty happy," he continued. "We have a good race car under us. We're in good shape. We're where we need to be to have a good result. From the front four rows, we can make anything happen. The competitive level of this series this year is higher than it's been in a long, long time. And that lends itself to really tight races and good competition.

The Firestone Freedom 100 is scheduled to take the green flag at 12:30 p.m. EDT tomorrow. It will be telecast live on Versus, with coverage beginning at 11 a.m.

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