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Helio Eyes Pole As Field Tightens On Fast Friday

Fast Friday Practice Results | Pole Day Qualifying Draw

Fast Friday melted into Frantic Friday as teams’ preparations for Pole Day qualifications were periodically interrupted by light mid-afternoon moisture May 21 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Still, 36 car/driver combinations registered 1,308 laps, and there are two sessions preceding the 11 a.m.-4 p.m. first segment of four-lap qualifications May 22 to fine-tune aerodynamic setups.

A.J. Foyt IV in the No. 41 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing and Paul Tracy, driving the No. 15 GEICO-KV Racing Technology car, drew the lowest numbers for the qualifying order.

For spectators and IZOD IndyCar Series participants alike, enhancements to the qualifying format will translate to on-track drama and lead to several risk vs. reward scenarios.

The top 24 spots in the 33-car starting field will be filled through traditional four-lap attempts. The times of the top nine cars based on time from Segment 1 will advance to Segment 2 for a 90-minute shootout for the PEAK Performance Pole Award presented by AutoZone and bonus points that could impact the season-long driver championship race. They’ll be starting from scratch, though, as they’re required to make another qualifying attempt (and optional subsequent attempts as time allows) to secure a spot in the first three rows.

Enticements include a $175,000 payout to the pole winner along with significant paydays for the other front-row starters, championship bonus points and, of course, the No. 1 position for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday, May 30.

“I think the format is going to be interesting for all of us,” said Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who won the 2008 Indianapolis 500 from the pole and is second on the combined practice speed chart during the week of practice. “It's going to be tougher on the teams, tougher on the drivers, tougher to make the right calls at the right time. But some of that's going to come into luck, too, just how the timing works out, especially if you get into the fast nine.

“I think it's going to be a lot more stress on everybody, and it's going to be hard to fight for that pole. But I think in the big picture of putting on a great show for the fans is definitely what it's all about.”

Helio Castroneves has started from the pole three times (finishing first, second and third) and certainly would accept a fourth as he seeks to become the fourth four-time race winner. He was quickest on Fast Friday at 39.7250 seconds (226.558 mph) and first overall (227.046 mph).

“Certainly you always want to have a little bit more time as a driver, you want to go out there and maybe you should do a little bit more and maybe do a little bit here and there,” Castroneves said about the overall wet week that included a washout May 17. “But at the end of the day, thank God, the incredible team of engineers that we have and the entire team, when the car came out of the truck, the car was pretty much well set up.

“We feel that we prepared, but it's going to be new with this format, new to everybody. I'll be prepared, and I'm sure (Team Penske teammates) Ryan (Briscoe) and Will (Power) will be. So we have three cars that have a chance to be on the pole position.

“But, again, we can't take that for granted. We know Ganassi, Andretti and possibly even other teams, new teams, might as well take a chance. So we’ve got to be ready for any unexpected situation.”

That’s good advice. Thirty cars were within a half-second of Castroneves, with 10 different teams represented in the top 15. FAZZT Race Team’s Alex Tagliani (third at 226.153 mph) and KV Racing Technology’s Mario Moraes (fifth at 225.806) again were near the top of the leaderboard.

“The field is really tight this year, and there are a number of cars posting quick speeds,” said Marco Andretti (eighth at 225.296 in the No. 26 Team Venom Energy car for Andretti Autosport).“We had pretty consistent times today and were able to stay inside the top nine, so let’s hope we can do the same tomorrow.”

Townsend Bell in the No. 99 Herbalife Chip Ganassi/Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry (10th at 225.177), Graham Rahal (11th at 225.141) driving the No. 30 The Quick Trim/Rahal Letterman Racing car and Alex Lloyd (12th at 225.103) in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car for Dale Coyne Racing also will be a factor in the competition to reach the top nine after intermittently running qualifying simulations.

“We’ve always been pretty happy with our pace, but we were struggling to maintain that speed throughout a full run,” said Rahal, who started fourth last year. “But we’ve made gains over the day and now we’re consistent to within two-tenths of a second through the run, and that’s an encouraging sign. I think we’re awfully competitive now, and we should have a pretty good shot to do well this weekend.”

***

2010 Indy 500 tickets: Tickets for the 2010 Indianapolis 500, scheduled for Sunday, May 30, are on sale now. Race Day ticket prices start at just $20.

Fans can order tickets online at www.imstix.com, call the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area or visit the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street. Online orders can be made at any time. Hours for phone orders and the ticket office are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.

Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.

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