Castroneves Wins The Pole For The 500

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 22 2010

Helio Castroneves heads up the back stretch at Indy on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Indianapolis – Helio Castroneves will begin his quest for a historic fourth Indianapolis 500 victory from the pole position.

Castroneves, who won last year’s race, was simply dominating during Saturday’s all-new-for-2010 qualifying procedure.

He was fastest during the first segment of the qualifying session – which locked the fastest 24 cars on Pole Day into the field. And he was untouchable in the final, hour-and-a-half Fast Nine segment – in which the fastest nine drivers from segment one went for the pole.

It was Castroneves’ fourth pole at Indy. It was the 16th for Team Penske at Indy. It gives him great position to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as four time winners of the world’s biggest race.

It came thanks to a fast car and a gut feeling by Team Penske president Tim Cindric.

That decision was to send Castroneves out first in the Fast Nine and hope he would lay down a good number. Why first?

“We knocked it around internally as to when we go, what we do,” Cindric said of going out first – the right to do so they earned by being fastest in the first segment. “A lot of this place has to do with what you think, what you believe in, when you know you’re driver is ready to go. That’s more important than a few degrees of track temperature. I knew our driver was ready to go.”

Castroneves nodded along as Cindric said all that. “As Cindric said, I was ready. I didn’t want to keep waiting to see other times. I wanted to go for it.”

Starting second in next Sunday’s race will be Will Power, who is Castroneves’ teammate at Team Penske.

Filling out the first row is Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

In Row Two of the grid will be Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske, Alex Tagliani of FAZZT Race Team and Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi.

The third row and the final Fast Nine from Saturday, will be Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Racing, Ed Carpenter of Panther/Vision Racing and Hideki Mutoh of Newman Haas Racing.

On Sunday, the final nine spots in the field will be filled.

But gathering as much attention as names and times and row numbers on Pole Day 2010 was the new qualifying format.

The drivers who were part of the Fast Nine segment were virtually staggering as they slogged into the media center afterward.

Their message was: Great for the fans, a meat grinder for the teams and drivers.

“This,” Franchitti said, “was stressful.”

He called it walking a tightrope. “You go into Turn One, you’re backing into One, the rear is stepping out, you’re catching it and the whole things goes into a four-wheel slide. To do it once was kind of tough. To do it as many times as we did was crazy.”

Castroneves went out first in the Fast Nine portion and put up an incredible four-lap average speed of 227.970 mph. His fast lap was well over 228 mph. The other eight drivers with pole hopes knew that the battle after that would likely be for second spot on the grid.

“Those were big numbers,” Franchitti said. “When I saw those number I thought what do they have that we don’t.”

But those numbers didn’t keep several of the drivers from taking multiple shots at Castroneves.

Franchitti took four shots at the pole in the final hour and a half. The final of those four began just seconds before the gun sounded ending the day.

“We went out, laid a lap down,” he said. “We knew we could make it better. Went again. That was our best run. Then we went again and we just overstepped our boundary. The car was not working right.”

Dixon said his team urged him to take multiple shots at Castroneves.

Power said his team was telling him not to go.

“The conversation (withPenske team boss Tim Cindric) is, ‘I’m not going to stop you from going out, but the risk is you’ll be 25th if you crash. But it’s your decision.’ I’m like, oh man,” Power said.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 22 2010
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