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."