Tue, May 13, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Helio Castroneves in pole position for the Indy 500

AP , INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Helio Castroneves reacts after taking the provisional pole for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday.

PHOTO: AP

Helio Castroneves put himself in the best possible position to win a record third straight Indy 500.

A day after celebrating his 28th birthday, the Brazilian added another line to an almost flawless Indy resume by becoming the first two-time defending champ to win the pole.

His four-lap qualifying average of 231.725mph was the fastest ever by a non-turbocharged car on the 2 1/2-mile oval.

"This place is magic," he said. "This year we were trying to work patiently to get a good speed and, all of a sudden, we end up on the pole."

Although "Spider-man" didn't celebrate by climbing the fence as he does after race victories, he shed tears of joy, laughed and even took a friendly jab at his best friend, countryman Tony Kanaan.

Kanaan smashed a birthday cake in Castroneves' face Saturday, less than 24 hours before Castroneves smashed Kanaan's four-lap average of 231.006 and knocked him off the pole for the May 25 race. The buddies will start side-by-side on the first of 11 three-car rows.

"He said now we can share the cake," Kanaan said. "It's all good."

Castroneves' pole-winning run was as much about timing as it was about speed. He waited patiently for more than 4 1/2 hours Sunday as Roger Penske's team worked on the car and Castroneves tried to get comfortable in his Toyota-powered Dallara on a cold track with wind gusts over 30mph.

During the 30-minute morning practice, Castroneves said his car had too much drag. By mid-afternoon, the wind was slowing and the car was in perfect working order.

"It was getting much more balance," he said. "When we did a 231.7 in practice, I said `Woe, woe, woe, now is the time to go.'"

Castroneves' first two laps, 231.673 and 232.215, were the fastest by any driver Sunday. He gave Penske a record 12th pole to go along with a record 12 Indy victories. The only real competition came from Kanaan and Robby Gordon, teammates for Andretti Green Racing.

For new team owner Michael Andretti, the day was again filled with near-misses.

He barely avoided hitting the wall in turn two of his first qualifying lap, and his 227.739 put him on the outside of Row 5 for his 14th and final start at Indianapolis. The 40-year-old Andretti, who has led more laps at Indy than any non-winner, is retiring after the race to concentrate on running the team he and two partners bought late last year.

"I've been here a few years now and this is the most eventful four laps I've had around this place," Andretti said. "If it stays like this, I'm like `Man, I'm glad I'm retiring.'"

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