Just when Helio Castroneves appeared to have squeezed every last thousandth from his car, he went even faster.
Castroneves, who regained P1 and the first pit box for the race by being fastest in the first session, returned during the second session and locked down the pole position with a four-lap average that approached 228mph, a level that has yet to be reached in preparation for the 94th Indianapolis 500.
The 227.970mph run in the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara-Honda was good enough to lock down the pole position, the fourth of Castroneves' career and record 16th for Roger Penske's venerable race team. It also put Castroneves in prime position to tie the record of four Indy 500 victories shared by Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser.
“I think I need a raise after today,” Castroneves joked.
Castroneves outlasted bids by teammate Will Power and Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti, who came close but couldn't top Castroneves' effort. Power will start second in the May 30 race after posting an average of 227.578 mph, while Franchitti will start third after a late run of 226.990mph.
“It's a tightrope; it's an absolute tightrope,” Franchitti said. “To do it once was enough, but to do it as many times as we did was crazy.”
Ryan Briscoe, Alex Tagliani and Scott Dixon will fill the second row, while Graham Rahal, Ed Carpenter and Hideki Mutoh fill the third row.
The race's new qualifying format offered a number of surprises:
• Andretti Autosport failed to put its four cars among the first five rows – including one of the race favorites, Tony Kanaan, who didn't have a backup car prepared after a spin and will be forced to qualify in the final three rows Sunday.
• Alex Tagliani, who is fighting a nagging illness, nearly took the pole from Castroneves with a team that – while it's been fast all week at Indy and much of the season – is struggling to find sponsorship to carry it through the season. “They put their passion and their love into it,” Tagliani said of the FAZZT Race Team. “They're willing to stay an extra hour to make sure everything is fine-tuned. The chemistry is fantastic. Everybody feels like they're part of the result.”
• Hideki Mutoh
, who shopped his Formula Dream/Panasonic money around the league before landing as Newman/Haas Racing's only driver, put the No. 06 car on the third row. “I just couldn't put four good laps together,” said Mutoh, who will start ninth.
• Graham Rahal
, who teamed with his father for a one-off with the resurrected Rahal Letterman Racing, will start seventh. “For the RLR guys to bolt something together and get it out there that fast is pretty impressive,” Rahal said. “It was a last-minute deal. I'm really proud of these guys.”
• Danica Patrick heard boos
from the crowd after saying “it wasn't my fault” in response to an unusually slow effort that will have her starting 23rd. “It's really complicated right now,” she said. “Fundamentally, you have a car that's not balanced correctly.”
• Ed Carpenter
, who joined Panther Racing for a combined one-off with Vision Racing, which suspended operations earlier this year, will start eighth. “It opens things up for the race a little bit,” Carpenter said. “You're definitely running with the front pack. You're where you need to be to win the race.”
• Paul Tracy
, who appeared in practice this week to have enough speed to challenge for the front row, didn't make it into the field in the first day of qualifying after a gearbox problem thwarted his effort.
The day began with Tagliani surprising the field with an early on of 226.392 in the No. 77 FAZZT Dallara-Honda that was good enough for P1. Castroneves' first effort wasn't good enough to knock Tagliani from the top spot, but another run of 226.774 mph later in the day put Castroneves in P1.
With about 20 minutes left in the opening session, Castroneves' Team Penske teammate, Will Power, bumped Tagliani from P2 with a four-lap average of 226.412 mph. The incentive for the risky move was pit-box positioning for the race. By finishing P1 and P2 in the first qualifying segment, Castroneves and Power secured the first two stalls on pit lane.
“The pay day is on race day, and having the first pit certainly helps with that,” Castroneves said. “Starting in front of the mass and staying out of trouble is important.” The new format also proved demanding
on the teams and driers who made it into the top nine and advanced to the second session. Franchitti and Castroneves both made four qualifying runs. “I was joking with Dario,” Castroneves said. “I said, ‘I saw Jesus three times out there.' He said, ‘I was talking to him.'”
The most surprising name not among the top 24 Saturday Kanaan, who spun and crashed during his qualifying attempt and didn't return before the 4 p.m. end of the first segment. As a result, the No. 11 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Honda will start no better than 25th when qualifying resumes Sunday. Mario Moraes
also spun and crashed during his first qualifying attempt but returned just before the 4 p.m. cutoff to secure the 13th starting position. That bumped Vitor Meira from the top 24. Three women secured positions
in the top 24, led by rookie Ana Beatriz, who will start 21st after qualifying the No. 25 Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara-Honda at 224.243 mph. Simona de Silvestro will start 22nd, followed by Patrick in 23rd. The other two female drivers attempting to make the field – Sarah Fisher and Milka Duno – are expected to attempt to qualify Sunday, when the final positions on the 33-car grid are settled.
The 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 30 at 1 p.m.; ABC's live coverage begins at noon.