Chevy Shows Power In Qualifying
March 5, 2005 | 1:59 P.M. EST
Tomas Scheckter captured the pole with a fast lap of 24.8518 seconds, 215.115 mph around the banked 1.5-mile oval, while rookie teammate Tomas Enge nailed down the third starting position.
“It’s a massive relief,” said Schecker after stepping out of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther. “There is still a lot to go this weekend, but so far, so good. With so much uncertainty with the possible leaving of Chevrolet at the end of the year, it’s been giving everybody negative thoughts. But Chevrolet has fought back.
“It’s great to come to the track and know you’ve got a package like this,” added Scheckter. “I just want to do the best for these guys – they’ve done a good job for me.”
After winning two poles for Target Chip Ganassi in 2003 – and three for Red Bull Cheever Racing in 2002 – Scheckter’s best qualifying effort in 2004 was third at Miami. He ended the year with seven straight races starting outside the top 10.
“Last year, in a lot of races we qualified outside the top 10 but still thought we could win,” Scheckter said. “Now, qualifying near the front, will make our job easier. Now, we’ve got to concentrate on the basis – having good pit stops – because it’s so easy to throw away a race when you’ve got an advantage. I’m so comfortable right now, I’ve been flat out here since we rolled off the truck.”
Vitor Meira spoiled an all-Chevrolet front row, running a lap of 214.317 mph in the Rahal Letterman Menards John Manville Honda Panoz to join Scheckter on the front row.
Enge, set for to begin his rookie year in the No. 2 RockStar Chevrolet fielded by Panther racing, rolls off third after qualifying at 214.152 mph.
“It is important to get the year off to a good start, but I’ve still got a lot to learn to get into the rhythm of the front-running guys to be part of their league,” said the 28-year-old native of the Czech Republic. “Last year, when I started in the back in my two races at Texas and Fontana, but I did what I could to get better. Everybody at Chevrolet has been working hard, concentrating all their effort that they did last year on six cars to our two cars.”
Enge will be joined by 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice on row two in the Rahal Letterman Argent/Pioneer Honda Panoz, with Hondas sweeping the third row with Dario Franchitti and Scott Sharp.
Toyota’s best was turned in by Helio Castroneves, who had a run of 213,313 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara to start seventh. He starts alongside teammate Sam Hornish, the defending Toyota Indy 300 winner.
“It’s good, because everybody’s been working extremely hard,” said Castroneves, who was beaten out by Hornish in a side-by-side finish here last year. “Last year was kind of disappointing, but Toyota has tried everything they can to make it happen. And, I think 2005 is the year that they’re going to prove they can make it happen.”
Ryan Briscoe, set to debut in the third Target Chip Ganassi Toyota Panoz, brushed the wall in morning practice. While he missed qualifying, he is slated to start 22nd on Sunday.