It's been a busy afternoon at the 1.5-mile banked Texas Motor Speedway for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series competitors. Sharing the bill with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the Indy machines had two sets of practice sessions and a...
It's been a busy afternoon at the 1.5-mile banked Texas Motor Speedway for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series competitors.
Sharing the bill with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the Indy machines had two sets of practice sessions and a full round of time trials on tap, starting at 3PM CDT and ending about the same time as Saturday evening's 200-lap Bombardier 500K, nearly 10PM.
"This is really a weekend of 'firsts' for me," Franchitti explained. "It's my first time driving at night under the lights and it's funny to come in as a novice," with all of his previous experience. "The car wasn't very good at all when we started out this afternoon, but I gained confidence with the changes we'd made.
"Information from [teammates] Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta helped me a lot. To get the MBNA Pole Position here, considering the start of the season is really great."
The outside of Row One belongs to the winner of the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, as Buddy Rice put the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda in second place with his lap of 208.755mph. Rice was the fifth driver out to qualify after the Craftsman Trucks had done their Happy Hour of practice earlier in the evening.
For many of the initial qualifiers, the truck rubber caused problems but for Rice, "the track is what it is. We've got an excellent starting spot and we're chasing the championship now. At least I won't be adding to my lawnmower collection tonight," he said with a grin. "The trucks had trouble when they ran right after us, and their rubber didn't affect me any. I'm surprised my time stood as long as it did."
Kanaan was the sixth driver to take timed laps right after Rice and he laid down a quick lap of 208.511mph in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. "You never know what will happen in qualifying," Kanaan said, "and here, qualifying isn't that important. A good race car is important and while we worked on qualifying today, we'll work hard on the race car tomorrow."
The final driver out to take timed laps, rookie Kosuke Matsuura, who had never seen this track before today placed the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda fourth on the grid with his lap of 208.360mph. "It was a very good run and the team did a good job. I really like the banks here; it looks like you're driving on the wall," he exclaimed.
Bryan Herta lines up fifth in the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda with a run of 208.001mph. Herta thought his team gave him, "A pretty good, fast car tonight. This is the type of race that's very tough. We're side-by-side, on the edge for 200 laps. The key is to have a good race car because racing here is so, so different from qualifying."
Helio Castroneves was first in class with the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. With his lap of 207.994mph Castroneves thinks, "We'll be in good shape. I was flat out and thought I'd do a 207 lap, and I did! I think with our package now we may be a bit spread out here but we'll just have to wait and see."
Rookie Ed Carpenter earned seventh spot on the grid with his lap of 207.855mph in the 352 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet to place himself first in the Bow-Tie Brigade. "You could already tell that the enthusiasm within the team has picked up," since Cheever hired engineer Iain Watt earlier in the month. With the best run of his IndyCar Series career, "It's just been an all-around great day."
Tomas Scheckter, who won MBNA pole here last year starts eighth in the 34 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet with his lap of 207.725mph. "I'd be pleased to stay in the top ten," he remarked after being 18th in the qualifying line. "I'm pretty happy."
Making his first start at Texas Motor Speedway, Adrian Fernandez lines up ninth in the #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda. After posting a lap at 207.574mph Fernandez noted, "I think the experience we gained at Indianapolis will help us get a good race under our belts here."
Rookie Mark Taylor, who had an incident in the first practice that saw him sideways on the pit road recovered to take tenth place on the grid for his #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet team. The penultimate driver to take timed laps Taylor said, "The car feels good and qualifying here, you know, isn't too important. We worked on race setup today, and I know it will be very challenging with all the other cars. His best lap was 207.420mph.
Sam Hornish Jr. lines up 11th in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota and the newlywed noted, "That's not good enough. We took a shot with the gears trying to get a little bit more speed out of it. The cooler weather slowed us down a little bit." Dan Wheldon, too, was disappointed with his 12th place qualifying effort in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda. The point leader "didn't choose the right gears for qualifying."
The first driver to qualify tonight Vitor Meira was disappointed with his effort in the #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda. "The truck rubber changed the track and, being first out that hurt us the most. Others will be quicker," Meira correctly predicted. Darren Manning's first run under the lights yielded 14th on the grid with his #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota. "This is going to be fun," the Briton said with wide eyes. "The track is nice and easy on your own and we set the car up pretty free. I like the banks."
Carrying on his vow to work toward long-term relationships, Greg Ray is back on the tour with his #13 Renovac Panoz G Force/Honda, starting 15th Saturday night. "We're a dark horse at every race and we're trying to do the right thing, build a block at a time, build it right." Scott Dixon lines up a disappointed 16th in the #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota. "I think our package will be better at short tracks," he predicted.
A.J. Foyt IV starts 17th in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota, disappointed because "we slowed down a couple of miles per hour from what we practiced at." Tora Takagi earned the 18th starting spot and was "better than practice. The truck rubber was not as bad as I expected."
Second out to qualify, Felipe Giaffone starts 19th in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevy. "I think we are working with the track conditions," he explained. Still getting comfortable with his #20 Stacker 2 Dallara/Chevy from Patrick Racing, 2003 Bombardier 500K winner Al Unser Jr. starts 20th. "We're just searching for speed," he said.
The final row belongs to Scott Sharp in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota in 21st and to Alex Barron driving the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. Barron never completed his run, pulling off after the green flag with a gearbox problem.
Franchitti, in winning his first IRL IndyCar Series MBNA Pole Position looked a bit startled by his good fortune. "I just hope we can replicate in the race. We've had a tough start to the season so it's really nice to get a pole."
The 22 Indy cars will have two opportunities Friday afternoon to tune their cars for Saturday night's race, albeit under very different conditions from those they will experience in Saturday's twilight start. There will be two groups of practice between 2-3PM and a final warmup from 5:15-5:45PM.