Briscoe Wins Pole At Milwaukee Mile

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 30 2009

By John Sturbin |Senior Writer

Ryan Briscoe starts from the pole in tomorrow's race at The Milwaukee Mile. (IndyCar photo by Dan Helrigel)

Ryan Briscoe starts from the pole in tomorrow's race at The Milwaukee Mile. (IndyCar photo by Dan Helrigel)

Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe will attempt to defend his title in the ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt 225 Sunday from the best seat inside open-wheel racing’s venerable old house.

Briscoe qualified on-pole with a record-setting four-lap average of 1 minute, 26.7966 seconds/168.394 mph around The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis., Saturday afternoon. Briscoe is joined in the two-car front row by Graham Rahal, who qualified in Row 1 for the second consecutive year after posting a lap in 1:25.9392/168.117 mph. Both Briscoe and Rahal, of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, erased Marco Andretti’s qualifying record of 1:26.9591/168.079 mph set last year.

“I knew when I was in front of Rahal it was going to be good,” said Briscoe, driver of the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda. “He seems to get around this place pretty good and was on the front row last year. The car was good. I was a bit worried about my teammate (Helio Castroneves) and the Target Boys (Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti), but thankfully the time held up.”

Briscoe finished 15th in last Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, where he was among only four drivers to lead the race’s 93rd edition.  In comparison, The Milwaukee Mile opened in 1903, six years before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“We won from 11th (place) last year, so hopefully starting on the front row can get me away from the chaos that always happens the first couple of laps,” said Briscoe, who earned his first pole of the season. “I had a good race car last year, so hopefully we can replicate that tomorrow.”

Rahal, who crashed out of the Indy 500 on Lap 55, returned to the No. 2 position here after missing his first IndyCar Series pole at The Milwaukee Mile one year ago by two-tenths of a second. Still, Rahal’s second-place effort last year was then a career-best in what was the first Andretti/Rahal front row since 1992 at Loudon, N.H.

“The car felt pretty good, but I had a big snap and a big moment on the last lap and our fourth lap time was three-tenths slower than the previous one,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 02 McDonald’s Dallara/Honda. “If that hadn’t happened I think we would have had pole. We sat on pole so many times this year (twice in five starts) that we are a little bit spoiled. At the end of the day, the McDonald’s Boys are doing a great job. Pretty much we showed up today exactly how we ended last year because we are pretty competitive. We worked on race trim in the morning and the car was pretty quick.”

Rahal said he will start the race with the same setup as last year, when he finished 25th.  “The car was good but I made a mistake,” said Rahal, who was running between second and fourth most of the day until Lap 130, when he drove over some marbles and lost control while trying to maneuver around the slower car of Darren Manning.

“If there was a race from last year that still bothers me it was this one,” Rahal said. “The McDonald’s Boys practiced stops this morning. If I hit my marks, all our stops go well and get to the end we should be able to have a good finish and be a contender. We have a shot at it tomorrow.”

For the record, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing drivers have won seven events on the historic oval, most recently by Sebastien Bourdais in 2006.

Castroneves, who won his third Indianapolis 500 last Sunday from the pole, came down from that high in a hurry here when he bounced the No. 3 Team Penske car off the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier on his first flying lap. Castroneves, a two-time pole-sitter in this event, will start 20th.

Meanwhile, two-time event winner Tony Kanaan of Andretti Green Racing will start in Row 2 alongside reigning IndyCar champion Dixon. Row 3 is occupied by Mario Moraes of KV Racing Technology and  AGR’s Hideki Mutoh.

Kanaan is back in the cockpit after exiting the Indy 500 via a grinding crash that carried him through Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 98. “I have to thank the whole AGR team, the safety crews, and my personal trainer (Ryan Harber) for not only getting me back together but also rebuilding the car on time,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda. “While I’m not 100 percent back together, I’m here and very thankful for that. Qualifying went well and I think we’ll be competitive tomorrow. Hopefully we can get this car into Victory Circle at the end of the race.”

Among track records Kanaan holds here are his two wins, along with five top-five and top-10 finishes each.

AGR teammate Danica Patrick, who posted a career-best third-place finish at Indy, will start here from the seventh position. “I was hoping for a better qualifying run and felt the No. 7 car was strong enough to qualify into the top-five,” said Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Boost Mobile Dallara/Honda. “We have a stable, strong car and hopefully we can work our way through the field and stay out of trouble. I have started in the last row here at The Mile and made it into the top-five without a pit stop, so I’m still confident we can have a great race.”

Andretti lamented his fall from the pole to 13th position in the No. 26 Team Venom Energy Dallara/Honda. “I’m a little disappointed with where we qualified,” Andretti said. “We thought the No. 26 car would be a little higher in the starting grid, but then again we didn’t really focus on a qualifying setup during practice today. I think with the compressed schedule, we really wanted to focus on the race-day setup.

“It’s always good to start up front, but being in the front doesn’t do any good if you don’t have a strong enough car to keep you there. We qualified on the pole last year, but weren’t able to stay in the lead because the car wasn’t stable enough, so this year we’re hoping to have learned from that. I’m confident we have a car that will be able to get us through traffic and keep Team Venom Energy up front.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 30 2009
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