IRL: Indy 500: Pole Day 2 report

Castroneves captures Mbna Pole at Indianapolis. INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 11, 2003 -- Helio Castroneves earned the ideal starting position for his attempt to become the first driver to win three consecutive Indianapolis 500s -- the ...

Castroneves captures Mbna Pole at Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 11, 2003 -- Helio Castroneves earned the ideal starting position for his attempt to become the first driver to win three consecutive Indianapolis 500s -- the pole.

Castroneves won the MBNA Pole for the 87th Indianapolis 500 with a four-lap average speed of 231.725 mph May 11 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. He covered four laps of the historic 2.5-mile oval in two minutes, 35.3564 seconds to earn his second career pole in the IRL IndyCarÔ Series and his first at Indianapolis.

"This is one of the best days of my life," Castroneves said. "It's fantastic. It's a dream come true. That guy upstairs made it happen, trust me.

"I didn't know I had that fast of a car. I knew it would turn the speeds but not for four laps. All of a sudden I think the cold weather helped the tires. Oh my God, I'm just so happy."

Castroneves became the first back-to-back "500" winner to win the pole for his attempt to win three straight. He also earned the record 12th Indianapolis 500 pole for Penske Racing and the first pole at Indianapolis for a Japanese engine manufacturer.

The last time a defending Indianapolis 500 winner won the pole was 1990, when Emerson Fittipaldi captured the top spot for Penske Racing.

Tony Kanaan qualified second at 2:35.8400, 231.006 in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone. Robby Gordon was third at 2:36.3822, 230.205 in the No. 27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone, giving Andretti Green Racing two of the coveted front-row spots.

Twenty-four of the 33 available spots were filled today. Bump Day qualifying is scheduled for Sunday, May 18. The track reopens for practice Wednesday, May 14. Race Day is Sunday, May 25.

The cold front and ensuing thunderstorms that swept through Indianapolis on Saturday, postponing Pole Day, created a big change in the conditions Sunday. Temperatures in the mid-50s and wind gusts approaching 30 mph provided quite a challenge for drivers and teams, causing them to rethink their setups to try and find proper car balance.

Marlboro Team Penske decided not to send Castroneves or teammate Gil de Ferran on track in their designated qualifying draw spots, instead waiting to judge the conditions. Castroneves finally made his qualifying attempt four and one-half hours into qualifying, less than 90 minutes before the end of the day and any shot at the pole.

"The wind this morning, we just weren't comfortable this morning, wanting to run as clear as we had to to get the speed we wanted," Penske Racing Owner Roger Penske said. "We just made the decision, we've done it before with (Rick) Mears, and said, 'Let's wait and make that decision' because we had a full day of good weather.

"It was going to be cold and windy, and we had a chance to understand what it's all about. And Helio just kept tuning it and tuning it, and we got there."

Gordon took the provisional pole just 45 minutes into qualifying, in his original spot in the qualifying draw. His first lap was only 228.829 due to gusty winds, but he then finished with three consecutive laps of 230 mph.

"The car had a big push in Turns 1 and 2 on my last warm-up lap, and that hurt my momentum on the first lap," Gordon said. "We never talked about waving off the run. We took a half turn out of the front wing after practice this morning, and I think that was the difference in qualifying today."

Kanaan took a different approach than his Andretti Green Racing teammate. He didn't attempt to qualify in his spot in the draw, instead deciding to work on his car. Kanaan took to the track two hours and 40 minutes into qualifying, taking the provisional pole until Castroneves seized the top spot.

Still, Kanaan didn't think Penske Racing's decision to wait until later in the day to qualify created any advantage for Castroneves.

"I just think they didn't have the car right, and they needed that extra time like I did to figure it out," Kanaan said. "As soon as I felt I had the car, I went for it, and I think they did the same."

Veteran Scott Sharp and rookie A.J. Foyt IV were caught by the gusty conditions on consecutive qualifying runs one hour into the session.

Foyt, grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, made a dramatic save after his No. 14 Conseco/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone spun exiting Turn 2 on his first qualifying lap. The car headed backward toward the outside wall, but Foyt steered it clear and coasted backward to a stop down the backstretch. He was unhurt.

"A second run was definitely not what we were wanting and not the speed that we wanted, but we have to take it," Foyt said. "Definitely the wind was a factor, and (it was) very possible that it could have hit me and turned me around. There was a lot of luck involved with that, especially a spin. I looked on the computer and I was going 168 mph backward, so it was pretty much a wild ride, and I was surprised I didn't hit anything."

2002 IRL Infiniti Pro Series champion Foyt qualified later in the afternoon in his No. 14T car, earning the 23rd spot at 2:40.5872, 224.177. Foyt, 18, became the youngest driver ever to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. He will turn 19 on Race Day.

"I know what this place has done for my grandfather, and it really made his name, like he says, and this place has done a lot, not only for him but for my whole family," Foyt said. "Just to come here and try to carry on the name and carry on the tradition is just a great opportunity for me that Conseco and that my grandfather have given me."

On the next attempt after Foyt's accident, Sharp hit the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 after a quarter-spin in the No. 8T Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. Sharp was unhurt and was the last qualifier of the day at 2:37.3734, 228.755 in his No. 8 car, good for ninth on the grid.

"In a lot of ways, it was really a roller coaster of a day for the Delphi guys," Sharp said. "I was within two miles an hour of my entry speed into Turn 2 as I was two hours earlier, and for some reason, the back just snapped. We had someone in Turn 2 that was watching from over there, and he said a huge gust came when I came out of Turn 1, so at this stage, it's the only thing we can really attribute that to."

Foyt was one of eight rookies who qualified. Scott Dixon was the top-qualifying rookie, fourth at 2:36.4547, 230.099 in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone.

Among the other qualifiers was two-time defending IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr., 18th at 2:39.1335, 226.225 in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

A limited number of reserved-seat Race Day tickets for the Indianapolis 500 remain available. General admission and reserved tickets for practice, qualifications and Race Day can be purchased on the World Wide Web via www.imstix.com or by calling the IMS Ticket Office at (800) 822-INDY or (317) 492-6700.

-ims-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Emerson Fittipaldi , Chip Ganassi , Roger Penske , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Team Penske