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Junqueira wastes no time in getting pole

The Brazilian goes out first and makes his time stand up on a day with off and on rain.

©Associated Press
May 12, 2002


INDIANAPOLIS -- Bruno Junqueira pushed the limits Saturday, winning the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 with a four-lap average of 231.342 mph.

The Brazilian was the first driver to make a qualifying attempt and the first of 24 to make it into the field for the May 26 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Time trials continue today and end May19. Once the field is filled, the slowest qualifiers can be bumped by faster cars.

"Being first is not easy," said Junqueira, who replaced 2000 Indy champion Juan Montoya at Chip Ganassi Racing. "There's more pressure because I don't know what time we have to do and how much to push."

He got it just right, starting with a lap of 231.635 and going just a bit slower on each trip around the 21/2-mile oval before completing the 10-mile run with a lap of 230.952.

That was similar to the simulated qualifying run in Friday's practice that made Junqueira, 25, a favorite for the pole.

A year ago, when he was a rookie in the CART series and at Indy, Junqueira qualified 20th and finished fifth in the 500.

"This year, there were better conditions in qualifying for me," he said. "I've got experience and I had time to practice."

Junqueira's qualifying effort was the fastest since Arie Luyendyk set the track records of 237.498 for one lap and 236.986 for four in 1996, the last year IRL cars were powered by turbocharged engines.

Last year Scott Sharp set the mark for non-turbocharged cars with a four-lap average of 226.037. The slowest qualifier this year is likely to be faster than that.

The increased speed is almost entirely attributed to the speedway's decision over the winter to smooth out the historic asphalt track by grinding it down rather than resurfacing it.

"The way they took the bumps out, it is much smoother," said defending champion Helio Castroneves, who qualified 13th at 229.053. "Everything is because of the track."

Because of a forecast calling for rain Saturday and today, there was a sense of urgency when qualifying began. Other than short delays for two brief showers, though, activity was virtually continuous for the first 41/2 hours of the seven-hour session.

The track then remained open for practice until the final moments when Luyendyk, a two-time race winner, warmed up for what would have been his third attempt. He pulled off the track before taking the green flag and still has one attempt left in that car.

Four of the top five spots in the tentative lineup were taken by Brazilians. Surprisingly, Castroneves was not one of them.

Castroneves also became one of the pole favorites on Friday with a lap over 232 mph, the fastest since practice began last Sunday.

He aborted a qualifying attempt after two laps over 229, then about an hour later took a four-lap run that was considerably slower than he had anticipated.

American Robbie Buhl also waved off his first attempt despite an average around 229.

Raul Boesel, who qualified for the 2001 race but was replaced in the Team Menard entry by fellow Brazilian Felipe Giaffone for race day because of a sponsor obligation, got another shot this week after PJ Jones was injured in a crash during practice.

Team owner John Menard put Boesel in Jones' seat and the veteran of 12 Indy starts put the car on the outside of the front row at 230.612, just ahead of Giaffone's 230.326.

"From Thursday to today, we've really come a long way. For the time we had in the car, what we've achieved is unbelievable," Boesel said. "I'm not sure anyone thought it was possible."

Tony Kanaan, a CART regular but an Indy rookie, had one qualifying attempt wiped out after three laps by a light mist, but went out right after the rain stopped and qualified in fifth at 230.253.

Besides Luyendyk, other notables who have not qualified include Team Green teammates Paul Tracy, who crashed in morning practice, and Dario Franchitti; A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Greg Ray and Airton Dare, and former Formula One driver Johnny Herbert.

Sarah Fisher qualified ninth at 229.439 mph, easily the fastest by a woman in Indy history. She also became the second woman to qualify in the first three rows; Lyn St. James did it in 1994.

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