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Castroneves Saves Best for Last

Castroneves Saves Best for Last

Castroneves Saves Best for Last
RacingOne Staff

This is why the IndyCar Series changed the qualifying format for the Indianapolis 500.

In what turned to be a dramatic AAMCO Pole Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 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.

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 5:57 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.

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 — set quick enough laps to ensure a top-11 starting spot.

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.

On the opposite end of the spectrum on Saturday, it was a nearly disastrous qualifying effort for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Leading into 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.

Due to the unique qualifying format used for the “Month of May,” only 11 starting positions were secured today. As a result, 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 — 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.

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Sharp Leads Sunday's Qualified List
RacingOne Staff

Spots 12-22 for the 91st Indianapolis 500 were up for grabs Sunday afternoon and Rahal Letterman Racing’s Scott Sharp led the group of drivers that qualified for the Memorial Day classic.

With a four-lap average of 223.875 mph, Sharp not only locked his starting position but also set the fast mark for the afternoon.

Teammate Jeff Simmons also earned his starting berth for the fifth race of the 2007 IndyCar Series schedule by setting the second-best time of the afternoon with a 223.693 mph average.

Other drivers who secured their spot for the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" include Ed Carpenter, Darren Manning, Buddy Rice, Kosuke Matsuura, AJ Foyt IV, Vitor Meira, Davey Hamilton and Sarah Fisher — who becomes the second woman to qualify for the May 27 race.

At the bottom of the list, Buddy Lazier snatched the final qualified position of the day from Jon Herb with approximately three minutes remaining in the six hour session, setting a four-lap average of 221.380 mph.

Brother Jacques Lazier went out shortly afterwards, but waved off his run as it became apparent he did not have the pace to challenge for the 22nd position.

"He’s older, he needed that little extra break," joked Jacques about how his waving off ensured his brother qualified on Sunday. "Today we made some huge gains, I am very proud of my team. We got a little aggressive there, went out there and I came into Turn 1 on the second lap and it kinda went into a lazy slide, then you are chasing it up into the wall, and the run is over at that point."

Along with Lazier and Herb, those who did tried but did not make the Indianapolis 500 field on Sunday included Marty Roth and Al Unser Jr. Unser, a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, was looking to qualify for his 19th Indy 500 field.

Teams and drivers will get two more opportunities to make the field for the 91st Indianapolis 500 next weekend, with qualifying positions 23-33 available on Saturday while “Bump Day” takes place on Sunday. On Sunday, drivers have the opportunity to “bump” the slowest drivers that are locked into the field, regardless of what their starting position is. The “bumped” entrant is removed from the field, but has the opportunity to bump its way back into the starting field as time allows.

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Danica Leads Wednesday Practice
RacingOne Report

Danica Patrick paced the opening day of the second week of practice for the 91st Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Patrick, who will start eighth in the race, lapped the famed 2.5-mile oval in 40.6891 seconds, 221.189 mph as most of the 22 qualified drivers worked on race setups. Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon was second fastest with a lap of 220.556 mph while Team Penske's Sam Hornish Jr. was third.

"I would say coming away from this day, I'm the happiest that I've been so far this month," Patrick said. "The most predictable car, very consistent. It felt like a race car. It felt like it was good in and out of traffic. So I'm the happiest coming away from today than any other day."

Patrick's Andretti Green Racing teammates Marco Andretti and Dario Franchitti rounded out the top five.

Among the drivers who will compete for the final 11 starting positions on May 19-20, Playa Del Racing's Jaques Lazier was fastest with a lap of 217.159.

Three drivers began practicing for the first time this month. Jimmy Kite, a five-time starter in the Indianapolis 500, had a fast lap of 204.193 mph but was involved in the only incident of the day when his No. 18 PDM entry made contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 on his 19th lap. Kite was checked and released at the Clarian Emergency Medical Center.

"I’m fine. I wasn’t going fast enough to hit anything that hard," said Kite. "We were just shaking the car down. I don’t know if something broke, or what. I was only going 206 (mph) going into the corner. It shouldn’t have been loose, and it wasn’t the corner before. We’ll get it back. We’ll look at it. It didn’t look like we hurt it that bad. I’m sure Paul (Diatlovich) isn’t happy right now. We’ll find out what’s wrong with it and get it back out. We have one car here. We want everyone with Z-line and PDM to be happy, and we will. It’s a setback. Fortunately, we didn’t write a car off. We’ll lose the rest of the day trying to get the car back together. The big deal is we have to find out why it did that. It had no hint of doing that the corner before or even entering Turn 1.”

PJ Jones, a two-time starter and son of 1963 winner Parnelli Jones, and Roger Yasukawa, a four-time starter, also turned their first laps of the month. Rookie Phil Giebler returned to the track for the first time since completing Rookie Orientation on May 8.

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Veteran driver Stephan Gregoire, 38, crashed into the wall and broke his back Thursday during practice for the Indianapolis 500 but is expected to be released from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis today.

An MRI exam showed a fracture of the third thoracic vertebra, according to an Indy Racing League official. ...

Part-time NASCAR driver John Andretti, 44, will try to qualify this weekend for the May 27 Indy 500. The competition would be his first in the IRL, which began two years after his last appearance in an Indy car in 1994.

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Unser and another Andretti join Indy 500 field
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- An Unser and another Andretti are in the field for the 91st Indianapolis 500 -- naturally.

