Helio Castroneves has taken a back seat to Team Penske teammate Will Power thus far this season, but on the final day of practice before Saturday's Pole Day qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Brazilian rose to the fore. Castroneves' fast lap of 228.611mph marked him as a prime candidate to earn a record third consecutive Indianapolis 500 pole start.
“It's difficult to have a clean lap because we have 40 cars, which is very impressive,” said Castroneves, who will also be out to tie the all-time record of four Indy 500 wins on race day. “All my experience here, I never had this type of a scenario that we have so many cars around the track, which shows the series is getting stronger every year. It's going to be fun and I can't wait to go out there…and hopefully good numbers will be good enough for tomorrow.”
Eight different teams were represented in the top 10 on Friday, and the whole field was separated by just 1.0729sec. Alex Tagliani (228.327) remained strong in the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports turning the second-fastest lap of the day, while Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car was third (228.181). Ryan Briscoe, driving the No. 6 IZOD Team Penske car, was fourth (228.029) and Bertrand Baguette surprised by cracking the top five (228.028) in his No. 30 RACB/Aspria Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry.
“The competition is tight as it's ever been,” said Roger Penske, who has collected 15 Indy 500 titles as a team owner. “And I think that the new qualifying format with the Fast Nine and then going for the pole will be very exciting.”
Tagliani reckons he can find some more speed for the pole fight, but suspects he will get pushed back by the other Penske and Ganassi drivers come qualifying.
"We have a couple of things left. I think we were conservative this afternoon," he said. "We made some changes on the car without pushing the limits aerodynamically. I think it's going be very difficult to do a 228.3mph, but it will have to be up there for a one-lap go. It's all about how consistent you can be and what's your draw.
"We feel that we are strong, but on the charts, there are a lot of cars that are strong. It's very difficult to have a good read. We ran very few laps this week, and we tried to run by ourselves to evaluate the right gearing and right downforce and make the right call on ride heights and all of that.
The top 24 spots in the 33-car field will be available through traditional four-lap attempts from 11 a.m.-4 p.m on Saturday. Each car will have up to three attempts, and bumping begins when the 24 spots are filled. The times of the top nine drivers from this first segment of qualifying will be erased at 4 p.m., with all of those competitors guaranteed to start no worse than ninth.
From 4:30-6 p.m., the Fast Nine will be required to make at least one four-lap qualifying attempt. They will receive an extra set of fresh tires. Additional, optional attempts are available if time permits. Each driver's best run during the 90-minute session will set their position within the top nine spots on the starting grid.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Helio Castroneves Penske 39.3682s
2. Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt 39.4172s + 0.0490s
3. Scott Dixon Ganassi 39.4424s + 0.0742s
4. Ryan Briscoe Penske 39.4686s + 0.1004s
5. Bertrand Baguette Rahal Letterman Lanigan 39.4688s + 0.1006s
6. Ed Carpenter Sarah Fisher 39.4707s + 0.1025s
7. Will Power Penske 39.4810s + 0.1128s
8. Townsend Bell Sam Schmidt 39.4864s + 0.1182s
9. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas 39.5465s + 0.1783s
10. Dan Wheldon Herta 39.5669s + 0.1987s
11. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 39.5722s + 0.2040s
12. Takuma Sato KV 39.6382s + 0.2700s
13. Vitor Meira Foyt 39.6487s + 0.2805s
14. JR Hildebrand Panther 39.6582s + 0.2900s
15. Marco Andretti Andretti 39.6737s + 0.3055s
16. James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas 39.6743s + 0.3061s
17. Graham Rahal Ganassi 39.6842s + 0.3160s
18. Charlie Kimball Ganassi 39.7374s + 0.3692s
19. Buddy Rice Panther 39.7465s + 0.3813s
20. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold 39.8010s + 0.4328s
21. Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne 39.8024s + 0.4342s
22. Danica Patrick Andretti 39.8212s + 0.4530s
23. Paul Tracy Dreyer & Reinbold 39.8238s + 0.4556s
24. Davey Hamilton Dreyer & Reinbold 39.8707s + 0.5025s
25. Tony Kanaan KV 39.8747s + 0.5065s
26. Ho-Pin Tung Schmidt/Dragon 39.9106s + 0.5424s
27. Pippa Mann Conquest 39.9234s + 0.5552s
28. EJ Viso KV 39.9280s + 0.5598s
29. Bruno Junqueira Foyt 39.9298s + 0.5616s
30. Jay Howard Rahal/Schmidt 39.9361s + 0.5679s
31. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 39.9637s + 0.5955s
32. Tomas Scheckter KV/SH 39.9749s + 0.6067s
33. John Andretti Petty/Andretti 40.0159s + 0.6477s
34. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold 40.0259s + 0.6577s
35. Raphael Matos AFS 40.1106s + 0.7424s
36. Mike Conway Andretti 40.2577s + 0.8895s
37. James Jakes Dale Coyne 40.2871s + 0.9189s
38. Sebastian Saavedra Conquest 40.3721s + 1.0039s
39. Scott Speed Dragon 40.4411s + 1.0729s