Record Run For Castroneves
June 25, 2004 | 9:38 A.M. EST
Castroneves, in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, won the MBNA Pole Award for the June 26 twilight SunTrust Indy Challenge with a fast lap of 171.202 mph on the high-banked asphalt oval – the shortest on the IndyCar Series circuit.
“Things always change at this place, but I’m very comfortable right now,” said Castroneves, who secured his fifth IndyCar Series pole and the first since Fontana, Calif., in September 2003. “The Marlboro Team Penske car seems to be responding very well. When you’re car is handling like that, it makes putting it on the front row very easy.”
Half the field broke Gil de Ferran’s track record of 168.705 mph, set in qualifying in 2002, including Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice. He will make his third consecutive front-row start after driving the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Racing Pioneer/Argent Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone to a fast lap of 170.782 mph.
Castroneves was the 15th qualifier and bumped Rice, who went out sixth, from the pole.
“It’s the best we could get from the car,” said Castroneves, who was second quick to teammate Sam Hornish Jr. (171.093) in the day’s lone practice session because of a rain delay of almost 3½ hours.
Castroneves, who has four top-10 finishes and is third in points, finished second to pole sitter Scott Dixon in the 2003 SunTrust Indy Challenge.
“I’m extremely happy,” he said. “The guys did an excellent job.”
Rice, who also has four top-10 finishes, is happy with the turnaround from the team’s effort at Phoenix in March -- the previous short track race on the schedule.
“We struggled a little bit at Phoenix,” said Rice, who won the pole but finished seventh. “We had an excellent test day at Milwaukee (June 16), and now we’ve unloaded quite well and are on the front row again. We just need to get one spot better.”
Panther Racing also had a strong qualifying. IndyCar Series rookie Mark Taylor will start a career-best third (170.683 mph) in the No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone and Tomas Scheckter fifth.
Taylor went out eighth and bumped Hornish from the front row before Castroneves re-arranged the order.
“It’s nice to qualify third because all the guys have been working hard and they deserve this,” said Taylor, whose qualifying speed was 3 mph faster than his best practice lap. “But, at the same time, we all know the important thing is what takes place (June 26), and finishing the race up front where we started.
“We’ve been quick all year and run into some bad luck. Running in the top five hasn’t done us any good if we don’t finish. I want to prove that the Menards/Johns Manville team is one of the best out there, and the first step is completing the race at the front. I know I can do it, and everybody on this team knows I can do it.”
Scheckter had a fast lap of 170.592 mph in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. He gained 2 mph from his first green flag lap.
“I did a flat out lap, so I don’t think there’s much more I can get out of the car,” he said.
Hornish, who won the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, will start fourth (170.683 mph).
“I thought we had a good shot at the pole, but, unfortunately, with the qualifying setup we ran that’s all we had,” said Hornish, who won the SunTrust Indy Challenge in 2002. “We’re still starting in the top five, and this is a race you can win from anywhere. Richmond is a fun, demanding track, and I think we’ve got a good car.”
Dixon will start sixth in the No. 1 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone after a fast lap of 170.405 mph.
“We just didn’t quite have enough,” the 2003 IndyCar Series champion said. “If we had had a bit more practice time I know we would have made more improvements, but there just wasn’t enough track time because of the weather. That’s especially important with these two-day events. I didn’t really get a clean lap during practice today so the Target team couldn’t really get an accurate read on how good the car might be.”