IRL: AGR duo on top at Phoenix

At Andretti Green Racing, Dan Wheldon is the butt of all practical jokes. He is the youngest one of the team's four drivers, after all. But today the joke was on his teammates as Wheldon, driving the ...

At Andretti Green Racing, Dan Wheldon is the butt of all practical jokes. He is the youngest one of the team's four drivers, after all. But today the joke was on his teammates as Wheldon, driving the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda was quickest of 20 drivers vying for pole position in Sunday's Copper World Indy 200 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series race.

As the second driver in the qualifying line, Wheldon ripped a lap of 20.5974 seconds (174.779mph) to secure his first IRL pole position in the heat of mid-day. Temperatures hovered at the 90-degree mark under a cloudless sky this afternoon while 18 other drivers attempted to beat Wheldon's mark.

The only guy who came close was last year's polesitter and race winner, Tony Kanaan, another member of the Gang of Four AGR drivers. Kanaan's lap of 20.6551 seconds (174.291mph) in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda was accomplished with set-up info from Wheldon.

"The weather is temperamental," Wheldon said shortly after he exited his car. "It's tough to know where we stand, but I'm sure we have good race balance and that's what we've been working on. Let's not get too excited," he said later, "because this is going to be a difficult race. We're going to have to push really, really hard."

Kanaan credited the info that enabled him to turn a quick lap after Wheldon's run as he stated, "I think the team did a great job today. Our cars are very similar for the race. I think starting up front will help us but the heat of the day will have a big affect on the race. I think," the Brazilian said, "that you will see a lot of guys go off [on their setups] more than last year because of the heat."

Marlboro Team Penske's duo of Helio Castroneves (#3 Dallara/Toyota) and Sam Hornish Jr. (in the #6 machine) share the second row of this 10-row grid. Hornish was the ninth car to qualify and turned 20.6962 seconds (173.945mph) only to be usurped by 2002 PIR winner Castroneves' tour of the tough 1-mile oval at 20.6697 seconds (174.168mph).

Castroneves found his car "very loose. I was lucky to keep it off the wall (he was 15th in the qualifying line, well after Hornish). Sam's car pushed so we put in a little more front wing and it wasn't the right way to go." Asked if he had any issues with the qualifying run today Hornish joked, "Only with Helio's lap. The car is not quite where we want to be, but hopefully we'll be able to do better tomorrow."

Current IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, who was fastest in Friday practice earned P5 on the grid with a lap of 20.7652 seconds (173.367mph) in his #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota. "The lap was average," the Kiwi shrugged, "considering how slow we were this morning (8th in practice). We never got a good qualifying simulation so I'm fairly happy with where we are."

Darren Manning will join his teammate Dixon on row #3, having turned the final qualifying run of the afternoon and posting a quick lap of 20.8098 seconds (172.995mph) in his #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota. "I had a bit of a moment in Turn 4 and lifted at the end of my first lap," Manning recalled, "which impacted my second lap. I'm pretty happy. As I get more experience, I'm gaining confidence in the car and myself."

Scotsman Dario Franchitti starts seventh in the #27 Arca/Ex Dallara/Honda - also from the Andretti Green stables - with a lap of 20.8229 seconds (172.887mph). Franchitti was also "almost in the wall in Turn 4 and I had oversteer in [turns] one and two. It wasn't the best qualifying; we made the wrong decisions there."

Tomas Scheckter's #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet was first in the bow-tie brigade with a lap of 20.9187 seconds (172.095mph). The South African thought his lap "could have been better, but I do think we've got a good race car. The heat tomorrow should separate the men from the boys," Scheckter noted. "It's going to be a tough race."

Bryan Herta, the alleged ringleader of Andretti Green Racing's quartet of pranksters earned ninth place on the grid in his #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda with a lap of 20.9227 seconds (172.062mph). Unfortunately "Our car wasn't out when it was time to go," even though he was 17th in the lineup. "I don't know what happened. We were late in line and the track was getting worse, not better."

Rookie Kosuke Matsuura returned to the track where he initially impressed team co-owners Aguri Suzuki, Adrian Fernandez and Tom Anderson last fall, and impressed them again as he took his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda to tenth on the grid. Matsuura believes, "We really have made a lot of improvements since this morning. We have a teammate in Adrian Fernandez and he helps me out. The car is much improved from yesterday when it was very bad."

Greg Ray starts 11th in his #13 Renovac Panoz G Force/Honda while Buddy Rice lines up 12th in the #15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda he is driving in relief of injured Kenny Brack. Rice found his hometown track "a little slick and that will be the case on Sunday. Team Rahal improved the car for qualifying so I really don't have any complaints right now."

Fernandez, making his first IRL race start, and taking his first laps in a #5 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda this weekend lines up 13th. "We're a bit slower than in practice this morning and our goal is just to finish the race and learn more about the car" and the competition. Tora Takagi starts 14th in the #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota from Mo Nunn Racing.

Rookie Mark Taylor earned 15th starting slot in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy fielded by Panther Racing. Last year's Menards Infiniti Pro Series champ is, in his second IndyCar Series race, "trying not to push too hard. I feel good about the race," he said. Another rookie, Ed Carpenter flanks Taylor in 16th place, driving the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. Carpenter "didn't quite have what I needed for qualifying but I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

His teammate Alex Barron starts 17th in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy after "trying things that didn't work on Friday. This morning we got the car beneath us a bit more and I think we're in good shape for the race." A.J. Foyt IV lines up 18th in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota and is getting more comfortable in the car, he said. It's a bit easier for the 19-year-old Texan now that he knows the way around these tracks.

The final row of the grid belongs to two veterans: Scott Sharp starts 19th in the 38 Delphi Dallara/Toyota after being first out for time trials. "The [USAC] Silver Crown rubber made the car extremely loose," he acknowledged. Robbie Buhl, who smacked his primary #24 Purex Dallara/Chevy yesterday and is using his spare car knows "this is not a smooth weekend, to say the least. We're playing catch-up and we're better, but not fast enough yet."

He's right. Everyone is playing catch-up to the Andretti Green Racing duo on the front row. Team co-owner Michael Andretti feels confident of his team's chances tomorrow in a tough 200 laps of competition during the scorching heat here in Phoenix. "This is a team effort again, as had problems last year on small ovals like this. I don't think you'll see a lot of side-by-side running tomorrow in the race but we at AGR are confident" of the team's chances for success.

The Copper World Indy 200 takes the green flags at 4PM EST and will be televised live by ABC.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Greg Ray , Robbie Buhl , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Tom Anderson , Kosuke Matsuura , Aguri Suzuki , Jim Beam , Ed Carpenter , Mo Nunn
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske