One of the most exciting last-minute challenges for Pole ever brought the day to a close at Indianapolis, as Team Penske's Helio Castroneves drove himself and his orange and white Dallara/Honda as if it were on rails, and straight into the record...
One of the most exciting last-minute challenges for Pole ever brought the day to a close at Indianapolis, as Team Penske's Helio Castroneves drove himself and his orange and white Dallara/Honda as if it were on rails, and straight into the record books at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday (May 12th) winning the pole for the Memorial Day 500-mile race with an average speed of 225.817 miles per hour around the 2.5 mile oval.
"This pole position means a lot to me, to the team. I had a great car and a great opportunity," Helio said. "I learned from Sam (Hornish) to hold the car through turn one (against a ten mile per hour wind), and it was just what I needed to do."
"The new format helped us, it gave us another opportunity," he said. "Even the wind was my friend today in qualifying. We did take a chance and roll the dice, and 'snake-eyes' showed up today," he added, drawing a laugh from the media assembled to debrief him in the Chris Economacki Press Room trackside at the Speedway.
Castroneves survived a desperation attempt by Andretti/Green Racing's Tony Kanaan to take the Pole from him, when his countryman put up three laps in a row (as time expired) to best the Penske driver's times, then slipped in the final lap to second on the time sheets by a tiny four hundredths of a second over a four lap, ten-mile qualification effort at 225.757 mph.
Helio's qualification run came literally at the "Midnight Hour" as the clock ticked into the last three minutes of the six-hour Pole Day session when the Brazilian flew around the track and dashed the hopes of provisional pole-sitter and Kanaan's AGR teammate Dario Franchitti.
Speaking of his fourteenth pole at Indy over the years, Team Penske owner Roger Penske said,"It was really a roll of the dice there at the end, sending Helio back out. We found some things on Sam (Hornish)'s car that were beneficial and they really paid off for Helio."
Castroneves withdrew a 224.988 mph time from his first attempt at 4 PM EDT to make his successful late charge to the top. It did, however, take a combined four attempts from Team Penske to knock Dario Franchitti from his day-long perch atop the scoring pylon at the Brickyard.
Franchitti set the early mark of 225.191 mph on his first and only qualifying attempt of the day, at approximately 12:53 PM Saturday, and then withstood all challengers until Castroneves last-minute dash to take the one hundred thousand dollar prize that goes to the fastest man of the day.
Scott Dixon's 225.122 mph qualifying effort came on his second attempt when he withdrew a lap of 224.351 mph from earlier in the day to take the spot on the inside of the second row for the May 27th race.
Team Penske's Sam Hornish left it all on the court today, qualifying with a speed of 225.145 mph, then immediately withdrawing that speed in order to qualify again and better his position. With a slight bobble on both attempts he came up short, finally settling for his 225.109 mph clocking and his position in the middle of the second row.
Dan Wheldon's fastest time came with only twenty minutes left in the six-hour qualifying session after he withdrew a speed of 223.686 mph and recorded a new mark of 224.641 mph, good for outside location of the second row.
The Luczo Dragon car driven by Ryan Briscoe (224.410 mph) was fast enough to win inside position of the third row, hard aside Danica Patrick (224.076 mph) and Marco Andretti (223.299 mph). Vision Racing's Tomas Scheckter (222.877 mph) joined Michael Andretti (222.789 mph) in the last of the eleven qualifying positions determined on Saturday.
Temperatures broke eighty degrees once again at the Speedway, as fans turned out in great number to watch the first-ever "Fast Eleven" qualifying segment in Brickyard history. They loudly cheered Danica Patrick's qualifying attempt, which at the time put her mid front row and urged her on when she reappeared at 5:30 PM (thirty minutes before the end of qualifications for the day) to re-try under a sunny blue Hoosier sky.
Speedway legend Tom Carnegie, the smooth baritone Voice of the 500 who held forth on the world's largest public address system here for sixty years before retiring in 2006 entertained the fans trackside and reminisced that the cheers took him back to his own hey-day when a new track record was the stock in trade of this legendary facility.
Though no one came close to capping Arie Luyendyk's 237.498 mph lap of eleven years ago, the excitement was palpable as bumping out of the top eleven commenced early. Jeff Simmons, Ed Carpenter, Scott Sharp, Kosuke Matsuura, Buddy Rice and AJ Foyt IV all saw their speeds (none of which topped 223 mph) eclipsed as the intrigue rose over the course of the afternoon.
Michael Andretti was the "Man on the Bubble" for much of the day, watching from the pitlane as six drivers attempted but failed to bump him out of the field. The gap from best to last stood at a slim 2.16 seconds over the combined ten-mile, four lap distance of a single qualifying run when the day was done at Indy.