The Indy Racing League's first qualifying session on a street circuit was fraught with interest and excitement on this cool, windy and sunny afternoon as teams and drivers vied to be fastest in the inaugural Honda Grand Prix of St.
The Indy Racing League's first qualifying session on a street circuit was fraught with interest and excitement on this cool, windy and sunny afternoon as teams and drivers vied to be fastest in the inaugural Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Taking his second consecutive pole position with the #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda/Firestone challenger, Herta turned his 103.664mph speed on his fifth of six laps. Herta also landed on the pole at Phoenix International Raceway two weeks ago in the race named for his sponsor.
"Obviously I'm really pleased to earn the first IRL pole position on a road course. I made two big mistakes on my second lap and got away with them," Herta explained. He put his head down and "went for that one last lap. "We made a couple of adjustments and, between me getting a better lap and making the car a little better, those two things paid off.
"I'm pretty pleased with the new format but I was on the fence before single car qualifying this afternoon. I thought it might be boring," Herta said, "but it was a lot of fun and pressure filled for the six of us."
"It's a shame [we didn't do better] but the car is good, we're going in the right direction and tomorrow is the day with the paycheck," the Brazilian reminded.
Tony Kanaan will start third in the #11 Team 7/Eleven Dallara/Honda after lapping the 1.8-mile, 14-corner St. Petersburg street circuit at 102.892mph. "This is a very good weekend for us. After single car qualifying," the 2004 IndyCar Series champion said, "we made big changes on the car. It was a good run, a good lap and I've got a good race car."
Dario Franchitti led all 21 drivers in single lap qualifying yet fell to fourth place with his #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda, unable to improve on his first lap of 102.794mph. The Scot thought his one lap "went well for us. There was good balance in the car and after we made a couple of changes I expected to be better. The car wasn't as quick so I couldn't challenge for pole," Franchitti ruminated.
Tomas Enge qualified fifth in the #2 RockStar Dallara/Chevrolet, also using his first lap of 102.426mph to gain that slot. The Czech F3000 star was "pretty happy with the way qualifying went. We're concentrating on the race and after all the yellow flags this morning, we couldn't do a qualifying simulation," he said. "We put together our best lap when it counted today," Enge declared.
Sam Hornish Jr. rounded out the top six with his first lap of 102.125mph in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. Afterwards, the two-time IRL champ admitted he was "really excited to be up here with such accomplished road racers. We were a full second faster than where we practiced and everything went smoothly. I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to do well here and I've still got a lot to learn."
Hornish said his team made no changes to the car between the one-at-a-time qualifying session and the ten-minute shootout. "The goal was to qualify within the top six so I'm happy the way things went. These cars are heavier, they move around a lot more than anything I've driven on a road course before." Hornish raced in the Toyota Atlantic Championship prior to joining the Indy Racing League.
As expected, Castroneves decided to be the final driver to take a single qualifying lap this afternoon, thinking the grip level would be better once his competitors had taken their turns on the combined street/airport circuit. The slowest drivers approached the timing stripes first and the fastest went last.
Two drivers did not even make single lap attempts: A.J. Foyt IV had a shifting mechanism problem with the #14 Panoz/Toyota and Scott Sharp spun the #8 Delphi Panoz/Honda on-course and received illegal assistance from the Delphi Safety Team, disallowing his lap.
The 2004 Bombardier Rookie of the Year, Kosuke Matsuura earned seventh on the 21-car grid for tomorrow's 100-lap race with his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda after being the final car bumped from the Firestone Fast Six.
"We've got a pretty good car and I didn't make any mistakes," Matsuura stated. "That lap (101.637mph) was my fastest time of the weekend and I am the quickest Panoz driver. Aguri [team co-owner Suzuki] really helped me so much; he has a lot of experience and every session we improved."
Tomas Scheckter starts eighth with the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet, helping Chevy get both of its regular-season entries within the top ten today. "There was more left in the car," the South African admitted. "I messed up a bit and missed a shift" as he worked toward his lap of 101.538mph.
Dan Wheldon's lap of 101.323mph in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda relegated the Briton to ninth place and he, too said he "didn't get the best out of the car. It's my fault as this was not a particularly good lap today."
He's sharing the fifth row with rookie Ryan Briscoe, who is using his spare #33 Team Target Panoz/Toyota after an altercation in Friday morning practice. Briscoe, fifth in the qualifying line turned 101.069mph. "I didn't quite put it all together in one lap," the Australian said. "I still had a little more speed in the car."
Scott Dixon lines up 11th with the #9 Team Target Panoz/Toyota and he made an error on his single lap that resulted in a bent rear toe-link after he hit the turn 10 tire wall. "It's just one of those things," the Kiwi shrugged. "I didn't have a good feeling this morning but with more practice time, who knows where we might have been?"
Vitor Meira holds 12th grid slot with his #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda. The Brazilian had a mechanical problem that didn't allow much practice time in the morning "so we didn't get a qualifying simulation completed. The car felt good and I was probably trying a little too hard. That is what happens when you only get one lap."
The two Red Bull Cheever Racing cars of Alex Barron (#51 Dallara/Toyota) and Patrick Carpentier (#83) share the seventh row on this grid. Barron thought his car was good, "but some understeer in the last corner cost us valuable time." Carpentier was the second driver to take a timed lap and thought, "We did okay considering we missed all day Friday. I had to run a lot this morning just to learn the track and I am ready for the race. We are going to have fun tomorrow."
Rookie Danica Patrick holds 15th on the grid in her #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda. In her first-ever single-car qualifying effort on a street course Patrick wished "I could have had another lap. My rear tires weren't up to temperature so we'll have to learn from this."
After practicing fifth yesterday Darren Manning lines up a disappointed 16th in the #10 Team Target Panoz/Toyota. "The Target crew gave me a car I know was good enough to make the shootout but unfortunately, we had some gremlins that ruined my run."
Another disappointed driver, Buddy Rice starts 17th with the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda after he made an error in the tenth turn. "I locked up the brakes too much a probably lost over a second in that one corner."
Roger Yasukawa lost most of Friday after his accident in initial practice and placed the #24 Racing for Kids Dallara/Honda 18th. "We've had to focus on the race car and really had no experience with tire temps and pressures." He explained he lost two pounds of tire pressure and didn't' regain them until on his cool-down lap.
Ed Carpenter was the first driver on the track and wanted to be circumspect with the #20 Vision Racing Dallara/Toyota. "I was trying not to tear anything up," Carpenter said. "When you put it in the tire barrier you don't learn anything." He starts 19th, leading Sharp and Foyt IV to the green flags tomorrow.
Most everyone felt the experiment drawn up by the League for its first street course qualifying session was exciting for them and hoped fans felt the same. Tomorrow morning in final warmup the 21 drivers will concentrate on preparing their cars for the 100-lap Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. "Now we have to worry about tomorrow," declared pole man Herta. "It's a long day and we have to focus on shifts."
The race will likely bend on strategy and two of the best teams in the Indy Racing League - Marlboro Team Penske and Andretti Green Racing - are on the point for a stirring and competitive duel. ESPN carries the inaugural Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg live tomorrow afternoon, beginning at 3:30 EDT.