Mon, May 22, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Hornish Jr. takes pole position for Indy 500

AP , INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Indy Racing League driver Sam Hornish Jr. speeds through the first turn during the final practice session before qualifications for the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana, Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

Fastest for most of May, Sam Hornish Jr. did not disappoint when he drove away with the pole position Saturday for the Indianapolis 500 next weekend.

After running a lap at 229.996mph in the morning warmup -- by far the fastest lap since practice began nearly two weeks ago -- Hornish came back less than two hours later and proved it was no fluke with two more laps over 229mph on the way to a four-lap qualifying average of 228.985mph.

"This car is about as perfect as I've ever had," Hornish said. "I was really about 99 percent happy with it."

Defending champion Dan Wheldon earned a tenative position on the outside of the front row of three, with former two-time champ Helio Castroneves in the middle.

Scott Dixon, Wheldon's Target Chip Ganassi teammate, was fourth fastest, followed by Tony Kanaan, last year's pole-winner, and 2005 race runner-up Vitor Meira.

The third row included Kosuke Matsuura, Scott Sharp, and 19-year-old rookie Marco Andretti, grandson of 1969 winner Mario Andretti.

Hornish, who has failed to finish the big race in each of his six previous starts, said he told his Marlboro Team Penske crew on Thursday he would qualify at 229 (368).

"I made myself look bad to them because I didn't quite get there," he said, grinning.

It didn't matter. None of the other 31 drivers who qualified on Saturday could come close to knocking Hornish off the top spot for the May 28 race. His big day gave team owner Roger Penske his 13th Indy pole, matching the record number of wins for the elite team.

Hornish, a two-time IRL IndyCar Series champion, would like nothing better than to join the nine drivers who have won here for Penske and finally end his own Indy jinx that has seen him crash three times and fail to finish more than 196 of the 200 race laps.

"It's a long race next Sunday and I want to make it through that. I want to make sure I make the full 500 miles," he said.

"You know, it's not the guy who's the fastest here that wins this race; it's the one who makes the fewest mistakes."

Wheldon, the only driver able to beat Hornish for a day's fast lap this month, couldn't come close to Hornish's Saturday effort.

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