TOYOTA INDY 300 Rice, Team Rahal win first pole for IRL season debut
Buddy Rice was a record-setting driver in his first race with Team Rahal.
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) -- Buddy Rice got off to a fast start with Team Rahal, turning a record lap to win the pole for the season-opening Indy Racing League event.
Rice, filling in for injured Kenny Brack, took the top spot for today's Toyota Indy 300 with a lap of 217.388 mph. He knocked Alex Barron, the driver who replaced him last season at Red Bull Cheever Racing with three races remaining, off the pole.
The 28-year-old Rice spent the 2001 season as a test driver with Bobby Rahal's team in the rival CART series before hooking up with Cheever in the IRL midway through the next season.
After being fired by Cheever, Rice got the call from Rahal again over the winter after Brack, a former Indianapolis 500 winner and IRL champion, was badly injured in a crash in the season-ending race at Texas Motor Speedway.
After Saturday's strong showing, Rice took a little shot at his former team.
"I was the backup driver to both Kenny Brack and Max Papis in 2001," Rice said. "I learned a lot from that season, hanging out with the team, how to do things and how things should be done. So, it's a relief to go back to a program that's got everything sorted out and it's all taken care of from top to bottom."
First pole for both
It is the first IRL pole for both Rice, in his 19th race, and Team Rahal, in its 20th start.
"The Honda-G Force combination has just been beautiful," Rice said. "We knew we were going to be in the top five, but we just didn't know we were going to have that big a number."
Thanks to the reconfiguring of the four turns on the Homestead Miami Speedway from 7 degrees to a variable 20-degree banking, everybody had a big number. All 19 qualifiers were well above the previous track record of 203.560, set last year by Tony Kanaan.
"We were a little surprised at some of the speeds in qualifying," Barron said. "With the sun coming out, the track temperature went up about 45 degrees between the end of practice and the start of qualifying, but the engineers did a great job making adjustments on the car and keep the speeds up."
Tomas Scheckter, starting his first race for Pennzoil Panther Racing, was third at 216.678 on Saturday, while Dario Franchitti, returning to the cockpit after missing most of 2003 with a back injury, was fourth at 216.599.
Bryan Herta was next at 216.545, followed by rookie Mark Taylor at 216.432, two-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr., making his first start at Marlboro Team Penske in place of retired Gil de Ferran, at 216.322 and Kanaan at 215.976.
Defending series champion and 2003 Homestead race winner Scott Dixon, who had been among the fastest drivers since practice began on Friday, had a disappointing qualifying effort. He was 12th at 215.401.
"That was expected," Dixon said. "We've been working on our race setup all weekend, rather than qualifying. I know the car is good in traffic, and it will have to be.
"I expect with the new banking there will be plenty of passing and there should be some good side-by-side racing."
Another driver expected to be faster in time trials was Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves, who had to come into the pits for a chassis adjustment after his first warm-up lap. Despite having only five minutes to make the changes and Castroneves losing one of two qualifying laps for making the stop, he wound up 10th at 215.887.
"We tried to take a chance today and it just didn't work out," Castroneves said. "The car wasn't handling very well and I couldn't make the proper changes in the car, so I had to come in.
"I have to hand it to my guys, though. They did an awesome job adjusting the car so that I could go back out there in time and get into the top 10."