IRL: Castroneves, Dixon give Toyota a big lift in qualifying

IRL: Castroneves, Dixon give Toyota a big lift in qualifying

Situations change pretty quickly in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series. Case in point is today's qualifying session for the Toyota Indy 400, race ...

Situations change pretty quickly in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series. Case in point is today's qualifying session for the Toyota Indy 400, race #15 in a 16-event campaign.

Coming into this race it appeared Andretti Green Racing pilots Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon had things their way. That changed today, as 22 drivers came to the line to take dual timed laps setting the grid for Sunday's 200-lap race at California Speedway.

Front row for the Toyota Indy 400: pole winner Helio Castroneves with Scott Dixon.
Photo by Jim Haines - IRL.
The front row for tomorrow's race belongs to two Toyota drivers, one who ran early in the qualifying line and the final driver to take timed laps. Helio Castroneves secured his third consecutive MBNA pole position (and fourth of the season) this afternoon as the final qualifier, running a sole lap of 217.479mph (33.1067 seconds) in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota.

"I thought I had a pretty good chance after turning 217.2mph this morning," Castroneves said. "I was pretty confident we'd be around that area in speed. Being last in line I could see what others were doing; I could also change my mind a lot, which isn't the greatest way to prepare," he laughed.

Scott Dixon, second in line starts second with his #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota using his second lap of 216.301mph (33.2869 seconds). This is the Kiwi's best start of the 2004 campaign in which he is defending the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series title. On a warm, windy afternoon Dixon said his team "trimmed it out as much as we could. We've been struggling a bit in races and don't know why, but at least we picked up 5/10ths from this morning.

"The wind pushed me high in turns one and two on the first lap," getting Dixon's attention. "We're on the map for qualifying but not for the race and we just don't know why," he remarked.

Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by Shawn Payne - IRL.
Sam Hornish Jr. starts third with the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota after posting a lap of 216.062mph (33.3237 seconds) and hitting the track right after Dixon. "The wind didn't affect our handling but it did affect our gear choices. We made a lot of changes to the car between this morning and now," Hornish noted. "You can take fewer chances when you start up front and I think, with Toyota's hard work we're more competitive on these big tracks." Hornish has won both IRL contests on this 2-mile oval.

Although he did qualify fourth with a lap of 215.822mph (33.3608 seconds) on his first - and only qualifying trip in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, Darren Manning crashed in turn two and was taken to Loma Linda Hospital by ground transport for x-rays after complaining of back discomfort.

Adrian Fernandez, the first driver to take timed laps in his #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda starts fifth after posting 215.270mph (33.4463 seconds) on his first lap. He had a gearbox problem during morning practice which limited the Mexican two-time 2004 IndyCar Series winner's track time. "There was a lot of wind out there and we were pretty loose in one and two. There wasn't really enough time for us to dial in the car this morning, but I think we'll be fine."

Having to qualify right after the lengthy clean-up for Manning's crash, Vitor Meira starts sixth in the #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda with his second lap of 215.141mph (33.4664 seconds). The Brazilian said the wait didn't bother him and "the track was unchanged. Qualifying is important here but it is not the race after all. We learned a lot yesterday in practice and I don't think we could have freed the car any more than we did for qualifying today."

Teammate Buddy Rice starts seventh after running his #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda to a lap of 214.824mph (33.5158 seconds). Rice, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner "ran about the same time we did in practice. I don't think there was a major impact from the wind this afternoon. It will take good handling and a consistent car to win this race," he remarked.

Continuing the strong form he's shown in the last few races, A.J. Foyt IV secured the eighth grid slot with his lap of 214.686mph (33.5374 seconds) in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota. The young Texan "knew we had to adjust for the wind and we made the right adjustments, the right gear choices. We haven't run too much in traffic but we'll get with that later this afternoon" in final practice.

Bryan Herta carries the highest qualifying spot for the four-car Andretti Green Racing squad as he placed his #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda ninth on the grid. Herta thought his grid slot was "where we expected to be. We missed the gearing a bit with the wind, though. We were bad this morning (15th), changed the car a lot and made some good improvements for qualifying and the race."

