IRL: Phoenix qualifying

Ken Plotkin - Phoenix, March 17 - Greg Ray qualified for Sunday's Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at a speed of 177.663 mph, taking the pole for the third year in a row. Ray, who is a master of qualifying, but had a disappointing...

Ken Plotkin -

Phoenix, March 17 - Greg Ray qualified for Sunday's Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at a speed of 177.663 mph, taking the pole for the third year in a row.

Ray, who is a master of qualifying, but had a disappointing race record last season, was not aiming for the pole this time.

"We really didn't know how quick we could go because we didn't get to test here as much as we liked. We came here for a private test and it got rained out most of the time. We really just worked on race car setup. I was disappointed in myself last year, maybe not exercising patience when I should have. It's no secret that I enjoy qualifying. It's a separate event and I love that: walk to the very tippy-toe edge and over and bring it back again. But that really has nothing to do with the championship. That's the focus. This is just a little cake before dinner.

"We made one or two fine adjustments (from morning practice setup). The second lap I really made a huge mistake. I didn't get the car down to the apex soon enough and I had to back way off the throttle. I think we could have been a tenth quicker. It doesn't matter but I definitely made a big mistake on that second lap."

Starting beside Ray on the outside of the front row is Sam Hornish Jr., with a speed of 176.801 mph. Hornish had topped the speed charts in Friday practice sessions, but after a spin on cold tires in today's morning practice was just looking for a solid starting position.

"I kind of chickened out in Turn 1. We've got a really good race car, and I wanted to make sure it was still good for tomorrow. I didn't want to make the Pennzoil Panther team work any harder than they already have. We will put our race motor back in, and tomorrow morning we'll work a little more on the race setup. We worked yesterday on our race setup lap after lap, and if I run the same way tomorrow we shouldn't have any problems. We did make a couple of changes this morning."

Jeff Ward got off to a good start in his new ride with Heritage Motorsports by qualifying third fastest at 175.710 mph. Like the front row sitters ahead of him, Ward was not aiming for the pole.

"This morning was a little nervous and we weren't sure about letting it all hang out, so I'm pretty excited about that time. We did all race setup yesterday. All our times were full downforce, full tanks. The race car is unbelievable. We didn't want to take a chance of making a mistake in qualifying. Going for the pole would have made a mistake. I'll be very happy with this tomorrow.

Stephan Gregoire joins Ward on the second row with a speed of 174.442 mph.

"This is going to be our best qualifying with Dick Simon. The team is really getting better and better. You know we stayed together. This is our third year. Yesterday we worked on the race setup. That is why we were not as fast. I think this will pay off tomorrow. So, by being fourth, I'm very, very pleased. I love this track. My background is road course racing. This is much like a road course. There is not a lot of banking. When you have a good car, you can overtake. The track is wide enough."

CART invader Gil de Ferran qualified fifth fastest at 174.000 mph. Despite a solid third row position, Gil was disappointed with his result.

"I think I could have gone a little bit faster. I wasn't used to so few warmup laps, and I had a little too much push. This morning I had a little less push. But we're safely in the field. (The IRL) car is quite different from what I'm used to. We're learning about the setup, learning about the engine, learning about everything. It's been a very steep learning experience for me.

"It's OK, but I really thought I could have gone a little bit faster. I didn't get up to speed quite fast enough, and I had a little too much push in the qualifying session."

Sitting beside de Ferran is reigning Indy Racing champion Buddy Lazier, at 173.942 mph. Phoenix has been a mix of highs and lows for Buddy. In 1996, he suffered major back injuries in a crash here. Last year he scored an incredible last-to-first victory in his backup car when problems were found with his primary car just before the race.

"We've had a pretty strong weekend. We haven't been the quickest every time out, but we've been close. And that's what it's really all about. We're all here to race tomorrow, and I think we'll have a good race car."

Fastest rookie in the field is Felipe Giaffone, in ninth place at 173.049 mph. "I was a little bit off," said Felipe. I think the car was better than I did this qualifying. I think I could go a little bit faster. This was my first qualifying here, and I'm pretty happy. The car has been great.

Davey Hamilton qualified his Sam Schmidt Motorsport entry at five mph faster than his best practice times. The car had not turned a wheel before this weekend.

"That was our 80th lap, period with the car. We had zero laps with the car, so this was our test session, more so than a race weekend.

"When we were out practicing, I was trying to find the race car. I usually go faster in a practice session, but when I know what the car is doing instead of taking it 100 percent I usually pull it right in and say we need to fix this problem. We never got it to the point where it's really super good, and even qualifying wasn't that great. But when it's qualifying time you've got new tires on and you've got to take it to the next level.

The Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 takes the green flag at 2:00 MST (4:00 EST) tomorrow, March 18. It will be telecast live on ABC TV. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised live at 11:30 AM EST on ESPN2.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Buddy Lazier , Stephan Gregoire , Jeff Ward , Davey Hamilton , Gil de Ferran , Sam Schmidt , Dick Simon , Sam Hornish Jr.