Castroneves Saves Best For Last
May 12, 2007 | 6:09 P.M. EST
In what turned to be a dramatic AAMCO Pole Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves set the best qualifying four-lap average with just three minutes remaining in the six hour qualifying session and then held off Tony Kanaan to steal pole position for the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 Saturday afternoon.
Using his second opportunity to overtake Dario Franchitti, who took the provisional pole position shortly before 1 p.m. (ET), Castroneves set a blistering average of 225.817 mph and took over the top spot for the 500-mile classic at approximately 5:52 p.m. (ET).
However, with three minutes remaining until the end of the session, it allowed Tony Kanaan to make his second attempt for the pole, providing a dramatic end to the session. Unfortunately for Kanaan, he was unable to match his fellow countrymen’s pace and fell short by just over two hundredths of a second with a four lap average of 225.757 mph, good enough only for second place.
As a result, Castroneves claimed his third AAMCO Transmissions Pole Award this season and the 19th pole position of his IndyCar Series career, extending his series record for career poles.
"As soon as I finished, I was extremely excited about it," Castroneves said. "I was holding because I knew Tony was right behind me. I didn't see the times that he was doing, but I knew he was very similar to Dario. No question, Andretti Green would have tried everything they can to keep that pole position. I don't think they like me much because this is the second time that we did this to them.
"It's always good to start in the front row. Obviously, it pays a little bit more or more starting in the No. 1 spot. I guess you guys have to answer about the format. I think it's incredible. I know it's incredible, and it gives everybody a chance. Like I was hearing about, it was only four minutes to go when we decided, when we took the track, and I guess even Tony was later than me. So it sounds great; the fans seem to enjoy it. And certainly it was a lot of nerves, but we made it."
It was a dramatic end to what was a historic day for the IndyCar Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While a new qualifying procedure was introduced for the 2005 running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Motorsports,” this was the first year that the format was in place because rain showers did not allow for four days of qualifying the last two seasons.
In this new format, each day of qualifying secures 11 sports, with today locking in spots 1-11, while the fourth and final day providing the traditional “Bump Day.”
While devastated to lose pole position after holding it for so much of the afternoon, Franchitti completes the front row with his third place finish in qualifying. As a result, Andretti Green Racing has two cars on the front row for the May 27 race.
That was just the beginning of AGR’s great day. The three other members of the team — Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti and co-team owner Michael Andretti — also were quick enough to ensure a top-11 starting spot for the event.
It wasn’t easy though.
While Patrick and the younger Andretti were not in position to fall outside the top-11, the only positions that were up for grabs on Saturday, Michael Andretti found himself on the bubble for a little over an hour. Four drivers — Scott Sharp, Jeff Simmons, Ed Carpenter and Darren Manning — took their shots, but none were able to bump Andretti, giving AGR a five-for-five day.
As a result, AGR became the first entrant to place five cars in the first 11 in Indianapolis 500 history.
On the opposite end of the spectrum on Saturday, it was a nearly disastrous qualifying effort for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Prior to today’s AAMCO Pole Day, 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon and teammate Scott Dixon had combined to lead each day of full field practice, yet they could only muster qualifying positions of sixth and fourth respectively.
Defending race winner Sam Hornish Jr. will start between the Ganassi teammates.
A little further behind, one of the surprises of the day came from Ryan Briscoe and his Luczo Dragon Racing team. The organization, which is a satellite operation for Penske Racing, ran a quick average of 224.410 mph early in the afternoon which was good enough for the seventh starting position.
"I think I went about as quick as I’ve been all week without a tow," said Briscoe after his run. "I think everyone’s been thrown off by the tows out there with really high speeds. Really, this is what it’s been like. It looks like where I had the advantage was over the four laps. We just kept the tires a bit cleaner and more consistent. I’m pretty happy at the moment. There’s still a long time to go today. The car was really solid. It’s the best I’ve had it so far."
Several drivers who set times today have not officially qualified for the 91st running the 500-mile classic. The list includes; Simmons, Carpenter, Sharp, Kosuke Matsuura, Buddy Rice, AJ Foyt IV and Manning. These drivers, along with many others who did not set official times on Saturday — like Vitor Meira and Sarah Fisher to name a few — can qualify for positions 12-22 tomorrow or for positions 23-33 next Saturday afternoon. Both sessions are scheduled to last from noon – 6 p.m. (ET).