Dario Franchitti.
Photo by Shawn Payne - IRL.
Teammate Dario Franchitti lines the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda into tenth with his lap of 214.344mph (33.5908 seconds) after the Scot - a two time winner this year - worked on race setups in practice. "We did long runs in the morning and didn't really expect to be fast in qualifying," Franchitti explained. "The wind is the same for everybody; I think we're going in the right direction."

Ed Carpenter recorded his best qualifying run since Texas in June today when his lap of 214.086mph placed the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet 11th on the grid. Carpenter acknowledged the team was "guessing on gears for qualifying and the guys did a great job. You have to be on your toes out there with the wind; it pushed me into turn one faster than I was accustomed, so we're walking a fine line."

Mark Taylor starts 12th with the #13 Access Motorsports Panoz G Force/Honda with a lap of 214.030mph. The rookie was still "a little disappointed because we dropped some speed with this wind. We've got a good race car and, hopefully, we'll finish the race this week."

Tomas Scheckter, too, was disappointed in his 13th place grid spot with the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevy. After running 213.993mph Scheckter thought, "We missed on the gears for sure. The Chevy is still a bit behind the others and sometimes it does get a bit frustrating."

Dan Wheldon, fastest in practice yesterday earned 14th on the grid at 213.861mph with the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda. While he's chasing Kanaan for the title, Wheldon thinks, "We'll be fine in the race. We really haven't been strong in qualifying for these big superspeedways all season and it's something we need to work on."

Scott Sharp recorded one of his better qualifying efforts with the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota this afternoon, turning 213.824mph on his second timed lap. The veteran's run was "better than we thought we'd be. We've struggled all weekend, so we threw stuff at it and found out something we can use in the race."

Alex Barron was disappointed with his quick lap of 213.815mph in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. "That was all we had," said the driver from nearby Menifee. "We kept it low, guessed right on the gears and this is just where we're at. This race," Barron said, "will be like Russian Roulette. There's no holding back these last two races."

Townsend Bell starts 17th with the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy and noted, "We missed top gear a little bit and need to work on getting down the straights a little faster." Bombardier Rookie of the Year leader Kosuke Matsuura starts 18th with the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda after "the car had a big push" in qualifying.

First-timer Tomas Enge starts 19th with Patrick Racing's #20 Dallara/Chevy, realizing this type of racing is "completely different from what I've done before. I've driven on tracks in Europe that had a lot of high-speed corners, but nothing like this. My goal," he said, "is to finish the race and try to stay with the pack."

Felipe Giaffone, expecting his first child any day now lines up 20th in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevy. "The handling is good, the gears are okay, but I just don't know why we're so slow." The final driver to qualify on speed was Tora Takagi, starting 21st in the 312 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota. Takagi's Mo Nunn Racing team "made a lot of changes for qualifying. The handling's okay but the car is too slow. The gear ratios we chose are definitely too short," he remarked.

Point leader Tony Kanaan never made it to the green flags for his two qualifying laps in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. Driving his warm- up laps around the banked 2-mile oval Kanaan's new engine - most everyone changed power mills between yesterday and this morning's final practice - sounded sour and he pulled the car into the pits without recording a speed. He's now relegated to last on the grid.

"You know," the Brazilian said, "there are days like this and we haven't had one all year, so I don't think I can complain." The team said there was an "electrical problem" but no further specifics were given. "I'd be much more upset if it had happened tomorrow," Kanaan stated, "and we still have a long day ahead of us. I just don't take this as a negative; I think it's a very positive thing and it's good that it happened today."

Tomorrow's Toyota Indy 400 begins just after noon and is being televised by ESPN. This marks one of two final opportunities for Castroneves to take a fence climb in 2004, having been unable to secure a win thus far in 14 races. "This MBNA pole position is combination of Marlboro Team Penske and Toyota. They've been working their butt off all season long. We keep working and we keep climbing and that's awesome. I'm extremely excited!"

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