Castroneves' velocity wins Indy 500 pole

Posted: Monday, May 12, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS Helio Castroneves wiped away tears of joy Sunday after he reached yet another goal at the Indianapolis 500.

The two-time defending winner won the pole for the May 25 race, a day after his 28th birthday. In doing so, he knocked best friend Tony Kanaan off the top spot.

Castroneves didn't know whether to laugh about paying back his Brazilian countryman for smearing him with birthday cake the night before or cry about his latest victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So he did both.

I didn't mean to upset his moment, but I think that in the race we're going to have some fun together,'' Castroneves said.

The happiness came after he and his Team Penske crew waited out a cold track and winds gusting over 30 mph to try to find the right moment to challenge the 2 1/2-mile Indy oval.

The driver called Spiderman'' because of his fence-climbing celebrations after race wins waited through most of the six-hour pole qualifying session before posting his four-lap, 10-mile run of 231.725 mph.

In the meantime, Robby Gordon set the target at 230.205 during an early flurry of qualifiers. After more practice, Kanaan raised the bar to 231.735 using the same set-up as Gordon.

Gordon, a NASCAR regular who will drive in both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 Winston Cup race on May 25, was disappointed by his effort.

I thought we could run 231s. There was a cross wind and I got a big push coming off Turn 2 on my warmup and I was just a little too conservative going into that first lap,'' said Gordon, recruited two weeks ago to drive for Andretti Green in place of injured Dario Franchitti. Gordon's regular ride in NASCAR is with Richard Childress Racing.

Gordon's first lap was 228.829, considerably slower than the rest of his run.

(Tony) wasn't very good this morning and came back and put our set-up on (his car) and went out and practiced and there you go,'' Gordon said. We've got a great race team here and we share every bit of information.''

Kanaan, who slid through oil from another car and hit the wall while leading at Indy a year ago as a rookie, drove Sunday with a heavy black brace on his left forearm and the discomfort of a cut on the back of his upper right thigh that took 20 stitches to close. Those were reminders of a hard crash last month during a race in Japan which nearly cost him a second shot at the 500.

Because of the unpredictable wind, Kanaan made many in-car adjustments during his qualifying run.

Still, he was able to post a speed that had Castroneves and the Penske brain trust of owner Roger Penske and team president Tim Cindric guessing.

Tony was really strong and basically I knew he'd be very hard to beat and that's why I said, Well, let's take a chance and see how the car's going to be.'

Team Penske was working on the car all day and I saw the end of the tunnel,'' Castroneves added. If you want to want to take a chance, this is the place to take a chance. I guess we learned from last year.''

Castroneves was among the fastest in practice last May, but track conditions changed during qualifying and he wound up starting the race 13th.

Not this time.

With tears running down his cheeks after giving Penske a record 12th pole to go with his record 12 Indy wins, Castroneves said, I always tell everybody, Don't give up guys. Dream, because ... dreams come true.'

Castroneves, Kanaan and Gordon swept the front row starting spots as they led 24 qualifiers in the rain-delayed first-round of time trials. The rest of the 33-car field will be filled in the final round of qualifying next Sunday.

Rookies Scott Dixon of New Zealand and England's Dan Wheldon, among the fastest drivers since practice opened last Sunday, were fifth and sixth at 230.099 and 229.958, respectively.

They were followed by 1999 Indy winner Kenny Brack at 229.509, rookies Tora Takagi of Japan at 229.358 and Tony Renna at 228.765.

Former Indy pole-winner Scott Sharp shook off a crash in morning practice to qualify his backup car five minutes from the end of the session at 228.755.

Other qualifiers Sunday included Castroneves Penske teammate Gil de Ferran, two-time defending IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr., two-time Indy winner Al Unser Jr. and owner-driver Michael Andretti owner of the cars driven by Kanaan, Gordon and Wheldon.

Former Indy pole-winner Greg Ray, 1996 race winner Buddy Lazier and Sarah Fisher, the only woman entered, also completed qualifying runs, as did Indy veterans Robbie Buhl, Tomas Scheckter and Jaques Lazier and rookies Roger Yasukawa, Shinji Nakano, Buddy Rice and A.J. Foyt IV, the 18-year-old grandson of the four-time Indy winner.



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