IRL: Rice, Kanaan lead the pack in Kentucky

Buddy Rice earned his fifth MBNA Pole Position of the 2004 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season today, taking the ...

Buddy Rice earned his fifth MBNA Pole Position of the 2004 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season today, taking the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone racer to a speed of 216.016mph (24.6648 seconds) on his second of two qualifying laps on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway oval.

In posting the fastest speed in late afternoon time trials for Sunday's Belterra Casino Indy 300, Rice bested the man he's chasing for the 2004 IRL championship, as Tony Kanaan placed the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda second on the 22-car grid with a lap of 215.731mph (24.6974 seconds).

The third driver to post times on this cool, partly cloudy day in Ohio Rice noted, "The whole Panoz G Force/Honda package is working. We have to make sure we go about our business like we're supposed to. We'll see how the track 'rubbers' in after warm-up tomorrow," the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner said. "The coolness of the day is a big benefit for everybody and I think we're looking sharp for tomorrow."

Kanaan is enjoying the rivalry with Rice, saying it reminds him of his Indy Lights battle with Helio Castroneves in 1997. "I don't have a problem with Buddy. We're both aggressive and we both know what we have to lose; our competition is healthy and good. I knew I had a strong car today," Kanaan said after pacing both practice sessions earlier today.

Sam Hornish Jr., who won this race last season starts third in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota after posting a lap of 215.592mph (24.7134 seconds). "I can't complain at all about qualifying," Hornish said with his sly smile. "We worked on that setup in the second session and I hope the race car will be this good. Warmup will be a good indicator for the race."

Adrian Fernandez, the first driver to take timed laps beginning at 4:30 PM EDT this afternoon lines up fourth in the #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda with a lap of 215.326mph (24.7439 seconds). The Mexican, who has never driven here before agreed, "The car has been fast, and to be starting in the top five will help us tomorrow. I think we have a strong car and it helped to come here and test."

The winner of the Milwaukee round last month, Dario Franchitti lines up fifth in the #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda after posting a lap of 215.181mph (24.7605 seconds). The Scot, whose wife Ashley Judd is the race's Grand Marshal wasn't terribly happy. "The car is not great in qualifying trim and we're still struggling, but in race trim I think we're okay."

Helio Castroneves starts sixth in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota after lapping at 215.029mph (24.7780 seconds). He was pretty happy after having a difficult second practice. "It was a scary morning but we found the problem and came back. Woof! I've got a big smile on my face," the ebullient Brazilian noted.

Vitor Meira tested here last week in his #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda and earned the seventh spot on this grid with his lap of 214.724mph (24.8132 seconds). After fighting "several problems this morning, qualifying was much better than practice. We just missed it today with seventh but this race is long and there's a lot of passing."

Darren Manning starts eighth in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota after turning 214.697mph (24.8164 seconds). He knew his car was "pretty good. We made changes this morning and it got faster and faster. I think we've closed the performance gap and we're creeping up," the Briton noted. Teammate Scott Dixon was less pleased with his ninth place start in the #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota and said, "We started off the day on the right foot but went a bit backwards after that." He was third in the first practice, but fell to tenth in the second session.

Rookie Kosuke Matsuura rounds out the top ten with his #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda but was disappointed with his lap of 214.327mph (24.8592 seconds). "The feeling of the car was good, but I didn't have enough speed and I had quite a long gear that, in the end was not correct."

Dan Wheldon starts 11th in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda but wasn't terribly excited with the effort. "We need to find a bit more speed out of it," he said. Mark Taylor gave the #13 Access Motorsports Panoz G Force/Honda a good run to 12th but admitted losing a bit of speed from the morning. "I am happy with the way my car feels," he said.

Tomas Scheckter is the best of the Bow-Tie Brigade, bringing the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevy to 13th on the 22-car grid. "We're struggling a bit in qualifying and I gave it all I had," he said. Rookie Ed Carpenter starts the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy 14th and notes, "The car felt good and I backed up my practice time."

A.J. Foyt IV had one of his better qualifying efforts in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota and starts 15th tomorrow afternoon, while Scott Sharp lines up 16th in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota. Alex Barron will bring the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy to the green flags in 17th place, next to Felipe Giaffone's #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet in 18th grid slot.

Jaques Lazier starts 19th in the #20 Patrick Racing Dallara/Chevy while Tora Takagi earned 20th grid spot in the #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota.

Because they changed engines prior to qualifying, neither Bryan Herta (#7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda) nor Townsend Bell (#2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet) made qualifying attempts, as they realized they'd be relegated to the rear of the field anyway.

With a 22-car field separated by less than 8/10ths of a second, the Belterra Casino Indy 300, race #11 in a 16-event Indy Racing League IndyCar Series campaign is set to take the green flags at 3:45PM EDT Sunday afternoon and will air live, beginning at 3:30PM on ABC TV.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Felipe Giaffone , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Jaques Lazier  , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Townsend Bell , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske