PHOENIX - Reigning Indy Racing League champion Greg Ray continued his mastery of one-mile ovals today in qualifying for Sunday's MCI WorldCom 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. Ray will start Team Menard's Oldsmobile-powered Conseco Dallara on...
PHOENIX - Reigning Indy Racing League champion Greg Ray continued his mastery of one-mile ovals today in qualifying for Sunday's MCI WorldCom 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. Ray will start Team Menard's Oldsmobile-powered Conseco Dallara on the pole for the second straight year at PIR, the third straight race, the fifth time on a one-mile track, and the sixth time in his career.
Ray was awarded the pole in the season-opening race in Orlando based on last season's entrant points after qualifying was rained out. This time he earned the pole with a blistering lap on the one-mile Phoenix oval.
The Valley of the Sun lived up to its reputation as qualifying for tomorrow's 200-lap shootout was completed under clear skies and hot temperatures. Ray circled the low-banked track in 20.389 seconds at a speed of 176.566 mph, just .066 seconds slower than the 177.139 mph track record for naturally aspirated IRL cars he set last year with a 4.0-liter Oldsmobile engine. The new 3.5-liter version of Oldsmobile's undefeated IRL Aurora V8 racing engine enjoyed another day in the sun in the Arizona desert and will start on the pole for the 31st consecutive IRL event.
"Winning the pole is half the battle, and I gave it everything we had," Ray reported. "We were at the end of our rope this morning in practice, so we gambled and made a few changes. I held my breath on the first lap, and held my breath even longer on the second lap."
Mark Dismore will start alongside Ray on the front row after a 175.910 mph qualifying lap in Kelley Racing's OnStar/GM BuyPower Oldsmobile-Dallara. Dismore's teammate Scott Sharp was third fastest in Kelley Racing's Delphi Automotive Systems Oldsmobile-Dallara at 174.529 mph. Robby McGehee's Treadway Racing Energizer Oldsmobile-G Force was fourth at 174.528 mph, and rookie standout Jeret Schroeder rounded out the top five with a 172.406 mph speed in Tri-Star Motorsports' entry. The Tri-Star team's Armour Oldsmobile-Dallara is co-owned by 1997 IRL champion and current NASCAR star Tony Stewart. Less than one second separated the top 18 qualifiers.
"The race tomorrow could be very difficult," Ray predicted. "The NASCAR trucks race today, and that is going to change the track for us tomorrow. The weather forecast calls for 90-plus temperatures, and everybody is going to be panting when they get out of the cars at the end of the race."
Oldsmobile engines powered 25 of the 26 qualifiers and claimed the top seven spots. The lone Infiniti in the field qualified eighth with a speed 5.626 mph slower than Ray's pole-winning pace.
"No matter what track you go to, the motor has to have a lot of torque and horsepower," said Team Menard engine builder Butch Meyer. "We've got a good combination with (team manager) Tom Knapp setting the chassis and Greg Ray driving. Greg is a big plus - he really hangs the car out. We are a little down on power from where we were last year with the bigger four-liter engines, but the chassis have improved so much that we're actually faster through the corners."
Dismore was the first driver to qualify, and he withstood 12 challengers before Ray finally bumped him off the pole. "We made some educated guesses after the morning practice and hit the setup darn close," Dismore revealed. "That's the fastest lap I've ever done here, so how can I not be happy? The track's going to be extremely slippery tomorrow, and the key to winning will be to have a car that's consistent and maneuverable in traffic. "We're running nearly the same top speed as we did last year with larger engines, but you feel the difference in torque when you accelerate out of the first turn," Dismore added. "The smaller engines don't have as much torque as last year's motors - but you know the engineers will figure that out soon!"
The MCI WorldCom 200 is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. MST on Sunday, March 19. The 200-lap, 200-mile race will be televised live by ABC Sports at 4:00 p.m. Eastern and broadcast on the Indy Racing Radio Network.
Oldsmobile Qualifying Quotes:
Scott Sharp/Kelley Racing Delphi Automotive Systems
Oldsmobile-Dallara; qualified third at 174.529 mph: "We've been working on nothing but the race until this morning. Except for the wing angle, we qualified our race car. Sunday pays, and that's what is important. I turned a time quicker than I qualified last year with the four-liter engine. That says it all!"
Robby McGehee/Treadway Racing Energizer Oldsmobile-G Force; qualified fourth at 174.258 mph: "The car did exactly what we expected it to do in qualifying and I ran faster than I had run all weekend. Our Comptech Oldsmobiles are part of why we've been so quick this week. We've got a great engine and we're happy with its performance."
Al Unser Jr./Galles ECR Racing Tickets.com Oldsmobile-G Force; qualified 20th at 167.895 mph: "There was a little more in the car, but just a little bit. The biggest thing we've been struggling with is understeer. We're going to run 70 to 75 laps between pit stops tomorrow, so you have to get your car working on older tires. That's what we're concentrating on."
<pre> MCI WORLDCOM 200 TOP FIVE QUALIFIERS Driver Entrant Engine Speed 1. Greg Ray Team Menard Oldsmobile 176.566 mph 2. Mark Dismore Kelley Racing Oldsmobile 175.910 3. Scott Sharp Kelley Racing Oldsmobile 174.529 4. Robby McGehee Treadway Racing Oldsmobile 174.258 5. Jeret Schroeder Tri-Star Motorsports Oldsmobile 172.406