IRL: Team Penske takes front row at Richmond

Sam Hornish Jr. took the pole position for tomorrow night's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway with a record-shattering speed of 176.244 mph, breaking last year's pole record of 171.202 mph. Hornish's teammate, Helio ...

Sam Hornish Jr. took the pole position for tomorrow night's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway with a record-shattering speed of 176.244 mph, breaking last year's pole record of 171.202 mph. Hornish's teammate, Helio Castroneves flanks him on the outside pole with a speed of 175.797mph.

"The car was set up really good," Sam said. "We've made some big improvements in the last year, and we seem to be going faster and faster wherever we go. We were pretty much running flat out all the way around. It was just a really good run for us."

Hornish has run in the four prior races here - winning the event in 2002 - and feels the key tomorrow night will be patience. "That's the big thing I've learned," he explained. "The year I won I only led the last two laps. Just wait for your car to come to you, make consistent changes over the night, make the car a little bit better and hope you have enough time at the end to get the job done."

Castroneves, who owned the track record that was surpassed tonight was resigned to being second fastest. "I wanted to be on pole position," he said, "but I guess my teammate went there and went a little faster. It's such a tough track to start in the back." Echoing his teammate's experience, he said "But you have to be patient. (Being fast) is not always a key to winning the race. We've been close so many times."

In all, twelve of the twenty-two cars in the race beat Helio's old qualifying mark. That feat was accomplished despite the fact that all but Sam, Helio and two other cars pulled out of the qualifying line - and gave up one of their two qualifying laps.

The mass pullout was triggered by concern over track condition and alien rubber. This weekend's IndyCar event shares the bill with the USAC Silver Crown Series. Running with Silver Crown is a cause for concern as the rubber put on the track by the Silver Crown cars can be incompatible with the tires run in the IndyCar Series.

When the first driver in the qualifying order, Tony Kanaan did not report to make his run, it triggered a ripple effect. Nobody wanted to be first out after the USAC cars. As it turned out, Kanaan actually missed his spot in line when his crew decided to do a last minute gear change. Nonetheless, the drama unfolded with the majority of the teams pulling their cars from the qualifying line.

With the first seven cars out of line it was Danica Patrick, slated to qualify eighth, taking the first run. "I didn't know what to expect," she said, but was pleased that her speed of 164.707 mph was faster than her best practice time. "That's always a good thing," she said. "Hopefully these guys will wait long enough so that the qualifying time is over, and I can qualify somewhere ahead of the back of the pack."

Danica's improved speed, and her observation that conditions seemed to be similar to those earlier in the day, was not enough to convince teams that the track was at its best.

But Castroneves stepped up to the plate and completed the second run of the evening. He had set the fastest practice lap of the day and was listed as 17th in the original qualifying order. When his best of two qualifying laps stopped the clocks at 15.3586 seconds (175.797 mph), the floodgates opened.

Teams that had pulled out of line scrambled to get back in line. Richmond's pit lane resembled rush hour at a Long Island Expressway construction zone as the teams staged five wide at the start finish line, scrambling to get into the single file qualifying line.

Brian Barnhart, President and COO of the Indy Racing League, was pleased with the track's actual condition. "The teams were a little concerned about what the track condition might be in terms of the rubber not being compatible with our Firestone Firehawks.

"Danica was first out and she ran faster than she had done in either of her earlier sessions, and then of course Helio and Sam set some numbers. You could tell we had done a good job of cleaning the race track, and the track was in great condition and the tires were outstanding. It ended up being a very exciting qualifying session," Barnhart declared.

The second row, Ryan Briscoe and Patrick Carpentier seemed to agree with Brian about the session coming out well.

"This is our best qualifying position this year," said third-fastest Briscoe. "It's good for the whole team to get some good results. Richmond is exciting. It's really busy, setup is so important. I'm enjoying it. When your car is working well, it's the kind of track that you can enjoy."

Patrick Carpentier, fourth fastest could not be happier. "The car is so good this weekend," he said after qualifying. "We are having a good time. We just didn't match up the gears like we wanted to, so we could have gone even quicker. Thanks to Toyota; they have been working with us and helping us to get better. I think above all, we have a great race car. It's going to be fun tomorrow night. This is my first time at Richmond, but we had a chance to test last week with Toyota."

"I also ran a rental car around here in the rain for a full day during our first test that was rained out," Patrick added, perhaps as a lesson on why you should never buy a used rental car. "I love these kinds of tracks, you've got to work your way around. It's a lot of fun. Things happen very fast on this oval, as fast as a video game, but you can't add more quarters."

Further back in the pack, Jimmy Kite, who has run here in Silver Crown qualified 13th, at 170.693 mph, the first speed not above Helio's now-extinguished 2004 lap record. "The car was great," Jimmy said after qualifying. "I would have never imagined you could run around this place wide open. Especially having run here in the Silver Crown car. But the things are a lot of fun. I can't wait until tomorrow night."

The open wheel ace, who is substituting for the injured Paul Dana in the Ethanol Hemelgarn Racing Dallara-Toyota, sees the team improving every time out. "Hemelgarn missed a whole season," he pointed out. "We're getting better each race. We're getting closer. Hopefully by the end of the year we'll be caught back up."

Reigning IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan, whose gear change precipitated the mass defection from the qualifying line had his evening end prematurely when he spun into the back stretch wall on his second warmup lap.

"The car was very loose," he said, "and it jumped out on me. There was nothing I could do to catch it. That's too bad, but we've been clean in qualifying for two and a half years now, so I guess this was bound to happen sooner or later. We'll just start the Team 7-Eleven car at the back of the field and put on a good show for the crowd. We've been there before and shown that we can find our way to the front."

The SunTrust Indy Challenge is scheduled to take the green flag at 7:45 PM EDT tomorrow evening. It will be broadcast live on ESPN2, starting at 7:30 PM EDT.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Jimmy Kite , Patrick Carpentier , Tony Kanaan , Ryan Briscoe , Paul Dana , Brian Barnhart , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick
Teams Team Penske