IRL: Ray takes third pole at Phoenix

PHOENIX, Saturday, March 17, 2001 - Points or no points, Greg Ray proved once again Saturday that he is the pole master of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. Ray captured his third straight MBNA Pole at Phoenix ...

PHOENIX, Saturday, March 17, 2001 - Points or no points, Greg Ray proved once again Saturday that he is the pole master of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. Ray captured his third straight MBNA Pole at Phoenix International Raceway, this time with a lap of 20.263 seconds, 177.663 mph. This was his record 10th career pole and puts him on the inside of the front row for the start of Sunday's Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200. Starting second will be Sam Hornish Jr., 21, new driver for Pennzoil Panther Racing and a first-time front-row starter. He clocked a top speed of 176.801 mph as the sixth driver in the qualifying line. That lasted until Ray, driving his Johns Manville/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, completed the first of two qualifying circuits 11 drivers later. Under last year's rules, Ray would have been leading the Indy Racing Northern Light Series points standings by 3-2 over Hornish because the first three qualifiers would have been rewarded with three, two and one points, respectively. Those points have been removed this season so stronger-budgeted teams wouldn't spend extra money solely on a qualifying engine. This didn't faze Ray at all. In fact, it irritated him when asked if this pole brought more pleasure. "I'm just frankly tired of all of this," he said. "Everybody has the same chance to go out there and do something you want to do and doing it. I take pleasure in all of them. Qualifying's great, racing's great. "I take pleasure in anything that is positive. Because I have 10 trophies, I have a lot more than that, I think I have about 13 trophies and they all look nice sitting next to each other. I take pride in all of them." Ray emphasized that Team Menard likes to start first. Last year the team won five poles, including the Indianapolis 500, but only one race. That's the next priority for him and the team. "This is a good group of guys working hard," he said. "New team manager, new engineer, a lot of new mechanics. It's a whole new group of guys. We have great chemistry. Everybody is working together. "I love that single speed event (qualifying). But it does nothing for the championship." Mechanical problems and accidents knocked Ray out six of the nine races. Ray, the 1999 series champion, finished 13th in the standings. "Ninety-nine was a great year, 2000 wasn't," he said. "We certainly want to return to '99 form." As a rookie in 2000, Hornish's best qualifying mark last season was 13th at the first race at Texas Motor Speedway. He was upset that he didn't win Saturday's pole and had to be calmed down before appearing at the post-qualifying press conference. Hornish said he sort of "chickened out" in Turn 1 of his qualifying run. "We've got a really good race car," he said, "and I wanted to make sure that it was still good for tomorrow. Spun in the morning on cold tires and didn't want to push the car too much after that." Veterans Jeff Ward and Stephan Gregoire grabbed the second-row spots. Ward is with Heritage Motorsports, a brand-new team, but a familiar team manager in Mitch Davis. Gregoire is once again driving for Dick Simon. Fifth place went to Gil de Ferran, last year's CART champion. de Ferran is one of two Penske Racing drivers - teammate Helio Castroneves also is in the field in a companion Penske Auto Racing Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone -- making their Indy Racing debuts. Team owner Roger Penske decided to enter his drivers at Phoenix to prepare them for the Indianapolis 500. De Ferran qualified at a speed of 174.000. Castroneves checked in with a 172.014 lap and 17th place. Defending series and race champion Buddy Lazier, who won from last place last year, will take the green from the seventh spot in the Tae-Bo/Coors Light/Delta Faucet/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. This race also will mark the first time since 1992 an Unser and Mears were in the same lineup and Roger Penske directing things from the sideline. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. will start 23rd and rookie Casey Mears in 25th. Mears is the nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears, who will be in the Penske pits as a consultant Sunday.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Casey Mears , Buddy Lazier , Stephan Gregoire , Jeff Ward , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Rick Mears , Roger Penske , Dick Simon , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske