MOTEGI, Japan (May 18, 2001) - Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske, who established his expertise on road and street courses during his breakthrough 2000 FedEx Championship Series season, earned his first oval pole position since 1999 Friday...
MOTEGI, Japan (May 18, 2001) - Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske, who established his expertise on road and street courses during his breakthrough 2000 FedEx Championship Series season, earned his first oval pole position since 1999 Friday at the Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring Motegi (1 p.m. ET Saturday, tape delay, ABC-TV).
Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) logged his first oval pole since 1999 at The Milwaukee Mile when he put together a lap of 215.591 miles per hour (25.849 seconds) on the 1.549-mile Motegi layout. It was the sixth pole of Castroneves' FedEx Championship Series career and the championship point he earned for the performance pulled him into a tie with Marlboro Team Penske teammate Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) and Patrick Racing's Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) in the championship standings.
With 30 points each, the trio of Castroneves, de Ferran and Vasser trails Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) and Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), who are paired at the top of the points race with 40 points each.
Castroneves, who has claimed four race victories and four pole positions on street courses over the past two seasons, will be seeking the first oval track victory of his four-year career when the green flag falls at 11:30 p.m ET Friday for the fifth round of this year's championship.
Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green qualified second at 214.413 mph (25.991 seconds). It marks a season-best start, exceeding sixth at Long Beach, and his best start overall since winning the outside pole at Houston last year.
De Ferran qualified third at 214.396 mph (25.993 seconds). He matches a season-best start of third in the season opener at Mexico, and makes his best start on an oval since winning the pole for last year's season finale at California Speedway at a world closed-course record speed of 241.428 miles per hour. De Ferran was allotted only one qualifying lap due to a speed violation as he exited pit lane for his qualifying run.
Tony Kanaan (Hollywood Honda Reynard) of Mo Nunn Racing qualified fourth at 214.157 mph (26.022 seconds) followed by rookie Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, at 214.050 mph (26.035 seconds).
Da Matta was 12th at 212.103 mph (26.274 seconds) while Tracy was 16th at 210.835 mph (26.432 mph).
The top four drivers were all Honda-powered.
HELIO CASTRONEVES, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "Definitely, since we started this weekend, the car was always quick, and to be honest, we haven't touched much [since]. I didn't feel anything [to be concerned about]. I definitely have to mention Honda because everyone is working together, and that's why they call this a team sport. I'm definitely pleased with the pole position. The point is very important."
DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Honda Reynard: "The session this morning was good. We left the car very close to the edge for qualifying, unfortunately we weren't able to replicate the conditions we needed to get the pole. The problem this morning [at the end of practice] wasn't as serious as we thought. We thought it was an engine going but it turned out to be one of the headers, which wasn't as serious, so we left the same engine in for qualifying and it turned out well for us."
GIL de FERRAN, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "I left my pit box really slowly but apparently, I sped as I passed the very last pit. The officials decided to impose a penalty of only one qualifying lap. The penalty is in the rule book and I was speeding in pit lane, so I guess it was my fault. The car is handling really well. Both cars have been really good throughout the weekend, and that bodes well for the race."
* Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) earned the sixth pole of his FedEx Championship Series career and his second on an oval. His other poles came at Milwaukee in 1999; Portland, Toronto, and Laguna Seca last year and Long Beach this season. Castroneves will be seeking his first oval victory Saturday. His best oval finish of second came at Milwaukee in 1998 and Gateway in '99.
* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) turned in his best oval-track qualifying performance since starting second at Milwaukee last year. His previous career-best qualifying effort in four starts at Twin Ring Motegi is sixth in 1998.
* Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) has qualified among the top five drivers for all four of his career appearances at Twin Ring Motegi. His previous efforts at the venue include third in 1998, the pole in '99 and fifth last year.
* Honda claimed its second pole of the season, following Castroneves' at Long Beach, and its third in four events at Twin Ring Motegi, following Jimmy Vasser in 1998 - when qualifying was rained out and the starting grid was based on practice times - and de Ferran in 1999.
* When Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola takes the green flag Saturday, he will establish a CART record for career starts with his 274th, breaking a tie with Al Unser Jr., who made 273 starts from 1982-99. Andretti's first career start came at Las Vegas in 1983 in a race won by his father, Mario. His last 128 starts have come consecutively, dating to the 1994 season opener at Australia, which he won. Michael Andretti is also CART's all-time leader in victories (40), and laps led (6,409) and is second in career pole positions (32). "I guess this means I'm old," said Andretti, who qualified 11th Friday at 212.581 miles per hour (26.215 seconds). "Actually, it's quite an honor to be reaching this milestone in my career. What is ironic is that I feel like I'm in better shape now and probably in the best position to win a CART FedEx Championship than I've ever been in my career." His 274th start would rank Michael Andretti fourth in all-time Champ Car history (1909-present). Mario Andretti is the all-time leader with 407 starts.
* The Firestone Firehawk 500 will air via tape delay 1 p.m. ET Saturday on ABC-TV. The race will be broadcast live on the CART Radio Network and at www.cart.com beginning 11:15 p.m. ET Friday evening. The CART Radio Network broadcast and CART.com webcast will be the only live broadcasts of the Firestone Firehawk 500 in the United States.