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Hornish Is Fastest to the Indy 500 Pole

Penske driver clocks a four-lap average of 228.985 to beat teammate Castroneves.

May 21, 2006|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

Sam Hornish Jr. proved again Saturday that practice, and Penske, often make perfect at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After scorching the Brickyard with a majority of the fastest practice laps in the last two weeks, Hornish won the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 with a four-lap average qualifying speed of 228.985 mph.

The runner-up was his Marlboro Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, who qualified at 228.008 mph on the famed 2.5-mile oval. Castroneves has won two of the record 13 Indy 500 victories earned by team owner Roger Penske.

Hornish, who gave Penske his 13th pole position at Indy, has failed to win the 500 in his six previous tries.

But the Defiance, Ohio, native clearly showed he is the driver to beat May 28 in the 90th running of the race. Before his qualifying run, Hornish ran a morning warmup lap just shy of 230 mph.

"I felt really comfortable out there," he said. "We'll just go back and work on race setup, and hopefully we'll have a good result next Sunday."

The 33-car grid begins the race in 11 rows of three cars. Starting third on the outside of the front row, alongside Hornish and Castroneves, will be defending Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon.

Wheldon, a Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver who is also the reigning Indy Racing League champion, qualified at 227.338 mph.

"I don't know if I had anything for Sam [Hornish] today," Wheldon said. "Sam was strong, but I think we have the ingredients and the capabilities as a team to be able to win the race."

Wheldon's teammate, Scott Dixon, was fourth at 226.921, followed by last year's pole winner, Tony Kanaan of Andretti Green Racing, at 226.776.

Marco Andretti, the 19-year-old son of Michael Andretti and grandson of 1969 winner Mario Andretti, qualified ninth at 224.918.

That bested the 13th qualifying spot achieved by Michael, who is taking a temporary leave from running his team to race one more time with his son. Michael's average speed was 224.508.

"No matter how long you've come here, it's still nerve-racking," Michael said of qualifying, adding that he also had "a feeling of relief" that Marco made the field.

"The thing is, I have to figure out a way to pass him," Michael said.

Danica Patrick, who last year nearly became the first woman to win the Indy 500, qualified 10th at 224.674 for Rahal Letterman Racing.

"We are pretty happy with our time," said Patrick, who struggled to find speed during practice runs. "It was probably some of the easiest four laps I've done this month."

Two other former winners who left retirement also qualified. Eddie Cheever, the 1998 winner, was 19th at 222.028, and two-time champion Al Unser Jr. was 27th at 219.388.

Roger Yasukawa of Los Angeles qualified 28th at 218.793 and P.J. Jones of Torrance, son of 1963 winner Parnelli Jones, was 32nd at 215.816.

Their speeds will be challenged today, "Bump Day," in which the slowest qualifiers can be bumped from the lineup by unqualified, faster cars.

Peltz reported from Los Angeles.

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