Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 22 News List

Buddy Rice back in pole for Fireston Indy 200

AP , GLADEVILLE, TENNESSEE, INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA ANDVILLA CARLOS PAZ, ARGENTINA

Mikko Hirvonen of Finland in his Subaru Impreza WRC04 during Rally Argentina 2004 Leg 1, Friday. Finland's Marcus Gronholm won the first stage by 8.4 seconds.

PHOTO: EPA

Buddy Rice grabbed his second straight pole and fourth this year on Friday, edging teammate Meira for the top starting spot in the Firestone Indy 200.

Rice completed his best lap on the 2.14km Nashville Superspeedway oval in 23.257 seconds, .032 of a second ahead of of Meira, who lost to his teammate by 0.0051 of a second at Kansas on July 4 in the second-closest finish in IRL history.

"We're starting Nashville exactly how we finished Kansas, so it's super close again, and I think tomorrow night's going to be a really exciting race," Rice said regarding Saturday's race.

Meira was the first driver on the track in qualifying, and he didn't waste any time posting the fastest lap after being the quickest in the first two practice sessions. But with points leader Tony Kanaan and Rice still to qualify, Meira didn't think he would stay on the pole.

"Being the first one out I think hurt. But again, it's the draw. It's the way it is," he said. "One time we're going to be first. One time we're going to be last. It's just a matter of patience."

Still, his speed held up until Rice went out as the final qualifier. Rice wasn't fast enough on his first lap, then he got his Honda up to speed on the second to take the pole away from Meira in what he called a team effort.

"As long as we don't crash into each other, we're all fine," Rice said.

Honda engines filled the top five spots with Bryan Herta starting third followed by Andretti Green Racing teammates Dan Wheldon and Kanaan.

Rice believes having his teammate next to him on the front row will be a big boost at the only concrete track on the IRL schedule.

A single series would be best for North American open-wheel auto racing, but Champ Car and the Indy Racing League believe this is not the right time for a merger.

But a future resolution remains a possibility, both sides said Friday.

Representatives from both series met in person at least twice earlier this week with team owner Roger Penske, who last month urged them to consider unification, spokesmen for Champ Car and the IRL said.

Champ Car and the IRL said in a joint statement that no more meetings were planned though "both parties believe that each has a better understanding of where common ground exists."

IRL spokesman John Griffin said the meetings gave both sides a better understanding of each other's business objectives. He also said it was fair to say that the door to unification remained "somewhat open."

The IRL and CART split in 1996. Penske moved his open-wheel operation from CART to the IRL in 2002.

Argentine Rally

Finland's Marcus Gronholm bested Spanish rival Carlos Sainz by 8.4 seconds to win the first stage of the Argentine Rally after a rocky start to the race saw defending world champion Petter Solberg ousted by engine problems and Markko Martin by an accident.

Gronholm, driving a Peugeot, finished the 160km leg Friday in 2 hours and 52.2 seconds, just ahead of former world champion Sainz with team Citroen.

Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb of France, the World Rally Championship front-runner with 53 points after seven previous rallies, finished third, some 33 seconds off Gronholm's pace at 2:01:25.8.

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