Castroneves on target with fourth career Indianapolis 500 pole

Publish date:

INDIANAPOLIS -- Helio Castroneves ended Saturday's Indianapolis 500 Pole Day "Shootout" with his very first shot.

Using the new "Fast Nine" format in which the fastest nine drivers from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. were sent out in the 90-minute "Shootout", Castroneves was on target, running the fastest laps of any driver since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened for practice last Saturday.

After Team Penske president TimCindric decided to send Castroneves out first, he ran consecutive laps at 227.961 mph, 228.213, 228.187 and 227.521 -- a four-lap average of 227.970. As one of the largest Pole Day crowds in recent years cheered with approval, it was a speed the other eight drivers tried to match.

It would prove to be nothing more than "target practice" as none of those eight, however, was able to catch Castroneves.

It was Castroneves' fourth Indianapolis 500 Pole, tying him with A.J. Foyt and Rex Mays. It was the 16th Indy 500 pole for Penske Racing but, most importantly, it puts Castroneves one step closer at becoming the fourth driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times in his career.

By going so fast, so early in the session, Castroneves practically deflated the other contenders.

"That was the plan, man," Castroneves said. "Deflate is the word. That is a good word. I wanted to deflate them, make them go into panic mode. I wanted to do everything to make them think, `Let's give up and go home.'

"But it didn't seem that way. They were trying , trying and they were getting close. Even Ed Carpenter achieved 228. You see my teammate coming back every time. I actually have my hands tight because there is not much I can do. We really reached the limit."

Castroneves' result was part of Team Penske's strategy: go out first and run a speed the other drivers couldn't reach.

"Today I felt we had to be on offense," Cindric said. "You saw we just missed Alex Tagliani there in the first run of the day. I was really hoping for a break in the line. I told him, `We have to see it; we have to see that we can go faster than Tagliani and then go do it.'

"We did exactly that."

That was in the first portion of Saturday's qualifications. The fastest driver in that session would earn the No. 1 pit stall for next Sunday's Indy 500 -- an important strategic location for getting off pit road.

Castroneves was also the fastest driver in the first session with a four-lap average of 226.774 mph. That knocked Tagliani off the pole at the time.

"When it came time to figure out when to go, I knew in those conditions what he was capable of," Cindric said of Castroneves. "I knew he was in the right mindset. Again, you have to be on offense here. That's what we did today.

"Another time, another day, that might not be the time to go, but I thought that was for us."

With Cindric picking the right time to make his pole-winning attempt and Castroneves delivering in a way that has made him a "Master of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway" he had to wait before he could celebrate.

With this new format, Castroneves had to sit in the car and wait while the other eight drivers tried to knock him off. Castroneves even went out for a second attempt with 10 minutes left, even though he was still on the pole -- a curious move that was later waved off by Cindric because, under the new format, the driver does not lose his previous time during the last 90-minute session.

"If you pull out of line, at that point in time you're not going to have any time to defend your spot," Cindric said. "At that point you either have to go or just say, hey, we're not going to run the rest of the day. You have all these cars lined up behind you. You can't pull out of line and go behind them anymore because you're out of time.

"I knew there was more than one car that had a chance to go after Helio. I waved it off because I knew he wasn't going to be better from his time."

Strapped in his race car, Castroneves could only see the panic situation that was occurring in front of him as the other eight drivers tried to surpass the pole speed.

"Sitting in the car for an hour-and-a-half was not easy at all, especially with everyone getting closer and closer," Castroneves said. "I was like, `Are we going or not?' because I can't handle that much pressure."

One of those drivers that came close to Castroneves' speed was Team Penske teammate Will Power, who qualified second with a four-lap average of 227.578.

"I think I need a raise after today," Castroneves said of the tension-filled day. "Man, let me tell you, it was the hardest thing to go out there. This place, you got to expect the unexpected, my friend. It was a great result. It was the right thing to do. As Cindric said, I was ready. I didn't want to keep waiting to see other times. I wanted to go for it.

"By this time today he just know when I'm ready. He asked for two numbers, first or last. I said, `You know me, just pick whatever decision you think is right.'

"He was right again."

Castroneves' Indy 500 pole was the result of making a lot of right decisions in his career, from having the chance to join Team Penske over a decade ago to having Cindric to call his race strategy.

For Cindric, going out first in the "Shootout" was just another example of hitting the target.

"From my perspective, it's a lot easier when you know you got a guy in the seat that you can put in any situation," Cindric said. "This is our 10th year together at Indy. We've been through basically every situation here. I know that I've got every confidence in him in every situation. I have every confidence in him. You know, as you go through, for someone in my position, you have to be on your toes all day long. If you miss one little thing, one opportunity, then you can't get it over again, you can't get that time of day back, you can't get that situation.

"You try and pick the right time. You got to roll the dice here. Here, that risk and reward, it's big."

If Castroneves wins Sunday, he would be the first driver in history to win the Indy 500 back-to-back on two different occasions.

Now that would truly be "Big."

With that kind of starting spot, don't be surprised if Castroneves joins A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners of the world's biggest race.

By contrast, Danica Patrick's struggles this season continued. She qualified 23rd -- her worst-ever Indy 500 start -- and was booed by the crowd after throwing her team under the bus following her four-lap run of 224.417 mph.

"I've never been bad here before," Patrick said. "I've never been outside the top ten on a finish or qualifying so, um, it's not my fault. The car is not good."

When the crowd heard those comments over the public address system, the fans booed loudly and Patrick turned to someone on pit lane and asked, "Why are they booing?"

Castroneves even heard a few boos when he went out on the race track with 10 minutes left while he was already on the pole as many in the crowd thought it was simply a stalling tactic to keep other drivers from making an attempt.

But once the gun was fired at 6 p.m. to end Pole Day qualifications, he was cheered wildly by the crowd that had witnessed another frantic day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.