Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon claimed the pole Friday for this weekend’s Gainsco Indy 300,the opening IndyCar Series event of the 2008 season and the first featuring the combined fields of boththe Indy Racing League and the former Champ Car World Series.
The merger of the two major North American open-wheel racing series, announced just last month, has resulted in the largest starting field for either series in the last several years. Five teams and nine drivers from the Champ Car World Series have elected to take part in the combined series, along with nine IndyCar Series teams and their 17 drivers. Additional entries are expected later this season and at the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Unfortunately, the Newman Haas Lanigan Racing entry of Graham Rahal was withdrawn after a crash inpractice earlier this week, while both 2005 series champion Dan Wheldon and rookie Jay Howard crashed Friday night during their qualifying runs. All three drivers escaped serious injury. Pending clearance to race, both Wheldon and Howard will start at the rear of the field.
Another change for the 2008 season is the switch to four-lap combined time/speed to set the grid for all oval events. This is the same format traditionally used for qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and replaces the previous method of using the fastest speed of two timed laps.
The 11th driver to make a qualifying run, Dixon’s four-lap average of 213.341 mph held for the pole despite the efforts of Vision Racing’s A.J. Foyt IV and Ed Carpenter. The final car to qualify, Carpenter missed taking the first pole of his IndyCar career by just four-hundredths of a second, at an average of 213.311 mph, while Foyt was another half second/one mile per hour slower at 212.211.
The next six grid positions were claimed by drivers from Andretti Green Racing and Team Penske, who all had been near the top of the time charts in practice. Rookie Franck Perera, who finished second in the training ground Formula Atlantic Series in 2007, was the fastest former Champ Car driver, in 15th, and second-fasted rookie to the ninth-qualifying Hideki Mutoh.
Saturday night’s 200-lap Gainsco Indy 300 starts at 8 p.m. EDT. It offers another first for IndyCar Series racing with live, high-definition television coverage on ESPN2.
Scott Dixon (#9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) pole qualifier, ninth career IndyCar pole:
“It certainly was an eventful qualifying session! With the changing temperatures, people were all over the map,
speed-wise, as the track conditions were cooling off all the time. It’s unfortunate for [teammate] Dan [Wheldon] as I’m sure he would have been right at the front if he hadn’t crashed. The new oval qualifying format [based on total time for four consecutive laps] is a bit of a challenge as you work to string four
consistent laps together. I think it’s going to be an interesting race tomorrow night for a lot of people as I think the track is going to change all the time as the race goes on into the night.”