Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves was the leader of a stunning burst of speed during 'Fast Friday' practice for the 86th Indianapolis 500, recording a top lap of 38.7785secs [232.087mph] in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara-Chevrolet.

The Brazilian was one of 13 drivers to exceed 230mph on the day, the first laps above that barrier at the Speedway since 1996. It was the second day this week that he has led practice, as he also topped the speed charts Monday, and Castroneves, who celebrated his 27th birthday on Friday, enters Pole Day as one of the favourites to win the MBNA Pole.

"We did talk about the pole and also how we want to be in the race," the Brazilian admitted, "It's great when you start achieving the speeds that are competitive. But I'm still thinking it's going to be five guys - five or six guys - that are going to be competing for pole position. I hope I'll be one of them."

Qualifying for the MBNA Pole starts at 1100hrs EST today [Saturday], with practice beginning at 0800hrs. The #30T 310 Racing G-Force-Chevrolet of rookie George Mack will be the first car in the qualifying line.

Robbie Buhl was second in practice on Friday at 38.8596secs [231.603mph] in the #24 Dreyer & Reinbold G-Force-Infiniti. Rookie Tomas Scheckter was third at 38.8601secs [231.600mph] in the similarly-powered #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara.

Bruno Junqueira, a pace-setter earlier in the week, was fourth at 38.8725secs [231.526mph] in the #33 Target Chip Ganassi Racing G-Force-Chevrolet, and was the first driver to break the 230mph barrier. Eddie Cheever Jr, the 1998 Indy winner, rounded out the top five at 38.9810secs [230.882mph] in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing entry, as Infiniti-powered drivers took three of the top five spots.

Other drivers above the magical 230mph mark were 2001 IRL Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone, reigning IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr, Tony Kanaan, Raul Boesel, Gil de Ferran, 1999 race winner Kenny Brack and 1996 IRL co-champion - and last year's Indy MBNA Pole winner, Scott Sharp.

'Fast Friday' definitely lived up to its name, as only three drivers had topped 229mph before the day. The fastest lap entering Friday's practice, which was conducted under sunny skies, was the 229.808 chalked up by rookie Laurent Redon on Tuesday.

The day was not completely incident-free however, as both Max Papis and Alex Barron were unhurt in separate accidents during the afternoon. Papis spun in Turn One and made contact with the outside retaining wall and part of the SAFER barrier in the third of the Red Bull Cheever entries, while Barron also spun in Turn One and made contact with the barrier with the rear of the #44 Rayovac Blair Racing Dallara-Chevrolet.

Both rookies were unhurt, however, and were cleared to drive again this weekend.

Friday proved to be the busiest day of practice so far, with 36 drivers in 46 cars turning 1692 laps.



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