IRL: Castroneves earns first Indy 500 pole

IRL: Castroneves earns first Indy 500 pole

INDIANAPOLIS, May 11, 2003 - Appropriately, this was an MBNA Pole Day a mother could love. Particularly a Brazilian mother, as Helio Castroneves - winner of the last two Indianapolis 500 Mile Races - waited until late in the afternoon to make his...

INDIANAPOLIS, May 11, 2003 - Appropriately, this was an MBNA Pole Day a mother could love. Particularly a Brazilian mother, as Helio Castroneves - winner of the last two Indianapolis 500 Mile Races - waited until late in the afternoon to make his successful grab of the coveted spot inside the front row for the 87th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in the # 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota.

Helio Castroneves.
Photo by Anne Proffit.
The last time a #3 car won the pole and race was Rick Mears' effort for Roger Penske in 1991; the time before that Bobby Unser took a #3 to both pole and win a decade earlier. Castroneves was totally uncomfortable with his car in the morning practice. "My first lap I did 140 and couldn't keep going." The wind affected his progress to the extent that he had to sit out and wait. "It takes a lot of patience to sit there, watch the weather go by and wait for the time to go," Team Penske president Tim Cindric said.

Twenty-four drivers qualified for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race today. As always, it was a strenuous and tense affair, lasting from the time qualification runs opened until 6pm at night.

This was a cloudy, cool and mighty windy day, and many drivers thought they had the top slot, starting with Scott Dixon, seventh in the qualifying line. Driving the #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, the Kiwi put up the first four-lap tour over 230mph on the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval, earning an average of 230.099mph. His quick laps came at 12:32pm. "We had four solid laps," Dixon said and did what we wanted to do: have a good solid run to keep us near the front and keep us out of trouble at the start." He lines up fourth.

Dixon's stand at the top of the timing pylon didn't last long - just 12 minutes, as Robby Gordon urged the #27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda to a tour of 230.205mph, a lap that would last as top slot for almost two hours and eventually give him the outside front row. "We were a little conservative but that's how we'll race. My hat's off to Michael Andretti. He gave us all the same amount of tools and he's a pleasure to work with," Gordon enthused.

At 2:41pm Gordon's Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan took over in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda, turning 231.006mph over his ten-mile trip. The excitable Kanaan realized he might not keep pole position as "Penske's still out there. They're going to be tough to beat." Like Castroneves, "This morning I wasn't happy with my car but Robby went out" and turned his quick lap. Gordon then advised Kanaan's group on the setup and "I'm going to have to go fast because that's my nature. I took the whole track flat all around."

Interestingly, Kanaan dealt with the changing wind and difficult conditions by having "one setup for two corners and another setup for the other two and that's how I got basically a very consistent run." He's got the middle of Row 1 sewn up.

Tony Kanaan.
Photo by McQueeney.
After Kanaan's fast four laps, the action cooled down for a while as the competitors watched the wind change direction and waited. With six rows solidly filled, Marlboro Team Penske finally brought its cadre of entries to the tech line to challenge the Andretti Green Racing troops.

Spider Man, as Castroneves is called for his victory fence climbs, had a birthday yesterday. He had his cake, delivered in the face by Kanaan. These two have been competing for 20 years, practically since they were in diapers, it would seem. "I'll get you for that," Castroneves warned.

He did. At 4:36pm, he took off for his qualifying run and the first lap was quicker than any of Kanaan's. His second lap - even with swirling wind that had drivers loose into Turn 2 and pushing out of it - was a whopping 232.215. Helio cooled it off a bit for his final two laps, but they, too were all over the magic 231mph barrier. Could anyone beat him? Apparently not.

It wouldn't be Pole Day - or Marsh Mother's Day - at Indianapolis Motor Speedway without some contact on the wall. First Tomas Scheckter white- walled the SAFER barrier at the exit of Turn 2 during practice. "The wind just pushed the car a little," he said. Both Tomas and the car were fine.

Then A.J. Foyt IV, making the tenth qualifying effort in the early afternoon spun in Turn 2 just after taking the green flag in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota. He hit nothing, but had to scrub the effort until much later in the day. Running at 4:53pm, Anthony put up four laps with a 224.177mph average. He acknowledged, "There was a lot of luck involved [in not hitting the wall]. I'm definitely enjoying the experience of competing here and I know my grandfather wouldn't have me here if he didn't think I was ready."

Scott Sharp.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
The next driver out, Scott Sharp smacked the Turn 2 wall on his second warm- up, relegating the #8T Delphi Dallara/Toyota to the garage area. Sharp was the final driver to post a qualifying run, at 5:44pm this afternoon and turned four solid laps in his primary #8 Delphi car to take ninth on the grid, at 228.755mph. "You know I love this place and I love it even in days like today, parts of it, anyway. It's been a roller-coaster of a day for us and a challenging day for all of the drivers here."

Robby Buhl was first out of the blocks and turned a four-lap run of 224.369mph in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet. "The whole week 224 was the target we had set for ourselves, and we have the car as trimmed out as much as we can and that's that."