Except this isn't the heyday of open-wheel racing, when those two families were the biggest names in the sport and their inclusion in the big race was all but a foregone conclusion.

This time, Al Unser Jr. and John Andretti had to drive other people's backup cars and put them into the lineup on the second weekend of qualifying.

Unser, 45 and a recovering alcoholic, climbed into A.J. Foyt's second car last week and had one qualifying run bumped out of the tentative lineup last Sunday. He came back Saturday, the third of four days of time trials for the May 27 race, to post a four-lap, 10-mile run of 220.876 mph that assured him of starting his 19th 500.

"The run was pretty good," Unser said, smiling. "I'm a tenth (of a second) slower than I was last Sunday, but the conditions were a little bit worse today, with lots of wind in turn one and real loose (conditions) in turn two."

His first three laps were very consistent, between 220.2 and 220.8. But the two-time Indy winner's final lap jumped to 221.6.

"The last lap, I let it loose, opened it up and ran a good lap," Unser said. "I was happy because we were getting faster every lap and I'm just glad it's in. I was a little careful with it because I could go out there and run a 225 and start 24th. We're in back, so I was a little careful with it in the wind."

Andretti, who has spent the past 13 years racing in NASCAR, didn't get his ride in the third Panther Racing car until earlier this week. With some help in setting up the car from teammate Vitor Meira -- who is already in the field with Kosuke Matsuura, the third Panther driver -- Andretti was even stronger. He turned an average of 221.756 to qualify for his eighth Indy start and first since 1994.

The two veteran racers were among 10 drivers who qualified Saturday, leaving one more position to fill in the 33-car Indy lineup today, the final day of time trials.

Once the field is full, any non-qualified cars will still have a chance to bump out the slowest qualifiers until the end Sunday's session.

Other third-day qualifiers included Roger Yasukawa at 222.654, Alex Barron at 220.471, Jon Herb at 220.108, Jaques Lazier at 219.409, rookie Milka Duno at 219.228 -- joining Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher in the lineup, Marty Roth at 218.922, Roberto Moreno at 216.229 and Jimmy Kite at 214.528.

Drivers hoping to get into the field today include Torrance's P.J. Jones, son of 1963 Indy winner Parnelli Jones, and Richie Hearn, who was signed to drive for Hemelgarn/Racing Professionals on Saturday and did not make it onto the track. Larry Foyt, A.J.'s son, took his physical Saturday and said he might get into his father's third car today.

Jones struggled to get his car up to speed Saturday, with a best speed of 217.449 miles per hour in his No. 40 Direct Diversified Team Leader Special Dallara/Honda. He was 31st of the 32 drivers who were on the track.

"We made good gains Friday and everything seemed to be going great," Jones said. "Then, all of the sudden, we fell off of the chart. The team thinks we have a mechanical problem.

"I don't think I could get the car up to 209 miles per hour right now. There's a funny feeling in the car. Something isn't quite right. We're looking at all of the shocks. Hopefully we'll find the issue. There is a physical, mechanical problem."

Jones added the team will continue to work on the car to prepare it for his qualifying run.

"If we find the problem, I don't think it will be an issue," he said. "The first few days I was able to go flat out. Right now I can't run flat through Turn 2. Something isn't right. I've been around here enough to know when the car is right and when it's not. Thank God I have that experience to fall back on. We've made so many changes and not one of them has worked."

After an early flurry of qualifying during Saturday's six-hour qualifying session, the track was open for practice most of the afternoon. Finally, with about 45 minutes remaining, Barron, Lazier and Herb, who waved off an attempt at over 218 earlier in the day, went out one after the other.

Rookie Phil Giebler followed and ran three laps at more than 221 before he lost control and slammed hard into the wall on his fourth and final qualifying lap. He was not injured, but the team has no backup car available.

Moreno, who just got his ride on Friday, and Kite decided to take what they could get, knowing they could try again today if they get bumped by faster cars.

Each car is allowed up to three completed qualifying runs on each day of time trials. Each of the first two speeds must be withdrawn if a driver chooses to try again.

Unser joined Foyt's full-time driver Darren Manning, one of 22 first-week qualifiers, in the lineup. Foyt, who drove to four Indy wins and was owner of another winning car, is celebrating his 50th year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"With A.J. Foyt working on my car, we're having a lot of fun," Unser said. "Getting to talking to him and work with him is something I really am enjoying."

The 44-year-old Andretti, the first of several drivers to run both the Indy 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, has been hoping to get back to Indy in May since that day in 1994. But it didn't take him long to get back into the swing of things on the tough 2.5-mile oval.

"It's one thing to want to do it, but it's another thing to get all the pieces to come together," said Andretti, who joins cousins Michael and Marco in the field.

"Vitor set up the car and made it very easy for me," he added. "This team is so well-prepared. They just said, 'Here's your car. Tell us what you need. The car's right there.' It's such a solid starting point."

Asked how tough it is to be back in an IndyCar after such a long absence, Andretti shrugged and said, "I've been racing. It's not like I've been sitting idle for 13 years and just decided to come back racing. It's just learning the cars, just learning everything in the cockpit to be comfortable."

Unser, who won here in 1992 and 1994, said Andretti will do just fine on race day.

"I think he's going to enjoy it," Unser said. "The formula of the cars we drive now is very different. They do handle better than the cars that we ran back in the '90s. You can feel these cars and feel when they're going off, and they're safer in every aspect.

"For John, he's going to have a good time out there and enjoy himself."

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