April 01, 2016

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) IndyCar's return to the desert got off to a blazing start.

Helio Castroneves had the fastest qualifying lap during a day of records in IndyCar's return to Phoenix International Raceway on Friday.

Castroneves had the final of six track-record runs on the mile oval, turning a lap at 192.324 mph for a two-lap elapsed time of 38.2604 seconds.

''It's an honor to be breaking the record and show that the cars are fast,'' Castroneves said.

The high speeds and split-second decisions that come with them benefited the older, more experienced drivers during qualifying.

Tony Kanaan will start on the front row with Castroneves in Saturday night's 250-mile race.

Juan Pablo Montoya, the winner in the season opener at St. Petersburg, qualified third after originally breaking the track record on both his qualifying runs.

Charlie Kimball qualified fourth, Ed Carpenter fifth and Scott Dixon sixth.

None of the top six drivers is under 30.

''The old guys are out front. You guys can call us whatever you want, but as long as we keep winning,'' Kanaan said. ''That's (experience) going to count a lot.''

PIR has been reconfigured since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the last race in the desert in 2005, but the speeds were fast for a short track regardless of the routing. Of the 22 cars in the field, 16 turned a lap faster than Arie Luyendyk's 20-year-old track record during the first practice session.

The records continued to fall throughout the qualifying session, sometimes right after each other.

Dixon broke it early in the session, though it didn't last long. Montoya broke the track record on both his qualifying runs, only to have Castroneves, his Team Penske teammate, top it on his first qualifying run right behind him.

Castroneves couldn't beat it again on his second lap thanks to a 190 mph bobble coming out of a turn, though his first one was plenty.

''You don't understand when you're going 190 mph and you lose it a little,'' he said. ''You don't have any time to react, you're just a passenger.''

HITTING THE WALL: Several drivers had trouble with the first two turns during practice and qualifying.

Carlos Munoz had the hardest hit, losing control of his car on Turn 1 during qualifying. He had to be helped out of his car and onto a stretcher before being taken to the infield medical center.

The Andretti Autosport driver turned out to be OK, released after a few minutes with minor injuries to his knees.

''My knees are a little sore, but I can't wait to get back into the car,'' he said.

Takuma Sato destroyed the back of his car during the first practice session after losing control coming out of Turn 2. James Hinchcliffe did the same thing in nearly the same spot a few minutes later.

Both came away from the crashes unscathed.

''It was quite a big impact and (I have) a little bit of a headache, but I'm good,'' Sato said. ''It was a quick spin. I lost it simply with a little bit of oversteer.''

Sato and Hinchcliffe were unable to qualify and will start at the back of Saturday's race.

MEDIA ROOM HIJINKS: Castroneves and Kanaan are known as two of IndyCar's most playful drivers and they were on their game during the post-qualifying media session.

Kanaan, known for his honesty and wisecracking, took a second during his first answer to chastise people talking in the corner.

''Can you guys keep it down a little bit?'' he said. ''Thank you.''

A TV in the other corner later showed him speaking during an earlier interview, causing him to quip: ''Man, am I ugly.''

Kanaan also had a little fun with a reporter who was about to ask a question after the previous one about the Honda cars.

''Another Honda question, please,'' said Kanaan, who drives a Chevy.

Castroneves came into the media room wearing a crown with a PIR logo on the front and immediately played off it.

''Kiss the rings,'' he said, holding his hands out after being introduced as the King of PIR speed.

Castroneves was asked if should be referred to as the king from now, and that, of course, elicited a quick response.

''Yes, servant,'' he said.

Castroneves also ended the session by telling the reporters as he got up: ''You may leave now,'' drawing laughter from the room.

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