IRL: Hornish takes Chicagoland pole

Marlboro Team Penske's Sam Hornish, Jr. took the pole for Sunday's Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season finale in Joliet, Illinois. Hornish's speed of 215.319 mph led the qualifiers on a windy Chicago day that saw all nineteen cars in the ...

Marlboro Team Penske's Sam Hornish, Jr. took the pole for Sunday's Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season finale in Joliet, Illinois. Hornish's speed of 215.319 mph led the qualifiers on a windy Chicago day that saw all nineteen cars in the IndyCar garage take and complete a successful lap around the banked 1.5-mile Chicagoland oval.

Hornish becomes the early favorite to take the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 prize and the IndyCar drivers' championship with a win. He has been dominant on the 1.5 mile ovals this year with victories at Homestead-Miami, Texas and Kentucky.

"In these races it doesn't really matter where you start," he said afterwards. "Still it's nice to start on pole if you can." It's Hornish's fourth pole of the season and tenth of his IndyCar career.

Conditions were favorable for a fast qualifying session today, until the wind picked up in the late afternoon. A fifteen to twenty-five mile per hour cross wind across this East-West running racetrack created a significant challenge to putting the quickest lap down on Saturday.

"It cooled down and the wind picked up so we actually did better than we thought we would. We hit the gears right on. The car was right where we needed it today. We were kind of surprised at lap we put up, but we're really happy to start in the front," said Hornish.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon qualified second with a speed of 214.592 mph, only 0.0862 seconds behind Hornish. Dixon, who was quickest in the morning practice session with a best lap of 216.752 mph, was sanguine about his qualifying results.

"I'm up there with the three guys who are going to battle down to the end. I hope we have a good safe race, and one of us is going to celebrate on Sunday," he said.

Chicagoland has been host to some of the closest finishes in IRL history. The track's history has parallels to this closest-ever championship season as well. Dixon commented on the chances of it happening again this year.

"I don't know if we can go four-wide to the finish here, but it could happen. It's going to be a tough race and I expect it to be the four of us (himself, Hornish, Dan Wheldon and Helio Castroneves) running up front. That's the way it's been this season. We started at Homestead side by side, and the races have always been very close to the finish."

Dixon's teammate Dan Wheldon qualified third (214.387 mph) and Helio Castroneves captured the fourth spot on the grid (213.922 mph).

The two-wide, two-row pack of Penske and Ganassi at the front sets up what many observers believe the ideal scenario for the four contenders to the IndyCar throne. When asked if they would initially work together to separate from the remainder of the field, however, there was some disparity of opinion.

"We have a lot of laps in this race, obviously," said Helio. "To try and win from the beginning would be silly. We'll try to get position and stay in it to the end. You finish first by first finishing, so we need to be conservative, work together and hopefully be there at the end."

His remarks were countered by Wheldon, who said "There's a championship at stake here. The Penske Team is obviously performing well and the four of us have a distinct advantage over the rest of the field. I'm going to do whatever it takes to make a difference to win championship. We (the Target team) have no pressure. To be frank, I don't care to come in second -- I want to win."

Frustration has been a constant in Wheldon's season thus far. While leading several races, and consistently taking "Most Laps-Led", he's suffered disastrous pit stop mishaps that make his season-opening win the only first-place finish to his credit this year.

"Scott and I have been told by Chip Ganassi to try and win, and to lead the most laps. We are going to drive the car to win the championship. We'll be respectful on the track, but firm. What will be, will be," he said.

Wheldon is attempting to become a back-to-back champion in the series after being crowned IndyCar king in 2005.

Scott Sharp took the fifth spot with a qualifying lap of 213.573 mph. "The wind picked up and conditions were a little bit different in qualifying," he said. "We were about a tenth slower than what we ran on our own in practice. We didn't really expect that (much of a loss)."

Vitor Meira holds down sixth spot for the 1:30 PM (EDT) start, to be televised live on ABC TV. "It was a good run for us. It seems like no matter how we qualify, we're always running up front with the red and white cars. It's going to be a fun race."

Rounding out the front five rows are Tomas Scheckter, Kosuke Matsoura, and Buddy Rice. Jeff Simmons jumped to the tenth spot with a speed of (212.182 mph).

A.J.Foyt IV ran a surprisingly strong lap of 212.160 mph for the eleventh starting spot in the Klein Tools/Canadian Club Number 27 car substituting for the injured Dario Franchitti. "It sure helps a lot when you're with a team like AGR, and you've got Klein Tools and Canadian Club helping you out and giving me a chance," he said.

"They gave me a great race car and let me get back in the groove in these cars. The car was quick and solid on the race track. I really have to give all the credit to the crew and (race engineer) Allen McDonald because they gave me a great car." Foyt's last start in an IndyCar was nearly a year ago in the 2005 season-ending race at Fontana, California.

Just ahead of the rest of Andretti Green Racing was Eddie Carpenter (212.093 mph). Marco Andretti posted a lap of 211.349 mph to trail teammate Tony Kanaan by five hundredths of a second.

Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher, once gain competing for the distinction of first female to the wire in an IndyCar race were conservatively paced in the crosswind conditions and start fifteenth and sixteenth respectively. Jeff Bucknum, Bryan Herta and Marty Roth round out the nineteen car field.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Sarah Fisher , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Jeff Bucknum , Marty Roth , Marco Andretti , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing