Ryan Briscoe a first measure of revenge on the Chicagoland Speedway oval that threaten to claim his life the last time he ventured out onto its asphalt by claiming pole position for the PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil 300, but Penske team-mate Helio Castroneves again found himself at the centre of controversy.

Briscoe's last outing at the Joliet facility ended with his Target Chip Ganassi car tearing itself to bits along the catch fencing, but the redoubtable Aussie rebuilt his career to the point where, now battling Ganassi on behalf of title contender Castroneves, he was able to claim a last-gasp pole, his third of the season, but his first on any oval.

"What a way to try to finish up this season," Briscoe commented, "It's nice to win a pole on an oval. The car was great right off the truck this weekend. We just have to try to keep Dixon behind us.

"I was really hoping I'd have the speed for the pole. It looks like everyone has slowed up since practice, but I was hoping I could maintain some of that speed, and that's exactly what we were able to do. It's a great feeling to get the pole here in Chicago."

Briscoe was the last of the 28 listed runners to take to the track and, having seen Castroneves manage only the third best four-lap avaerage in pursuit of pacesetter - and title rival - Scott Dixon, put in his best run on an oval all season, eventually recording a 215.818mph run that pushed the Kiwi back into second spot.

"I was actually surprised that [the time] held that long," the points leader admitted, "[Tony] Kanaan was definitely looking very quick this morning, as were a couple of other people, and we knew [Ryan] Briscoe was super fast.

"It's cooled off a little bit - I don't know if that helped or hurt it - but I knew Briscoe was going to be the guy to beat and unfortunately, he went last."

Until that point, Dixon had looked on course for his sixth pole of the year, having made full use of mid-session run to post a 215.553secs and knock Tomas Scheckter off top spot.

"We didn't really change much for our qualifying set-up," a confident Dixon revealed, "I felt pretty comfortable in race trim when we were in traffic, so I don't think that's going to be much of a problem tomorrow. It's going to be strategy and staying out of trouble."

The controversy was already brewing when Briscoe took to the track, however, with Castroneves' antics throughout his four laps attracting not only the attention of title opposition Dixon and Chip Ganassi, but also that of chief steward Brian Barnhart, who took his time before acting - and then relegated the Brazilian to the back of the grid.

Castroneves' crime had been to duck the #3 Penske Dallara down below the white line on the backstretch, and Barnhart scratched his four-lap average of 215.372mph as a punishment, handing the Brazilian a massive task if he is to overhaul Dixon in the championship. Castroneves can win the title if he wins the race and Dixon finishes outside the top eleven, but the comeback witnessed over the past two races - where he sliced 48 points from the Kiwi's lead - could all have been in vain.

"It's good that Ryan is right up there and, if I can't lead the most laps, we're going to try to do everything we can to make sure Ryan leads the most laps," Castroneves said, knowing that every bonus point could be crucial.

"We've got to win, so hopefully that's the way it will come out in the end. Everybody knows our plan; there's not much to hide. We're going to go full throttle and we're going to go for the win and do what we need to do to beat Scott. It will be fun, guys, it's going to be fun."

Castroneves' demotion means that Andretti Green Racing will fill row two, with Tony Kanaan stepping up to fourth, alongside Danica Patrick, who turned in another solid oval performance to annex third spot, having been on the front row until Briscoe's run.

"I am happy with our starting position," Patrick said, "Sure I wish that we would've gotten the pole, but the Motorola car will start on the second row. Hopefully, we can keep the car up front and end the season with a solid finish."

AGR will also lead off row three, where Marco Andretti shares with Dan Wheldon. The Briton again repeated his desire to see out his Ganassi contract with a race win that helps Dixon to the crown.

Scheckter, having been on provisional pole until Dixon turned up, slipped back to seventh, sharing with another man to be making his last appearance in current colours, Vitor Meira. The Brazilian had looked to be on course to topple Scheckter, holding provisional pole after three of his four required laps, but dropped off on his last tour and had to slot in behind the South African.

"I'm really happy with our qualification today," Scheckter said, "We had a solid car and solid performance. We worked hard on the car after practice today. Ray Leto, who has been working hard all season long with our Symantec team and other teams, too, helped us put together a fast car.

"Tonight, we will put our heads together and plan out our strategy for tomorrow. I'm looking forward to a good race tomorrow. We have had some struggles this season, so it's nice to go into the last race with a good starting position."

Marty Roth bounced back from the practice accident that caused him to sit out last weekend's event at Belle Isle in Detroit to claim ninth on the grid, edging Will Power - the best of the 'transitional' drivers in the last event where they will be considered as such. Power, in turn, edged rookie of the year rival Hideki Mutoh, while the second KV Racing Technology car of Oriol Servia lined up directly behind its sister, in twelfth.

Mutoh's closest rival in the rookie standings, Detroit race winner Justin Wilson, however, was only 21st, behind occasional runner Sarah Fisher and the erratic Milka Duno, after failing to get the best from his Newman/Haas/Lanigan entry.

Further back, IndyCar returnee Franck Perera came close to upsetting AJ Foyt team leader Darren Manning, but will still line up 24th on his first IRL race outing since St Petersburg, ahead of Dale Coyne duo Bruno Junqueira and Mario Moraes, who sandwiched EJ Viso after the Venezuelan failed to produse his A-game.

Behind them all, however, will be Castroneves, who now needs to carve quickly through the field if he is to impact on the title fight. The Brazilian believes he has the car to do, and Penske appear confident that they can find the strategy. Sunday, as the Brazilian said, should be worth watching....

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment