CHAMPCAR/CART: Helio wins pole at Detroit

By - David C. Schilke - Belle Isle - Detroit, Michigan - Saturday qualifying at the Detroit Grand Prix. Qualifying promised to be exciting from the results of this mornings practice. Team Penske did show an advantage over the...

By - David C. Schilke -

Belle Isle - Detroit, Michigan - Saturday qualifying at the Detroit Grand Prix.

Qualifying promised to be exciting from the results of this mornings practice. Team Penske did show an advantage over the field but potentially the pole was up for grabs by anybody. The weather was hot and sunny and the 2.346-mile track was in good shape for the conditions.

Helio Castroneves was posting the fastest times for most of the session. He guarantied the pole for himself by setting the fastest lap in the last second of qualifying. His lap time was 1:13.499 or 114.908mph. Helio won the Detroit Grand Prix last year and is looking good for a back-to-back win. Helio is second in the points standings after the last race at Milwaukee and is 23 points behind the leader, Kenny Brack.

Comments from Helio: "Winning this pole is very important because it's so tough to pass here. But it's a long race and the heat is going to be a factor. So far, let's celebrate, but tomorrow is the day that's going to count more points. The Firestone tires are working well this weekend. It takes a little time because the heat comes up in them first, then the pressure a little later. Once you get those set, they're fine and very consistent."

Bruno Junqueira one of Ganassi's rookies for this year qualified in second and was one of the fastest drivers yesterday. This is Bruno's best qualifying position on a road course. He snagged the outside position for the front row by running a 1:13.581 lap time (114.780mph). Junqueira is second in the rookie of the year standings, 15 points behind Scott Dixon. Dixon qualified in 18th at 112.419mph.

Bruno was very happy: "I'm very happy with our performance today. Team Target did a very good job over the last two days. They gave me a very fast car to drive and I am happy with my second place starting position. I really wanted the pole but the yellow flag near the end hurt my chances. I like the layout of this track. There are some fast straight-aways and tight corners, which really suits my driving style. I'll like the track even more if I can get my first win here tomorrow."

Comments from Dixon on why the poor standing: "Obviously, I'm very disappointed. The red flag at the end of the session did not work in my favor because I really needed the time to improve my position. There was a lot of traffic out there with a couple of offs, which really held me up. The car was good and we'll work on some things tonight in preparation for the race tomorrow. I've come from behind before and I'm confident I can do it again. I definitely have my work cut out for me tomorrow and it will be important for me to gain positions at the start."

Gil de Ferran was just edged out by Junqueira for a Penske front row. De Ferran got the third position with a 1:13.666 (114.647) lap. De Ferran is the defending CART FedEx champion and is currently seventh in the points lead.

Comments from De Ferran: "It was a good qualifying session for us. The car was handling very well from this morning."

Helio Castroneves. Pole sitter for the Grand Prix of Detroit. Photo by Bob Kozel.

The current points leader, Kenny Brack qualified in the tenth spot and is not happy with the result. "We've been struggling this weekend with our Lola," says Brack. "The track surface isn't like it was last year. It's much bumpier…." "We basically missed a session Friday morning and we've been playing catch up ever since. I don't think we are really too far off on the proper setup. It's just not where we want to be right now. My engineer Don Halliday has a few things up his sleeves that we can use for the race. I think the will help us. It's a difficult race here. You can't make a slight mistake."

Mistakes are easy on the tight Belle Isle circuit. Tony Kanaan was sent to the Detroit Receiving Hospital for a precautionary CAT scan. Kanaan was complaining of headaches after a hit to the wall while overtaking Max Papis during qualifying. While Kanaan did race the backup car after the accident that totaled the primary one he did not have much chance to run good times and starts at the back of the grid.

Tomorrow race promises to be spectacular. Helio has a chance to shorten the gap to the points lead and Bruno is in a position to challenge Dixon's lead for the Rookie of the Year title. The top 25 cars are separated by only three seconds. The entire field is very close but Detroit is a hard circuit to pass on. The drivers most focus ob making no mistakes and the teams can make their car win or lose in the pits. The Belle Isle track can be very tough and hard on the drivers and cars. Still, with the hardships the race can put on the teams, most drivers love the track. This maybe the last year it is run here and some drivers are more outspoken as others. "This is a very special track", says Helio. "This is where I had my first win and started climbing fences." Helio has quickly made a reputation of climbing fences to celebrate his victories. Most recently Helio and his crew climbed the fence at Indy when he won the Indianapolis 500. De Ferran believes that the track should be made into a permanent road course. "It's a excellent track, it is very technical and would be a wonderful permanent road course." De Ferran went on the add, "This is the Motor City after all."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack
Teams Team Penske