First IRL pole for Rice, Rahal
By Associated Press
Published February 29, 2004
HOMESTEAD - 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 2001 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 seriously injured in a crash in the season-ending race at Texas Motor Speedway.
"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."
It is the first IRL pole for Rice, in his 19th race, and Team Rahal, in its 20th start.
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 mark of 203.560 set last year by Tony Kanaan.
Tomas Scheckter, starting his first race for Pennzoil Panther Racing, was third at 216.678, while Dario Franchitti, returning to the cockpit after missing most of 2003 with a back injury, was fourth (216.599).
Defending series champion and 2003 Homestead winner Scott Dixon, who had been among the fastest drivers since practice began Friday, was 12th (215.401).
Another driver expected to be faster in time trials was Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves, who had to go into the pits for a chassis adjustment after his first warmup lap. Despite having only five minutes to make the changes and losing one of two qualifying laps for making the stop, he finished 10th (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."
GRAND AM: Milka Duno became the first woman to win a major North American race when she co-drove a Pontiac-Crawford to victory at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Venezuelan teamed with Englishman Andy Wallace. After Duno drove the opening 43 laps, Wallace took the wheel for the final 66. Wallace crossed the finish line 1.9 seconds ahead of a BMW-Doran driven by Kelly Collins. The last woman to score an overall win in international sports-car competition was the late Lella Lombardi, who co-drove in a pair of victories in Italy in 1979.
NHRA: John Force (4.746 seconds at 324.36 mph) claimed the top qualifying spot in Funny Car at Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. Doug Kalitta (4.484 at 329.99) was first in Top Fuel, and Greg Anderson set track records of 6.713 and 206.10 in Pro Stock.
[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]
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