IRL: Helio Castroneves on pole for Indy 500

By Andy Darley

CalendarSunday, May 10th, 2009

 
 

Barely a month ago, Helio Castroneves was sitting in a Florida courtroom on tax evasion charges, staring at a possible prison sentence and the ruin of his career. Now he sits on pole for the 93rd Indianapolis 500.

“Just to be here right now is awesome,” he said. “I have to say that without this crowd here, without the support of the fans, there was no way I could have gotten through what I did.”

On a windy day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Brazilian set an average speed of 224.864mph across his four qualifying laps to knock Team Penske colleague Ryan Briscoe off the top spot.

Briscoe responded by exercising his right to withdraw his previous speed and try again – but he ended up running slightly slower at 224.083mph and had to settle for second, ahead of Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti.

The Scotsman, trying to win the Indy 500 for the second time in three years, sealed his position as the third driver on the front row for the race with a speed of 224.010mph.

He said: “Im a little sorry we didn’t get the pole, but we are still on the front row. We made the best of what we had – everybody here wants to beat Penske, but there are more and more teams coming out. The competition level is getting tougher and tougher – it’s great for the fans.

“It was a pretty nerve-wracking – we were really concerned somebody would knock us off the front row. It was a long day. It was fantastic being back and driving the car around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It puts a smile on my face every time.”

The second row will be made up of young American Graham Rahal, defending race and series champion Scott Dixon, and Andretti Green Racing’s Tony Kanaan.

Kanaan, who has led every Indy 500 he has competed in without ever winning, qualified in a car made up of bits of his own and bits of colleague Hideki Mutoh’s spare machine.

Row three is headed by the surprising Mario Moraes for KVM, who outpaced Marco Andretti and Will Power – as well as his veteran team-mate Paul Tracy, whose much-hyped return to Indianapolis did not result in a place in the top 11.

Finally, places 10 and 11 were taken by Danica Patrick in her new black and orange Boost-sponsored car and Britain’s Alex Lloyd, who scored a minor surprise in the bright pink #99 HER energy drink machine by condemning several more illustrious names to at least a second day of qualifying.

Lloyd is running as a one-off entry for his former Indy Lights team boss Sam Schmidt, who said: “For somebody that doesn’t have a full-time ride and isn’t doing this week-in, week-out, it was a pretty impressive effort.

“For me personally, this is as excited as I’ve been in my years as a car owner at this level, and now I can’t wait for race day.”

Lloyd himself added: “Qualifying felt really good to me. We could have taken more downforce off and picked up more speed. I really just wanted to get in today, that was my main thing. I want to work on the race from now on.”

Justin Wilson also made a bid to grab a top-11 place, but fell just short. He said: “I think we improved the car slightly, plus the gusts died down so it wasn’t quite as strong, so I was a lot happier. That was the fastest we’ve run pretty much all month so far, so I was hoping we could sneak in but just, not quite. Two-tenths of a mile an hour off.

“Right now I think we’re in good shape, and we should hopefully make it through tomorrow since we only just missed out the top 11. But we want to make the car better, you know. If we can find this one item, we have this one problem, in particular, if we can fix that, I think that we can trim more and go faster and try and go for that 12th slot.”

Indy 500 qualifying positions

After Pole Day

Row Inside Middle Outside
1 Flag of Brazil Hélio Castroneves
Team Penske
Flag of Australia Ryan Briscoe
Team Penske
Flag of Great Britain Dario Franchitti
Target Chip Ganassi Racing
2 Flag of the USA Graham Rahal
Newman/Haas/Lanigan
Flag of New Zealand Scott Dixon
Target Chip Ganassi Racing
Flag of Brazil Tony Kanaan
Andretti Green Racing
3 Flag of Brazil Mario Moraes
KV Racing Technology
Flag of the USA Marco Andretti
Andretti Green Racing
Flag of Australia Will Power
Penske Racing
4 Flag of the USA Danica Patrick
Andretti Green Racing
Flag of Great Britain Alex Lloyd
Sam Schmidt / Ganassi

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