IndyCar Series points leader Ryan Briscoe strengthened his title challenge with a crucial championship point for his fourth pole position of the season by topping qualifying ahead of Saturday night's PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.

The Australian driver, who started from the pole in last year's race at the circuit, posted a four-lap average of 215.364mph in the #6 Team Penske Dallara-Honda to knock team-mate Helio Castroneves off top spot. Castroneves' time in the #3 Penske entry was still good enough for second, confirming the third qualifying 1-2 of the season for the team.

"It's important for the point but, as far as what's going to happen in the race, it doesn't matter where you start," Briscoe commented, "Helio won the race from the last position last year.

"It's exciting - a Team Penske front row means the team is working well. We have strong cars and, hopefully, we can carry that into the race. I've had a few firsts this year, so hopefully I can have my first win from the pole - but it's going to be a tough race. There are probably ten or twelve cars that can win, so it should be a pretty exciting race for the fans. I think we're going to see a lot of pack racing, running two- or three-wide all night long. Hopefully we can stay out of trouble, stay in the front and bring it home in front."

"It's pretty close between the two Team Penske cars," Castroneves agreed, "I'm happy to be on the front row, and we'll do everything we can to get Ryan more points for the championship."

Dario Franchitti, who trails Briscoe by five points heading into the 200-lap Chicagoland race, will start third, sharing row two with Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan.

"Qualifying was pretty uneventful, for the driver anyway," the Scot reported, "This qualifying format has more to do with what the engineers do and the way the cars are going. The balance of the car was very good - I was very happy with that, but the car as a whole wasn't fast enough. We've got to keep working on that and keep pushing since we've got another two 1.5-mile tracks after this weekend. The car felt pretty good this morning, but whether it's good enough, we'll find out tomorrow."

Kanaan was delighted to be back at the sharp end of the field and believed that, with the benefit of another practice session after qualifying, he could be a threat on Saturday night. The Brazilian lines up ahead of Franchitti's team-mate, and reigning IndyCar Series champion, Scott Dixon, who starts sixth, outside of Graham Rahal.

"My qualifying run wasn't too bad - as Dario said, there's not much going on in qualifying," the Kiwi commented, "You just follow the white line and hold the pedal flat and see what you come up with. I think we're all right, but we're not great. A little more work needs to be done on the #9 car, although I think the #10 car is pretty close compared to the polesitter. We're just a little way back, so we've got a little work to do."

Oriol Servia qualified a season-best ninth in his third outing with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, sandwiched between Marco Andretti, Mario Moraes and Danica Patrick in completing the top ten.

"The car feels amazing - it's really comfortable for me and has good speed," the Catalan enthused, "It's almost too comfortable for qualifying but, in a way, it's good because we still have decent speed which will be good for tomorrow. We're in good shape and I'm very excited to have a good oval car. I think we should have a great race tomorrow."

Patrick, meanwhile, admitted that she thought her Andretti Green car was 'faster than the results show', claiming that she had expected a more aggressive approach to the session to have yielded a faster time than in morning practice.

Four former IndyCar Series winner at Chicagoland - Jaques Lazier (2001), Dan Wheldon (2005-2006), Dario Franchitti (2007) and Castroneves (2008) - are entered this weekend, with Lazier bringing up the rear of the 23-car field.

Wheldon, meanwhile, has two wins to his credit at Chicagoland, the same as his current Panther Racing team, but the pair will have to come from eleventh if they are to share success at the circuit. The Briton, who has led more laps at Chicagoland than any active IndyCar Series driver, will again run a helmet design created by a child at the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St Vincent. Each May, Wheldon visits the facility to meet the patients and their parents, and asks the children to design a helmet and write a story about themselves, before selecting the most inspiring story and having his helmet painted with the child's design. This year's winning design comes from a nine-year old Jama, who is being treated for cancer at the Indianapolis children's hospital.

Justin Wilson, meanwhile, will carry the Racing For Kids logo on his #18 Z-Line Designs IndyCar Series this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, having visited hospitalised youngsters at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital on Thursday.


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