IRL: Sears Point: Rahal Letterman Racing qualifying report

RICE WILL START SIXTH AT INFINEON FOR ARGENT INDY GP SEARS POINT, Calif. - Rahal Letterman Racing's Buddy Rice showed little signs of the rust that come from running only a single road and street race since 2001 as he qualified sixth for...

RICE WILL START SIXTH AT INFINEON FOR ARGENT INDY GP

SEARS POINT, Calif. - Rahal Letterman Racing's Buddy Rice showed little signs of the rust that come from running only a single road and street race since 2001 as he qualified sixth for Sunday's Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix at Infineon Raceway. Rice last raced on a permanent road course during his championship winning 2000 season in Formula Atlantic.

Rice posted a fast lap of during the qualifying session and earned a spot in the Firestone Fast Six which pitted the top-six drivers from qualifying in a ten-minute shoot-out for the top-six positions.

"We learned a little bit qualifying and tried some new things in the ten-minute shootout," said Rice. "I think those things will help us in the race. In the shootout, we were running a Top Three time, but it didn't get the car to stick well coming down the hill. It is exciting to be back on a permanent road circuit. I haven't done that since 2001 in an open-wheel car. I raced here in 1996 in a Formula 2000 car, but it is so much different in an Indy car. I think we have a pretty consistent car for the race and starting up in the first three rows will help. We don't have the experience as some of the other drivers in the series in the bigger cars. But we are getting more familiar with the cars after each test and race. Everyone is so close and some of the guys have a little bit more grip overall and that makes them better on the time sheet. In the race, it could be a little different. I think you'll see some bumping and shoving to get by and physical conditioning will be important. You can wait and watch other drivers make mistakes. Everyone is going to be fighting for the same spots on the track. It is an older track and pretty narrow. That should make for an interesting and exciting race for the fans."

Vitor Meira slipped back to 11th after posting one of the quickest laps early in the session. Meira making his first permanent road course start since 2002 was Rahal Letterman Racing's top finisher in the IRL IndyCar Series street race earlier this season.

"We are really still learning in the Indy cars on the road circuit," said Meira. "Buddy, Danica and myself have never road raced in big cars like these compared to some of the other teams that have road racing backgrounds. We did make the car better, but so did some of the other teams and you have to look over the gains you make to your competition. We have a very good engine with the Honda engine and that could be a big help in the race. Buddy's car is much improved and we'll see how that works for the race. I like my car for the race right now, but we can still make it better. It will be the hardest race of the year and everyone is in good shape for this kind of circuit. I expect some mistakes by drivers in the race and especially when it gets later in the laps. If you are tired physically, you will make mental mistakes too."

Rookie sensation Danica Patrick posted her quickest lap of the weekend at 104.480 mph, which earned her 16th on the starting grid. Patrick will be making her first ever start at Infineon Raceway on Sunday.

"I don't think we had the car as balanced as we would have liked," said Patrick. "It is hard for me right now. It is hard to push these big cars around at a place like this. I locked up the right front (tire) a lot in qualifying and I am not too happy after that run. It feels like there is a lot of grip when you go out, but the car wants to slide. This place does remind me of Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca with all of the elevation changes. There is a lot of grip most of the time. So there are some similarities from those tracks to Infineon. It is going to be a very tough race. You are going to feel the effect of eighty laps on Sunday. I really can't relate much from an Atlantic car to the Indy car. The IndyCar has a lot more horse power and a different grip level than the Atlantic cars. I am just a rookie who is trying to learn as much as possible."

Ganassi Racing's rookie Ryan Briscoe captured the pole position with a fast lap of 108.248 mph. Penske Racing's Helio Castroneves is second followed by AGR's Tony Kanaan, Panther's Tomas Enge, Penske's Sam Hornish Jr. and RLR's Rice.

-rahal letterman racing

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Tony Kanaan , Buddy Rice , Ryan Briscoe , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing