BROOKLYN, MI, July 26, 2003 - Team Target fulfilled their mission today, placing both cars on the front row for Sunday's Firestone Indy 400 at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway. Tomas Scheckter. Photo by Michael Kim. 2002...
BROOKLYN, MI, July 26, 2003 - Team Target fulfilled their mission today, placing both cars on the front row for Sunday's Firestone Indy 400 at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway.
Dixon starts second in the #10 Panoz G Force/Toyota after being the first to qualify this morning, and he set the benchmark of 32.3704 seconds (222.425mph). The separation between this duo was a scant .0047 second, fifth closest in IRL history. "We got some info from Scott's run such as what gears to use," Scheckter explained. "This track suits my style and we both have an equal chance to win tomorrow. My victory here last year definitely ranks up there and I'm ready to do it again."
Downplaying his accomplishments, Dixon believes he "could have got more from the car. It was cooler than we expected," as qualifications were held under cloudy skies, with temperatures in the mid 70s and track temps in the mid 80-degree range. Helio Castroneves made it an all-Toyota top three, posting a lap of 32.4393 seconds (221.953mph) in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. "I was surprised by our speed," Castroneves said. "The wind helped a bit; we were flat-out on the back stretch."
Sam Hornish Jr. assumes fourth place in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet with a lap of 32.4563 seconds (221.837mph). His two laps were "a bit off our best run alone, but the wind came up a bit. We're trying not to lose our focus and that's on the win. It's hard to get out of shape when you're alone on the track, but it gets quite turbulent in traffic," Hornish noted.
Competing at Michigan International Speedway for the first time since 1999, Al Unser Jr. is pleased with his fifth place start in the #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota after running a lap of 32.5108 seconds (221.465mph). Unser was the final of 21 IndyCar Series drivers to take qualifying laps. "The car just ran great," he said. "The changes we made between practice and qualifying really worked and they were a good move by the team. I think we've got a pretty good race car."
Alex Barron starts sixth in the #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota after turning a lap of 32.5222 seconds (221.387mph). "We had to shift a couple of times each lap and the wind changed directions from earlier, so we changed a few small things before we went out. The car has good balance. We worked on that because we're a bit behind here since we haven't tested" at MIS.
Greg Ray is first of the Honda troops, moving his #13TrimSpa Special Panoz G Force/Honda to seventh with a tour of 32.5286 seconds (221.344mph). "We were quicker in practice and we expected the sun to stay out" for qualifying, Ray said. "We just missed it by a hair." The #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda of Kenny Brack earned the eighth starting slot at 32.5878 seconds (220.942mph). "We didn't really work on qualifying and the car ran really good, turning about the same as we did in practice. We seem to have a pretty good package in hand."
Nashville winner Gil de Ferran lost some time in morning practice with problems on the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, yet recovered to take ninth on the grid at 32.5988 seconds (220.867mph). The Professor acknowledged, "We're happy with the run. The track is different from Friday and we lost time with practice problems. This is probably the most unpredictable race of the year," he noted, due to its length and the overtaking opportunities on the wide MIS track.
Scott Sharp rounds out the top ten for tomorrow's 400-mile contest, bringing the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota under the timing lights at 32.6580 seconds (220.467mph). "I think we're in pretty good shape for the race. We didn't have as much testing time as others and we've worked here on getting a good race car. I think we're pretty decent for tomorrow."
It's an all-Japan sixth row with Tora Takagi's #12 Pioneer Panoz G Force/Toyota besting the #55 Panasonic /ARTA Dallara/Honda of Roger Yasukawa. The three cars of Andretti Green Racing line up 13th through 15th, with rookie Dan Wheldon (#26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda) besting Bryan Herta's #27 Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda and points leader Tony Kanaan's #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. A frustrated Kanaan spoke for all: "We're not happy as a team right now. We don't have pole speed but we never worry about qualifying. The cars are stable and comfortable."
A.J. Foyt IV took 16th in the #14 Conseco Panoz G Force/Toyota and the balance of the field fell to the Chevrolet drivers still coping with the Gen III power mill that has them more than five miles per hour in arrears to polesitter Scheckter. Vitor Meira was fastest of that group in the #2 Menards Dallara, followed by entrant points leader Buddy Rice in the #52 Red Bull Dallara, Robbie Buhl, Sarah Fisher and caboose Buddy Lazier, slowest at 213.091mph.
The Indy Racing League IndyCar Series drivers have one last opportunity to prepare for Sunday's Firestone Indy 400 with final practice scheduled later this afternoon. They'll roll off at 3PM EDT Sunday and the race is being shown live on ABC, starting with a pre-race show at 2:30PM EDT.