The second driver out for qualifications this afternoon, rookie Tony Renna earned the 8th starting slot in his Cure Autism Now/HomeMed Dallara/Toyota, a stablemate to Sharp and Al Unser Jr. (#31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota). Surprisingly quick on a difficult and stressful day, Renna was "pretty satisfied with that. At the end of the day, that's pretty much where we figured we'd be" with an average of 228.765mph.

Kenny Brack, the 1999 Indy 500 winner was next up and brought the #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda under the checkers with an average of 229.509mph, good for sixth on the grid. "Two wind gusts caught my car in Turn 1 and Turn 3 and moved it up about 2 feet on the track. If you can't get pole, starting position really doesn't matter here," the Swede said.

Rookie Dan Wheldon, the third quickest driver overall in practice this week followed Brack and turned a four-lap average of 229.958 to place the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda fifth on the grid. "It's been a pleasure to drive this car because it's always been good no matter what the conditions," the rookie noted. Al Unser Jr. posted his speed of 226.285 in the #31T Corteco Dallara/Toyota for 17th, admitting he isn't the best qualifier but feels he has a good car for the race.

Sam Hornish Jr. then put the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet on the line and took 226.225mph for his 18th grid spot, realizing "we pretty much didn't have a shot for the pole today but we knew we had a pretty good race car. We ran 227.5 this morning and the car was very good." Next up was Roger Yasukawa in the #55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda and his 4 laps yielded an average of 228.577mph, good for 11th on the grid. Yasukawa allowed the qualifying process is "nerve-wracking and I don't usually get nervous when I'm driving."

After Gordon, Buddy Rice earned 19th grid slot with an average of 226.213mph in the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy running "the same times we've been running pretty much all week long." At 1:21pm Jaques Lazier took the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet to a four-lap average of 225.975mph for 20th today, stating he's "real confident we have a good race car."

Michael Andretti was disappointed with his four-lap run at 227.739mph in the #7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. "It was awful. I almost hit the wall in Turn 2 on the first lap and the rest of the three laps were really eventful. The car was all over the place." While his focus has been on getting his car in race trim, Andretti has 13th place for a starting spot.

Tora Takagi.
Photo by McQueeney.
Tora Takagi's roll to 7th place in the #12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Panoz G Force/Toyota at 229.358mph was marred by a trackside power failure that didn't allow the team to tell him his splits. "Yes, 229 is a good speed but the team expected more out of the car and we feel it could have gone faster" had the power failure not occurred.

By 1:55pm, Firestone tire engineers recorded the ambient temperature at 53 degrees, winds were west-southwest at 25mph and track temp was 73 degrees. It was time to go practice, not to test the walls in qualifying. Just 15 minutes earlier, both 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier (#91 Victory Brand/Delta Faucet/Life Fitness Dallara/Chevrolet) and Indy Racing League Most Popular Driver Sarah Fisher (#23 Dallara/Chevrolet) had waived their qualifying efforts without gaining sufficient speed.

It looked like a four-lap effort of at least 224mph would be needed to make the field and neither driver felt they had the goods at that time of day. So they waited, and waited again.

After Kanaan set his quick laps to earn second on the grid, Tomas Scheckter brought the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota to the line for an average of 227.769mph and 12th starting slot. While the speedy South African would always prefer to start at the front, "We took a conservative approach. We didn't have a realistic approach at pole, so there's no use taking chances in qualifying."

Practice resumed at 3:03pm, but Felipe Giaffone lined up at 3:48pm to take the #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force out for his run and did 227.210mph for 16th place. "We've been struggling a little bit to find speed but in qualifying the car felt good." Sarah Fisher ran the slowest four-lap average of 224.170mph at 4:04pm and said, "It was pretty much the best that we could produce."

Castroneves was next up, followed by Shinji Nakano who, prior to qualifying had run 119 laps in practice. He put together four laps at 227.222mph in his #54 Beard Papa's Dallara/Honda for 15th place and said, "Today was really my first day here and I think we did a very good job to put everything together." Greg Ray aimed the #13 TrimSpa Special Panoz G Force/Honda at the starting line and earned 14th with a tour of 227.288mph. "I thought maybe we could crank out a 230-mph lap but it is what it is. We'll keep working hard to build the team and keep going forward."

Buddy Lazier followed A.J. Foyt IV and turned 224.910mph for 21st. Gil de Ferran took the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Panoz G Force/Toyota to 228.633mph and 10th place and said he is "feeling very good. I have felt comfortable in the G Force since I started driving it this week and felt the benefit in sticking with one car" rather than switching back and forth.

So 24 cars have qualified and the order has been set for 15 additional tries next Sunday, the traditional Bump Day. The current field average is 227.736mph, just slightly lower than last year's 228.648 average for a 33- car field. The big question remains, though. Will there be a full field of 33 for the May 25th running of the Indianapolis 500? With drivers wandering through the paddock like Max Papis, Alex Barron, Richie Hearn, Jeff Ward and others, nobody is willing to say, but those questions may be answered when practice resumes on Wednesday.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Robby Gordon , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Max Papis , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Rick Mears , Bobby Unser , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Tony Renna , Roger Penske , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mo Nunn , Robby Buhl
Teams Team Penske