IRL: Chicagoland: Chevy qualifying report

Chevy powers Hornish to Chicago pole. JOLIET, Ill., Sept. 7, 2002 -- Locked in a battle for the Indy Racing League championship, Sam Hornish Jr. struck the first blow today when he put Pennzoil Panther Racing's Chevrolet Dallara on the pole for...

Chevy powers Hornish to Chicago pole.

JOLIET, Ill., Sept. 7, 2002 -- Locked in a battle for the Indy Racing League championship, Sam Hornish Jr. struck the first blow today when he put Pennzoil Panther Racing's Chevrolet Dallara on the pole for Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. A Chevy Indy V8 powered Hornish to a track record speed of 222.867 mph on the 1.5-mile oval and secured his second pole of the season. It was the eighth pole this year for Chevrolet's Indy car engine.

"We actually went a little faster than we thought we'd run," said Hornish, who won the last race in which he started on the pole, the season-opening event in Miami. "We thought we had missed the gearing, but the Chevy motor pulled up the rev limiter in sixth gear and we went even faster than we had planned."

Hornish's chief rivals for the title, points leader Helio Castroneves and second-ranked Gil de Ferran, both struggled in qualifying. Castroneves will start 21st in the 25-car field after taking only one qualifying lap when his car had to go back through technical inspection. De Ferran, who trails his Penske teammate by one point, will start 11th. The IRL does not award championship points for poles, so Hornish will start the 200-lap race eight points behind Castroneves. A maximum of 52 points are available.

Hornish avoided disaster in the first practice session when he drove around the spinning car of Felipe Giaffone. Debris from the accident damaged the Panther Racing Dallara's front suspension and tub -- but after repairs, Hornish put the car on the pole.

"Hopefully we have our bad luck behind us," said Hornish. "The team as worked really hard to keep us competitive. Chevrolet and Firestone have provided us with good products and made sure that we're up toward the front."

Al Unser Jr. duplicated his best qualifying performance of the season, putting Kelley Racing's Chevrolet Dallara on the inside of the second row with a 222.111 mph lap.

"It was a great performance today from the Corteco Bryant Special," said Unser. "It's just a lot of hard work from the team, working together to come up with some good setups. We hit it today, but tomorrow is a different story. The draft is going to play a major part in tomorrow's race."

Rookie Vitor Meira flexed Team Menard's muscles as he qualified the Johns Manville Chevrolet Dallara fifth on the grid. Driving in place of last year's winner Jaques Lazier, who is still recuperating from an injury, Meira ran 221.297 mph in qualifying for his third IRL event.

"I want to do a good job for Team Menard and give them a good result," said the young Brazilian. "They were quick here last year, and I hope to do well for them. (Team manager) Butch Meyer is a very intelligent guy and I feel good with him taking care of everything. He was working with race engines even before I was born. I'm confident."

Hornish will have a teammate for the first time as rookie Dan Wheldon will drive Panther Racing's second Chevrolet Dallara. Wheldon put the yellow car seventh on the grid at 220.950 mph in his first IRL qualifying run.

"It's gone very well," said Wheldon. "The Pennzoil Panther team has put a great car under me and obviously the Chevrolet motor is running very well. I think we're going to be very good in the race; we've worked on the setup and I'm looking forward to my first IRL start. I think we had a good, solid qualifying run, and I'm looking for a podium finish if everything goes our way."

Felipe Giaffone, fourth in the championship points, recovered from his thrill ride on Friday to earn a top-10 qualifying spot in Mo Nunn Racing's Chevrolet G-Force.

"We had a problem with an oil line and unfortunately I hit the wall," he reported. "The car is gone, but my spare car is as good as the other one. I know my car is good for the race. All you're trying to do here is have less downforce and more power. You need to have a good engine for tomorrow, which I think I have."

Airton Dare will try to repeat his victory in July at Kansas Speedway, a twin to the Chicagoland track. He qualified A.J. Foyt's Chevy-powered Dallara 15th.

"We thought we could be faster, so I'm a bit disappointed," Dare conceded. "The same as Kansas, I have an easy car to drive. I can go low and I can go high. We were missing a little speed for qualifying, but with all the drafting in the race, we'll be fine."

The Delphi Indy 300 will start at 1 p.m. EDT (noon local time) on Sunday, Sept. 8. The 300-mile, 200-lap race will be televised live on ABC and broadcast live on the IMS Radio Network.

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Airton Daré , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Jaques Lazier  , Dan Wheldon , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mo Nunn , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing