IRL: Castroneves cops Richmond pole

Helio Castroneves was jumping for joy once qualifying was complete for tomorrow's SunTrust Indy Challenge, a 225-lap sprint around the resurfaced .75-mile Richmond International Raceway for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series. Earning his ...

Helio Castroneves was jumping for joy once qualifying was complete for tomorrow's SunTrust Indy Challenge, a 225-lap sprint around the resurfaced .75-mile Richmond International Raceway for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series.

Earning his fifth MBNA pole position and most recent since racing at California Speedway last September, Castroneves turned a quick lap of 171.202mph (15.7708 seconds) in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota to lead a record-breaking evening in Richmond.

Although the 22 cars and drivers on hand had less than an hour and a half of practice time due to inclement weather, half the field decimated Gil de Ferran's 2002 record of 16.0043 seconds. "We only had time to work on qualifying setup today," Castroneves explained. Testing here earlier in the spring, he felt the Toyota manufacturers' test "helped tremendously" in setting up his car.

"When you have a good setup, you know what you have in the hand. This is a driver's track and now, with the resurfacing I think you'll see more passing. The car is handling well. Things always change at this place but I'm very comfortable right now."

Buddy Rice lines the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda in second place, marking his third straight front-row appearance and fourth this season, based on his lap of 170.782mph (15.8096 seconds). His Rahal Letterman Racing team had "an excellent test day at Milwaukee" that aided in setting up for this track, even though it is much smoother than the 101-year-old Milwaukee Mile.

"The track's new pavement and the big wings made for record speeds," the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner said. "We knew a lot of guys would break the track record. You can only imagine how fast we would have been if we [still] had the 3.5-liter engine. I really love running at night," he grinned, and I think the fans like it too. We have a great show for them Saturday night."

Rookie Mark Taylor, driving the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet on this track for the first time earned third starting slot with his lap of 170.683mph (15.8188 seconds). "I like this track," the quiet Briton noted. "The car was very good tonight. I think this race will be very tough on our arms tomorrow night, due to the downforce levels; it should be the toughest race we run after Indy. There's no resting around here."

He'll start next to the man who helped his Panther Racing team gain set-up tips on this track, Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish wasn't terribly happy with his lap of 170.623mph (15.8244 seconds) in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota but said the car was "well balanced. We're not quite where we wanted to be, but that's part of racing," Hornish said. "I wish we were faster."

Tomas Scheckter took over the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet for 2004 and earned fifth on the grid with his 170.592mph lap (15.8272 seconds) tonight. "That was a good run," the South African stated. "I was flat out and I couldn't do that last year. This is going to be a fun race. We've got a lot of grip," he exclaimed.

Scott Dixon starts sixth in a race he dominated as a rookie in 2003, turning a lap of 170.405mph (15.8446 seconds) in the #1 Target Panoz G Force/Toyota to start alongside former teammate Scheckter in sixth. "I was flat both laps and I guess we should have trimmed the car out more, but who knew" with the lack of practice time?

Andretti Green Racing placed two of four cars in the top ten. Bryan Herta will bring the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda to the flags in seventh, turning 170.182mph (15.8654 seconds) around the bullring. Herta, too, was "not happy with the car. We made a couple of adjustments" that just didn't work out. "This track is a lot nicer and they've done a good job with it," Herta admitted. "Having the SAFER Barrier installed makes me feel a lot better about racing here at these speeds."

Vitor Meira lines up eighth in the #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda at 169.901mph (15.8916 seconds), driving the twin car to Rice's. As his teammate exited his car, engineer Ray Leto got some tips to take to Meira before his timed laps ensued. "We learned that the track and the car were fine" from Rice. "My car was good in Turns 1 and 2 but we pushed a bit much in Turns 3 and 4," he revealed.

Tora Takagi starts ninth in Mo Nunn Racing's #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota at 169.241mph (15.9536 seconds). He thought his qualifying went "much better this time. There's more downforce and grip. I like the new surface," Takagi noted.

Tony Kanaan, the current point leader and most recent winner in Texas earned the tenth grid slot for Andretti Green Racing at 168.987mph (15.9776 seconds). "I was very loose," Kanaan revealed. "We didn't have an opportunity to test here, plus it rained and everything is just so tight, time-wise that you have to get everything sorted out very quickly."

Rookie Darren Manning was the final driver to eclipse the qualifying record in his #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota at 168.924mph (16.9536 seconds). "I had to push really hard and the car was really good. If I had one more lap, I would have been faster. I like this track: you've got to drive the car quite a bit more and I enjoy that. It's more of a handling track, close to a road course," Manning said.

Starting 12th, Dario Franchitti makes his first Richmond appearance in the #27 Arca/Ex Dallara/Honda. The Scot was injured last year, enabling Herta to get some experience here. "The car doesn't feel that far off but my run was pretty awful," he said. Rookie Kosuke Matsuura earned 13th in his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda in his first short-track qualifying effort and first time at Richmond. "I think we could have been better with more practice," he reported.

Rookie Ed Carpenter was second out to qualify in his #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet and took 14th. "This track is great. There's a different groove from the Silver Crown cars (he raced here earlier in his career), and our car has been great since we got here. We've been picking up speed each session, so I'm confident." Teammate Alex Barron was first to qualify tonight in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy and starts 15th. "The track is in pretty good shape and the Silver Crown rubber wasn't a factor," he reported.

Adrian Fernandez' first qualifying laps around Richmond International Raceway yielded 16th on the grid for the driver of the #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda. "We didn't test here and this is a fast, physical track," the Mexican ace stated. "Qualifying was good but we haven't run enough to know if we've got a good race car." Scott Sharp thought he would be in good shape after practicing fifth but he ended up 17th in qualifying. "We were chasing the car a little bit and were just really, really tight," Sharp said.

Felipe Giaffone said his team made "a couple of changes" on the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet. "It's such a shame we had this lack of track time. We had a couple of problems in the second practice session and by the time we fixed the brake problems, all we got were checkered flags, so we were qualifying in the dark."

Greg Ray decided to take a chance and not go first after drawing the initial qualifying spot in line. Rather, he waited to last and took only one lap in the #13 Renovac Panoz G Force/Honda, good for 19th. "The car was not as comfortable as we wanted," the Texan explained. Dan Wheldon lines up a disappointed 20th in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda. "It was just loose and we just didn't have good balance," the Briton revealed. "It will be tough starting that far back."

A.J. Foyt IV cited "gear ratio problems" for his 21st qualifying position in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota while Al Unser Jr.'s #20 Patrick Racing Dallara/Chevrolet underwent an engine change that relegated him to the final starting spot.

While most drivers claimed to have foot to the floor for their time trials, MBNA polesitter Castroneves was a bit more circumspect. "Was I flat? Ah, you'll never know" he remarked with a sly smile.

Castroneves and his 21 competitors are looking forward to their 225 laps of strenuous labor tomorrow night in the SunTrust Indy Challenge. With clearing weather on tap for this sixth race in a 16-event campaign, the fight for season honors in the IndyCar Series is just beginning.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , A.J. Foyt IV , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Mo Nunn , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske