IRL: Heilo Castroneves takes the pole at Phoenix

Phoenix, AZ, March 16 - In his second start as a full-time Indy Racing driver, Helio Castroneves captured the pole for tomorrow's Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. He shares the front row with Sam Hornish. The two also...

Phoenix, AZ, March 16 - In his second start as a full-time Indy Racing driver, Helio Castroneves captured the pole for tomorrow's Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. He shares the front row with Sam Hornish. The two also shared the front row at the season opener in Miami, but with Sam on pole. Helio's pole speed of 179.888 is a new track record for the current Indy racing formula, and is within 4 mph of the absolute record of 183.599 mph set by Arie Luyendyk in 1996 in a turbo car.

Helio was clearly pleased with his result, and the team's effort.

"Yesterday we were testing quite a lot for racing conditions - full tank runs, making sure we're nice and smooth in traffic. We're quite happy. We knew we had a fast car. In qualifying, we had no trouble. The wind wasn't bothering me at all. I was very satisfied. I pushed every lap, and the car accepted it. I was very happy with the run.

"You always think you've left a little on the table, especially when the car does not make any moves. The car was very solid in the rear, very solid in the front. It was a pretty good run. We worked very hard to achieve it, and I believe that was as fast as I could go.

"Hopefully for the race we can keep the same speed."

Sam Hornish's outside pole speed of 179.735 mph was just a whisker behind Helio. He thought he may have given up that whisker when he lifted in Turn 1 on his fast lap. "When we were out here for the Test in the West, we did three or four practice qualifying runs. One time I went flat, the next time I lifted just a little bit with the same setup, but just a different set of tires. The car went faster because we pushed on exit. It was warmer at that time, and there wasn't much wind, so we were getting into the turns much faster. It's just one of those things."

When the front row pair was asked about whether the inside or outside position had an edge entering Turn 1 at the start, Sam considered the outside might be better. "The advantage to starting second here is that you have a little bit freer line going into Turn 1. You might be able to pull on past going into Turn 3."

Helio's carefully considered reply to the question was "Inside."

Jeff Ward and Felipe Giaffone filled the second row, at 178.602 mph and 178.083 mph.

Ward was content with his position, but had been expecting more. "I was hoping to be better than that. We had a good car. I had to lift coming out of four. The car pushed up and I had to lift out of the throttle. Otherwise I had a shot at the pole. But it was good. I'm pretty happy. We didn't test here, so we never did any qualifying runs except for this morning when it was cooler. The track had a push in it. We could have fixed it by putting a turn of front wing, but we were conservative and that cost us. But I'm pretty happy with third right now."

Giaffone, who considers Phoenix to be a handling track, was also satisfied with his qualifying results, and progress with setup. "The car was better than what I had this morning. If I could go faster, I could only go a little faster. In practice, you set the car for what it should be for qualifying, then for qualifying you always give a little bit extra. But tomorrow it counts."

Tomas Scheckter and Robbie Buhl will form the third row. Scheckter was satisfied. "I am just glad to be the first Nissan on the grid. My goal going into qualifying was to get in the top six, and we got fifth, so I'm happy. We'll look for a good race tomorrow for Red Bull Cheever Racing. I'll take it easy in the beginning of the race, but not too easy. I want to make sure I get into a good position with a nice rhythm and work my way through the field."

Scheckter's teammate (and boss) Eddie Cheever starts well back, in sixteenth position, due to a mistake with gear ratios. Scheckter laughed off a suggestion that, after their early coming together in Miami, they had a deliberate plan to be as far apart as possible on the grid.

Robbie Buhl picked up speed from the morning practice. "I'm happy with the car, and with Infiniti power," he said. "I have to tell you, I'm happy with this team. Every time we go out we learn more about our car, we get better working as a group. This is an important weekend for us. Purex's home office is here, and we have a lot of fans and supporters that will be here, so we definitely want to have a good run here in Phoenix."

Further back, Gil de Ferran was surprised and disappointed to be in the fourth row, seventh fastest. His speed of 177.672 mph would normally be nothing to sneer at, but he had topped the speed charts in the morning practice and his teammate was on the pole. "It was not very good," Gil said. "We have to look at the data to see why we lost some speed this morning. I thought we would have been the same as this morning. The car felt the same (as this morning). The first lap was a little loose, but the second lap was good. I'm a little puzzled right now. I really don't know why we lost so much speed. We're going to look carefully and see if we find anything."

Tyce Carlson did not take a qualifying run, and will not run in tomorrow's race, after contacting the Turn 4 wall in the morning practice. Carlson was checked and released from the infield medical center, and was cleared to drive. Damage to the car was, however, extensive. Carlson and PDM Racing will not compete in the race, but will receive points and prize money for 26th place.

In other action today, Lonnie Adamson won the 25 lap SRL Supermodified half of the "Little Trees Twin 25s." The USAC Midget half of the show was taken by Dave Steele, with Dave Darland and James Chesson in close pursuit.

Dave Steele also led qualifying for tomorrow's "Little Trees 100" USAC Silver Crown Race.

Racing continues tomorrow, with the Silver Crown race at 11:30 MST and the Copper World Indy 200 race taking the green at 2:00 MST (4:00 pm EST). The Indy Racing event will be broadcast live on ABC TV.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Robbie Buhl , Jeff Ward , Arie Luyendyk , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Tyce Carlson , Dave Darland , James Chesson , Dave Steele , Sam Hornish Jr.