Helio Castroneves is going for a hat-trick on Pole Day, and he made his declaration of intent with an unbeatable lap of 228.611mph on the final full day of practice for the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

Castroneves has been on pole here in both 2009 and 2010 - and has been on pole for the race four times in his Indy career - and there were few who would bet against him pulling it off once more especially given his pace on Fast Friday. If he managed to clinch the hat-trick he would be the first person in Indy history to achieve it.

"It would be great," he said. "Records are made to be broke, so I'm not going to focus on that. I'm going to focus on what I need to make it work so we can put the Shell V-Power in the number one spot ... Just starting pole position would mean a lot."

Alex Tagliani continued to impress for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, coming in second on the time sheets at the end of Friday. "Our team continues to rise every weekend. When we are in the window when we roll off the truck, we have a great group of people who make it easy to fine-tune the car. Being a one-car team, when we are off the window, it's not easy, but this week, the car has been strong.

"I think we can go to bed tonight feeling we have a strong car, but the Ganassis and Penskes look tough. Hopefully when we pull everything out that we think we can, we'll be right there with them."

And sure enough, right behind Tagliani in the timing screens is Ganassi's Scott Dixon, followed by Penske's Ryan Briscoe - both lurking ominously to pounce and ruin Helio's and Alex's hopes for a big day on Saturday.

"I think we're looking good for tomorrow, and you should see the usual suspects coming to the top soon," said Dixon.

"Today was a good day," beamed Briscoe. "We completed a lot of laps [which is what] we needed after all the time we lost earlier in the week. We trimmed out the car at the end of the day and got good speed out of the car, but we haven't found the limit yet. ... We're excited about tomorrow. It should be a really good day on Saturday for Team Penske."

Bertrand Baguette was a surprise name rounding out the top five with a 228.028mph lap in the #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and Ed Carpenter continued to impress for the Sarah Fisher Racing team in sixth place, the only other driver to break the 228mph barrier on Fast Friday.

"Overall, today was another productive day for us. We went in to Fast Friday with a game plan, and we stuck to it," said Carpenter. "We were able to do some mock qualifying runs early this afternoon and also worked on race setup a bit this evening. The car felt good out there; it's pretty consistent."

Will Power ended up seventh today and the slowest of the three Penske team mates, but he didn't seem unduly concerned and simply seemed confident about qualifying. "Today was the absolute perfect day to drive a race car at Indianapolis. There was no wind, good temperature, and it was great to drive," he said. "We had a very productive day. We logged plenty of miles, did a lot of race work and we also have a pretty good read on how the car will be in qualifying.

"Having said that, I'm sure the conditions during qualifying tomorrow will be much different. We are in good shape going into tomorrow, and I am looking forward to it."

Dan Wheldon was the leading Brit in tenth just ahead of Dario Franchitti in 11th, who has had a subdued week of practice by his standards.

"The Target car was OK today," said Dario. "This morning we worked on race setup and then spent the afternoon working on our qualifying setup. We still have some more trimming out to do, and I think we can work a bit more on the balance of the car."

Wheldon was also cheerful. "Today the car was pretty good. We actually focused solely on the qualifying trim, and it seemed very well balanced," he said. "I feel comfortable in [the car] and it's obviously very quick, which is the most important thing leading into qualifying. For our race situation, I feel we are in a good spot, as well. I would like to work more on that on Sunday, but we feel certain that the William Rast car can contend for the top nine tomorrow. From that point on, you never know."

The team with the most headaches - and the biggest disappointment of the practice days by a long way - is Andretti Autosport. Marco Andretti managed to vault up the time sheets late in the session thanks to a fortunate tow, but before that he had been mired down in the 30-somethings along with Ryan Hunter-Reay (31st) and Mike Conways (36th), who in particular has been struggling with his car from the get-go.

"The Hire Heroes car feels alright; there's just no speed in it right now," said an exasperated Conway. "Hopefully, we'll get a direction tonight, go there tomorrow and see if it's any better. As the day has gone on, we've lost ground, even though we've trimmed out, so that doesn't really make sense."

"We're struggling to find the speed right now with the DHL/Sun Drop car," said Hunter-Reay. "But Marco and I both had promising runs at the end of the day - I didn't get a tow - so hopefully that will roll over into tomorrow.

"Qualifying will be interesting. We don't want qualifying weekend to be interesting, but it will be interesting for us."

The only Andretti Autosport team mate who seems in a reasonable state is Danica Patrick, and she was only a mediocre 22nd.

"We are a little concerned with the speed right now," admitted Danica. "But at the end of the day, it showed us what we shouldn't do and sometimes that can be better for you. We aren't the fastest car, but the GoDaddy.com car is fast, and we are ready for qualifying tomorrow."

James Jakes continues to struggle near the bottom of the time sheets and looks certain to miss the 33-car grid for the Indy 500, but fellow rookie Pippa Mann is in rather better shape and finished Friday in 27th, but it's been a steep learning curve for her.

"One of the things everybody has been telling me about Indy since I first got here is how much the track can change. We were in a fairly good position midway through the afternoon and came back to the garage. Toward the end of the session, we went back out and picked up one or two issues, which we then had to try and sort out," Pippa said. "However, on our very last run we ran our best four-lap stint - all in clean air. We had a bit of a big drop-off on the last lap, but we got three really good ones in altogether. It's going to be so close tomorrow and the same on Sunday."

Scott Speed sits at the bottom of the time sheets and is clearly deeply unhappy with a very loose-handling car.

"We have two cars, Ho-Pin and I, and they handle completely differently," he told FOXSports.com. "Ho-Pin's car is running real similar to last year, but my car is really loose. We haven't been able to hone in on anything yet and I've been trying to be really careful not to wreck the car because I think we have just one back up car between us ... We've scratched our initial game plan and starting over. We still have practice in the morning to get the car dialled in. We think we'll be alright."

He denied rumours swirling around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that he was about to quit his Indy campaign after a major falling out with his Dragon Racing team.

In all, 39 of the 40 drivers took part in the Friday session, with the only omission being Simona de Silvestro who had been ordered to sit out the day by the IndyCar medical team after she suffered serious burns to her hands in a spectacular crash during Thursday practice. The HVM team also needed the day to build up a new car for her, after the original race car was trashed in the accident. A further medical evaluation will decide whether she can participate in Saturday's Pole Day qualifying session.

The weekend is when all the week's preparations come to a head. Whether the drivers and the teams are ready or not, the eleventh hour on Saturday is when the qualifying runs will start.

Pole Day format starts with all cars taking to the track (in an order pre-determined by a blind draw) between 11am and 4pm local time to set their qualifying times; and then the top nine having a separate 90 minute shoot-out from 4.30pm to set the front three rows of the grid and determine the polesitter.

But with weather a big question mark - which could even result in the outright cancellation of the top nine pole shootout - it's likely to be a very interesting and eventful day, full of headaches for the team strategists.

Full times are available for Practice 7.



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