Rookie Meira takes first pole in IRL finale with Chevrolet power. FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 14, 2002 -- Rookie Vitor Meira needed only one lap today at Texas Motor Speedway to win his first career IRL pole in Team Menard's Chevrolet Dallara....
Rookie Meira takes first pole in IRL finale with Chevrolet power.
FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 14, 2002 -- Rookie Vitor Meira needed only one lap today at Texas Motor Speedway to win his first career IRL pole in Team Menard's Chevrolet Dallara. Meira captured the pole in only his fourth IRL race, putting a Chevy Indy V8 on the point for the ninth time in 2002 and Team Menard on the pole for a record 24th time with a GM engine. Chevrolet engines powered the top three qualifiers for Sunday's Chevy 500, the season finale of the 15-race IRL series.
"I just stepped on it, and the team did all the work," said Meira, who circled the 1.5-mile high-banked oval at 221.594 mph, a track record for IRL cars since the introduction of the 3.5-liter engine formula. "We were going for two laps, but my first green flag lap was quick enough for the pole, so I stopped.
"Qualifying is all about horsepower," Meira noted, "and racing is about horsepower and making the right decisions. Team Menard did a great job; they've worked a month straight, without weekends or days off, working on my car -- chassis, gearbox, and Chevrolet engines. They did a great job."
Meira was the final driver to make a qualifying run. He knocked Al Unser Jr. off the pole after Unser, the second driver on the track, had posted a 221.025 mph speed.
"We knew he had a shot at it, and he ran good," said Unser, who withstood 23 challengers before Meira finally surpassed his qualifying speed. "Team Menard cars have always done good on these mile-and-a-half tracks.
"My run was more than I expected," Unser reported. "The car is running really well, and that was all she had. My engineer is putting a good piece underneath me and we're getting the most out of it. It's going to be a 220 mph traffic jam out there tomorrow."
All three of Kelley Racing's Chevrolet Dallaras are among the seven fastest qualifiers. Tony Renna is sixth at 219.177 mph and Scott Sharp seventh at 219.158 mph.
Title contenders Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves qualified third and 10th respectively. Hornish enjoys a 12-point advantage going into tomorrow's race. The two Chevrolet racers are the only drivers mathematically eligible for the $1 million championship.
"We ran faster than we thought we were going to," said Hornish. "I was trying to make a decision between fifth and sixth gear. I didn't think I had enough to pull sixth, but the Chevy engine surprised me and gave me more speed than I expected. I needed to shift to sixth, but after you start the run you don't want to shift because it knocks the speed down."
The weekend has been anything but predictable for the Pennzoil Panther team.
"We had a leaking fuel connector that caught the primary car on fire, so I had to go to the spare car," Hornish reported. "Then I had a close call on the track; I was drafting and caught a rear tire with my front wing -- that could have been a lot worse. The team has worked real hard all year and put us in a position to win a championship at the last race."
Indy 500 winner Castroneves will attempt to bring Penske Racing a championship in the legendary team's first full season in the IRL series.
"We're going to work as hard as we can," said Castroneves. "We are still looking for speed. Fifth gear was a little too tall. The pit told me go to fifth, but it wasn't the right decision. But it doesn't matter much where you start here."
Alex Barron, winner of the Nashville race, will start eighth in Blair Racing's Rayovac Chevrolet Dallara, his best grid position of the season on a 1.5-mile oval.
"My qualifying run was perfect!" Barron declared. "I think we got everything out of the car. Our qualifying setup's not much different from our race setup. We tried a totally different approach this weekend and I think it's paid off. We have a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. I see a lot of Chevy cars being up front at the end because this track is really hard on engines. The Chevys will be fast at the finish."
The Chevy 500 will start at 3 p.m. EDT (2 p.m. local time) on Sunday, Sept. 15. The 300-mile, 200-lap race will be televised live on ABC and broadcast live on the IMS Radio Network.