Qualifying at the Texas Motor Speedway mirrored the big picture of the season so far: Scott Dixon came out on top, and only Helio Castroneves was close to challenging him.
The New Zealander, who leads the championship from Castroneves, took pole for the Bombardier Learjet 550k with a speed of 214.878mph.
The Brazilian was just 0.0462s behind on cumulative time across the four qualifying laps, with Ryan Briscoe and Hideki Mutoh some way back in third and fourth.
Dixon’s team-mate Dan Wheldon qualified 11th in the Target Chip Ganassi Racing spare car after wrecking his main car and damaging his ankle in a crash during practice.
He praised his team for their work in setting up the new car and said his foot was no worse than sore: “It’s just the right side of it, it smashed against the tub. It’s fine; I just can’t put much weight on it. That was probably the biggest hit I’ve had – the first part of it hurt the most, I wasn’t expecting it. The Polaroid car was really strong. It’s disappointing.”
Another driver whose crew faced a battle to set their car up properly was Darren Manning at A.J. Foyt Enterprises, who qualified 17th. He said: “We lost a fuel pump yesterday, so we didn’t get any practice to speak of, and today we got the car handling right, but we missed slightly on the gears, so the first two laps hurt our overall speed.”
Like most drivers, he is expecting the race to be one long sprint that will reward good set-ups and raw speed over starting position. He said: “This is one race where it really doesn’t matter where you qualify. I think we have a good car for the race so I’m happy about that.”
The Newman/Haas/Lanigan pairing of Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson had a disappointing qualifying session in their team’s Texas Motor Speedway debut, ending up 18th and 23rd respectively.
Wilson said: “We were flat out and trying to run the line of least resistance. I’m a little bit disappointed; I was hoping the McDonald’s car would be a little bit quicker than that but we have proven on many occasions that we are much better in the race than we are in qualifying so hopefully we will do better tomorrow.”
He said he could well understand why CART had cancelled a race there because the drivers were suffering from vertigo and dizziness while running at 240mph on the 24 degree banking: “I can’t imagine going 20 mph faster than what we’re doing now. It’s already crazy fast.
“I can understand why they were passing out. You can definitely feel the strains and the G-forces compressing in. It’s different to the other tracks we’ve raced on, where the Gs are lateral. You start to feel the effect.”
Dixon hadn’t expected to run so strongly after the car had dipped in performance during practice: “It’s shocking, to be honest. I’m very happy we came away with the pole, especially with how hard the Target team works, but I’m still shocked. I think tomorrow is going to be straight-out speed, especially when it comes down to the final 40 or 50 laps.”
Castroneves rued the missed opportunity: “We had one lap that was fast, but we needed four laps and unfortunately we weren’t able to do that. I wish we could go back to the old way we used to qualify, but it is what it is.”
Roth Racing’s decision to team up with John Andretti looks increasingly sound – even if benching Jay Howard to make room for him still doesn’t – as the veteran qualified a career-best seventh. He said: “We’ve been fast since we’ve unloaded at Texas. I’m really proud of the team’s hard work.”
Qualifying results for the Bombardier Learjet 550k
|1.||Scott Dixon||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||214.878mph|
|2.||Helio Castroneves||Team Penske||214.777mph|
|3.||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||213.927mph|
|4.||Hideki Mutoh||Andretti Green Racing||213.485mph|
|5.||Danica Patrick||Andretti Green Racing||213.238mph|
|6.||Tomas Scheckter||Luczo Dragon Racing||213.212mph|
|7.||John Andretti||Roth Racing||212.844mph|
|8.||Will Power||KV Racing Technology||212.595mph|
|9.||Vitor Meira||Panther Racing||212.501mph|
|10.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Rahal Letterman Racing||212.482mph|
|11.||Dan Wheldon||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||212.474mph|
|12.||Ed Carpenter||Vision Racing||212.247mph|
|13.||Tony Kanaan||Andretti Green Racing||212.152mph|
|14.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Green Racing||211.974mph|
|15.||AJ Foyt IV||Vision Racing||211.622mph|
|16.||Oriol Servia||KV Racing Technology||211.333mph|
|17.||Darren Manning||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||211.277mph|
|18.||Graham Rahal||Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing||211.128mph|
|19.||Marty Roth||Roth Racing||211.122mph|
|20.||Enrique Bernoldi||Conquest Racing||210.731mph|
|21.||Jaime Camara||Conquest Racing||210.582mph|
|22.||Mario Moraes||Dale Coyne Racing||210.254mph|
|23.||Justin Wilson||Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing||210.160mph|
|24.||Mario Dominguez||Pacific Coast Motorsports||210.059mph|
|25.||Buddy Rice||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||209.622mph|
|26.||Bruno Junqueira||Dale Coyne Racing||209.572mph|
|27.||Milka Duno||Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||209.420mph|
|28.||EJ Viso||HVM Racing||209.313mph|