IRL: Who will get the coveted Indy Pole

IRL: Who will get the coveted Indy Pole

Counting for eight victories between them, five former winners of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race are here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway working up speed for the second most important day of the meeting: MBNA Pole Day on Saturday will be a...

Counting for eight victories between them, five former winners of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race are here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway working up speed for the second most important day of the meeting: MBNA Pole Day on Saturday will be a defining moment for one driver and no one else.

Scoring tower.
Photo by McQueeney.
Can former Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002), Al Unser Jr. (1992, 1994), Arie Luyendyk (1990, 1997), Kenny Brack (1999) or Buddy Lazier (1996) be considered true contenders on Pole Day?

Of that quintet of Borg Warner Trophy winners only Brack, driving the #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda has poked his way to the front of the time sheets during the first week of practice, leading the Wednesday session and staying in the top ten.

The Swede admits he doesn't know what, if anything, running quickly in practice really means, because here at Indy, the draft and weather changes do more to dictate lap times than most anything else.

Castroneves and teammate Gil de Ferran have been charged with setting up Dallara and Panoz G Force chassis team owner Roger Penske purchased for evaluation prior to Race #3 on the IndyCar Series schedule at Twin Ring Motegi last month. While Marlboro Team Penske won't divulge the chassis they'll be using on Pole Day until Friday morning, the duo has been quick in both.

It's a tough call for Team Penske president Tim Cindric to make. Both Penske drivers have been speedy in either chassis with Toyota engines powering them, but don't allude to a preference of one over the other. To do so, of course, would scotch the suspense of the team's Friday morning press conference.

Helio Castroneves.
Photo by Anne Proffit.

Arie Luyendyk is making his 18th Indianapolis 500 start and working with engineer Tim Wardrop once again during the month of May. This duo operates under the Mo Nunn Racing banner with Luyendyk piloting a #20 Meijer Panoz G Force/Toyota.

While Arie hasn't been in the cockpit since May of last year, he's been spending plenty of time coaching son Arie Jr. who competes in the Infiniti Pro Series for a second season. The 49-year-old Luyendyk hasn't been at the head of the sheets since practice opened and probably can't be considered a candidate for MBNA Pole Day honors, but you never know what'll happen once the green flag drops.

One of the more consistent drivers on the IndyCar Series circuit this year, Felipe Giaffone - in his second season with Mo Nunn Racing - has been busy sorting the #21 Hollywood Panoz G Force/Toyota in preparation for Saturday's festival of speed. Giaffone hasn't garnered a MBNA pole yet this season, but he started on the front row at the tricky Phoenix International mile oval, no easy feat.

Al Unser Jr., driving the #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota out of the Kelley Racing stables is another wild card in the Pole Day race. Unser's qualifying stature has never been great but he's always been a threat on any Indy Racing League race day. Using the weeks of practice at the Brickyard to set up his car for the 500-mile marathon, Al Unser Jr. will be there at the close if things go his way. But take pole position? Don't bet the bank.

Working with the Chevrolet engine that brought him success in the past, 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier has been one of the brighter spots of the month for GM's largest division. In Hemelgarn Racing's #91 Victory Brands/Delta Faucets/Life Fitness Dallara/Chevy, Lazier has been searching for speed to get to the front of the pack.

Jaques Lazier.
Photo by McQueeney.
Brother Jaques Lazier is the quickest Chevrolet driver of the month thus far turning 39.4044 seconds (228.401mph) in the #2 Menards Dallara/Chevy on Thursday and admitting the team's struggles this season have been chassis issues. Now comfortable in his car, Jaques could be a good bet for the first three rows, if not pole position.

Michael Andretti is looking extremely smart these days for choosing Dan Wheldon of the United Kingdom to take over for him after Andretti retires on race day, May 25th. Wheldon substituted for injured Dario Franchitti at Twin Ring Motegi on April 13th and gained a 5th place starting spot, finishing 7th. Not bad for his first competition with Andretti Green Racing.

Here at the Brickyard, Wheldon's been scorching the track, setting quick time on Tuesday and Thursday, circulating within the top five when he wasn't on top of the charts. The 24-year-old Brit is cool as can be in the seat and looks like one of the few rookies who can contend for top slot in a field of 33, driving his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda.

Tony Kanaan, despite still recovering from his busted wrist - and serrated buttocks - incurred in Japan must be a contender. Wearing a brace on his left hand, wrist and forearm and limping from the damage to his right cheek, the likeable Brazilian has used his practice days to build up speed, particularly on Thursday. Kanaan was displeased to miss the first two days of practice on the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval, but has made up for his lack of time with bursts of speed in the #11 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda.

Michael Andretti hasn't spent much time on the track this week in preparation for MBNA Pole Day. Happy with the balance and consistency on his #7 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda after placing fifth on Tuesday, team owner Andretti told driver Andretti to park it until Thursday, when the man who has led more Indy 500 laps than any other non-winner (398 and counting) bedded in a new Honda engine.

Gil de Ferran appears fully recovered from his contretemps with Andretti at Phoenix International Raceway in March. Bouncing around like his usual self, the Professor has been at the top of the speed charts, particularly in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Panoz G Force that he's shaking down along with teammate Castroneves.

Tomas Scheckter.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
To discount Team Target's two 22-year-old drivers, Scott Dixon and Tomas Scheckter would be foolish, as both have the speed and knowledge to gain pole position this Saturday. Of the two, Dixon's got a luckier car number as he's driving the #9 Panoz G Force/Toyota, winner of three Indy Racing contests with three different drivers over the past three years.

A car bearing #10 has never won the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, but Scheckter, far more settled and secure than he was in his rookie season is looking to break that drought this May. After setting quick lap in eight of his 15 IndyCar Series races, F1 titleholder Jody Scheckter's son Tomas looks quick this May. Team Target has admitted they haven't fully trimmed their car as of yet.

The weather forecasts for MBNA Pole Day on Saturday indicate possibilities of thundershowers, just what the drivers don't want to hear. But they'll be out there bright and early for practice, each waiting for Tom Carnegie, the voice of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race to utter those immortal words: "And he's on it!"

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Arie Luyendyk , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jaques Lazier  , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Jody Scheckter , Roger Penske , Jim Beam , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske