Qualifying for tomorrow's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway was rained out tonight. The starting lineup will be based on practice speeds, with Helio Castroneves on pole and Scott Sharp beside him on the outside of the...
Qualifying for tomorrow's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway was rained out tonight. The starting lineup will be based on practice speeds, with Helio Castroneves on pole and Scott Sharp beside him on the outside of the front row.
Nine cars had taken times on the 3/4 mile oval, and Castroneves was on the track, when raindrops interrupted the action.
"I saw the call coming," Castroneves said, "but until that point everything was fine. Then I saw the first drop on my visor...my God, it's raining! Then they said 'Okay, it's your call.' I thought I'd better keep going and going, get over with this. So then on the back straight nothing happened. I kept thinking of going, then I saw two big drops. The funny thing is, not like sprinkles, but big drops.
"You know what - this is not a place that you can take a chance - it can get away really quick. So if I have a chance to call it, I'll call it. We'd go ahead and change tires and wait for it to really be safe."
The drops were from a stubborn thunderstorm that lingered over the Richmond area, finally winning out. While Castroneves thought he'd be good for the pole, he didn't mind having it handed to him by Mother Nature.
"I'll take it. It's sad that we did not qualify. It's frustrating, obviously, because it's the third time this year that happened. But I'm happy. Every time you have a chance to start on the pole position without going to qualify it's a blessing in disguise - literally.
"But we felt that we have a very strong car, according to practice times we seemed to be very fast. So we're looking good. I like this place. Very challenging. I think it's hard to say, but it's probably the road course of the ovals. It's so hard, it's so physically demanding, and it's so challenging that it does make a big difference."
Scott Sharp's second place starting position represents a long-awaited recovery for the veteran driver, whose team is emerging from unsatisfying performance through the first part of season. Not only did he have the second-fastest practice time, but he was second quick in qualifying before the rains came.
"The Delphi guys have done a fabulous job all weekend," Sharp said. "They developed a new setup between Texas and here. We came yesterday and didn't know if was going to work or how it was going to work or anything. It made some great progress; it's gone really well, obviously. We didn't really try to get speed out of it until that last session.
"We ran our best time of the weekend so far in qualifying - which is what you want to do. It's been a car that every time out it's been really solid, so that bodes well for the race.
"I think we're in really good shape, but this is always a race that becomes very exciting. Many people will be factors in this race. No one is going to run off and hide. No matter where you start, you've got a chance in this race to get to the front, if you've got a good race car. There will be yellows, there will be pit stops. There will be a chance that, if you're good enough, even though you may start towards the back, you're going to get your chance to get up there. A good half the field has a chance to win here."
Dan Wheldon, who held provisional pole when qualifying was curtailed, and in 2004 won this race from 20th starting position, voiced the same opinion. "It'll be an interesting race," Wheldon said. "I think it's going to be very close out there. The biggest thing here is having a good race car. I started near the back here and through strategy and a good race car we've been able to do very well. We'll just have to focus on that and see what we've got." Wheldon will start third tomorrow, based on his practice time.
Also starting in the front two rows is reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Sam Hornish, Jr., whose practice time places him third on the grid. Unlike the rest of the front four, Hornish thinks he has some work ahead of him for the race. "Unfortunately, I think there's quite a bit of difference between our back-up and primary cars," he said. "We spent most of the day trying to find speed. Marlboro Team Penske is going to keep working hard, and hopefully we'll be in good shape for the race. Tomorrow night we just need to make sure we run all the way to the end. It's a long race, and we have to remember to stay patient and bring the Marlboro Team Penske car home in a good position."
Today's practice sessions were marred by one incident, when 2001 SunTrust Indy Challenge winner Buddy Lazier made heavy contact with the SAFER barrier in Turn 4. Lazier climbed out without assistance, and was cleared to drive. The rained out qualifying did not help him, since the incident occurred before he had brought his car up to speed.
"The car was coming around," Lazier said, "and everything was making sense. I think we were even taking a tenth off every couple of laps. Everything was right where we wanted it to be. Basically, it gave me no indication, but it was a snap oversteer entering Turn 3. I hit pretty hard coming out of 4. I tried to save it, but it was at a high rate of speed."
Tomorrow's 250 lap SunTrust Indy Challenge will take the green flag at 8 PM EDT. It will be telecast live on ESPN2.