Helio Castroneves keeps racking up the MBNA pole positions in his ...
Helio Castroneves keeps racking up the MBNA pole positions in his #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone Indy car.
By earning pole position for Sunday's season-ending Chevy 500K at the 1.5- mile Texas Motor Speedway, Castroneves took his fourth consecutive first- place start of the 16-race 2004 season, his fifth of the year and 16th Indy Racing League IndyCar Series pole.
"I gotta tell ya," the exuberant Brazilian exclaimed after being the third from final driver to take two qualifying laps, "I'm surprised to be on pole considering the competition. Our guys have worked so hard and Toyota has worked so hard. I went a little too fast too soon on my warmup and wasn't sure I'd do this," he continued. "We knew we had a shot at pole but that it would be close with Tomas [Scheckter]."
Castroneves' lap of 215.996mph (24.2504 seconds) was more than six miles per hour faster than Dario Franchitti's pole speed of 209.609mph in the June night race here. "That's a big difference!" he remarked after time trials were complete.
Scheckter nearly claimed his third MBNA pole position at this Texas track with the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet. The sixth driver on the high banks, Scheckter turned 215.831mph (24.2690 seconds) on his first timed lap, a mark that would stand until Castroneves came to the line much later in the afternoon.
"We knew we had a pretty good car and Chevrolet has really stepped it up," Scheckter explained. The GM Racing division brought special qualifying engines for the Chevy 500K this weekend, helping Scheckter to comment, "Better late than never. I take my hat off to them. This is great for Chevrolet, for our team and for Pennzoil. It's a positive feeling for our team, for sure."
This afternoon was hot and windy, catching out some teams and drivers who didn't expect conditions to change as the Indy cars qualified an hour later than scheduled, thanks to an incident during NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series qualifying that preceded the Indy cars. There were unexpected shadows on the track and the glare of the setting sun contributed to some difficulties for drivers.
Sam Hornish Jr.'s sole disappointment was not taking pole position with his #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota after lapping at 215.097mph (24.3518 seconds). "I always want to start first," he said. "The run wasn't too bad but we left a bit out there. We're pretty close and the car handled well. I think I've got a good race car," noted the 2001-2 IRL champion. "It was a guessing game with the gears and there was quite a bit of wind on the back straight," he said after his early qualifying attempt.
The two Rahal Letterman Racing teammates are next on the 21-car grid, reduced by one with Darren Manning's absence. Vitor Meira in the #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda turned 214.316mph (24.4405 seconds). The Brazilian believes he and teammate Buddy Rice have "a good 1.5-mile car.
'I think we can have a good race if we're lucky and make the right decisions on Sunday. The only thing I might have changed was the gearing. You can't predict the weather out there and the wind changed from one lap to the next."
Rice, driving the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda claimed fifth place, qualifying right after Meira with his lap of 214.194mph (24.4545 seconds). The 2004 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner thought his run was "all right. The wind picked up more than we thought but, overall, it was a good run. Vitor and I are the fastest Hondas today and I'd like to be the fastest Honda on Sunday too!"
2003 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon had an interesting afternoon. He was set to qualify right before Scheckter but had a car so loose he needed to pull off and take one lap at the end of the line in his #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota. Dixon had practiced third (behind Scheckter and Castroneves) earlier in the day and ripped off a single tour of 213.954mph (24.4819 seconds) at 6:30PM CDT to take sixth on the grid.
"It was very hard to go flat and it took quite a bit of time to get going. I figured moving to the back with cooler temps and less wind would be better." Dixon was right.
Admitting the car unloaded well, Bryan Herta's #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda turned up seventh after qualifying was complete with a lap of 213.675mph (24.5139 seconds). "Sunday's race is going to be really tight," he predicted. "Track position is going to be really important. The track picked up some speed with the wind at the end of practice and we were ready for that."
Teammate Dan Wheldon starts eighth in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda with his lap of 213.402mph (24.5452 seconds). The penultimate driver in line to qualify, Wheldon believes he "has a little bit of fine tuning to do yet. This is pretty good for us on a superspeedway, as conditions in practice were totally different from what we had this afternoon."
The third Andretti Green Racing driver, Dario Franchitti starts ninth in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda with his lap of 213.219mph (24.5663 seconds) and wasn't terribly happy because the Scot believed he had a car to take pole position. "The car is great and we made it quicker. The wind and sun were no problem for me."
Newly crowned 2004 IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan rounds out the top ten and is the fourth AGR driver on the grid after drawing the second qualifying slot. Kanaan's lap of 213.105mph (24.5794 seconds) came after he "worked on race setup all morning. We did a race simulation and I'm pretty pleased with this time and speed.
"The car feels really good," he said, "and what I'm trying to do this weekend is help the team, help Dan [Wheldon] take second in the championship. We didn't do any qualifying work in practice and yeah, the wind was a lot stronger but there was more grip with the cooler temperatures."
Alex Barron, who finished third in the first Texas race this past June starts 11th in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. "We have time tomorrow to work on the car," he noted, "and Chevrolet made a good step for us here. Overall I'm happy because I think we're going in the right direction. We made good choices on balance and gearing today."
The winner of the last two IndyCar Series races and trying for a "trifecta", Adrian Fernandez starts 12th with the #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda. "We know what to expect here," thanks to his experience in June. "I had a moment in Turn 4 when I got on the apron; I was blinded a bit by the sun," which inhibited his qualifying run.
Townsend Bell was pleased with his 13th place starting spot in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy. "I thought it was a good run; we got everything just right and I'm very happy," he said. "This is where we thought we'd be and we got the gears right for conditions."
A.J. Foyt IV will bring the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota to the flags in 14th after changing his engine for qualifying. He was 17th in practice and the change made the young man smile, for a change. "The wind didn't bother us and we're geared just right," he said. Rookie Kosuke Matsuura, trying to earn Bombardier Rookie of the Year this weekend starts 15th in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda. He found the qualifying today rather "hard with the wind. We made some changes but I think we could have done more."
Scott Sharp was pleased after bringing the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota back to the pits early in the session; he ended up 16th and said, "The car feels pretty good; this track is good for us and I think we can be competitive here." Rookie Mark Taylor was first in line and will bring the #13 Access Motorsports Panoz G Force/Honda to the grid in 17th. "It's what we expected," he said. Rookie Tomas Enge starts 18th in the #20 Patrick Racing Dallara/Chevy in his second IRL start.
Tora Takagi's #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota holds 19th place on the grid and the Japanese driver pronounced his car "improved. The tires had a bad vibration in qualifying so I hope we find extra speed in the two practices tomorrow." Rookie Ed Carpenter was disappointed with his 20th place qualifying today. "This season's had a lot of ups and downs. It's frustrating to run 210.9mph when the car is so good."
Felipe Giaffone was slowest today in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevy and doesn't know why. "There's something going on when we're 1-1.5mph slower than the next guy. The handling is good; the gears were pretty close. I don't know why we're slow."
The Indy cars have two opportunities for fine-tuning tomorrow before they undertake the season-ending Chevy 500K on Sunday, a 200-lap, 300-mile dash around Texas Motor Speedway. While the title belongs to Kanaan, plenty of spots behind him remain to be filled. Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice are vying for second place, only 25 points apart while Adrian Fernandez hopes to fend off Castroneves' attempt to steal back fourth place in the standings. The race airs live on ABC TV with coverage beginning at noon EDT.