Single seater veteran Richie Hearn drove to his first IRL IndyCar Series pole since August 1996 as he planted the #2 Team Menard Dallara-Chevrolet on the top of the charts for Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 at the Chicagoland Speedway.

Hearn, making his return to the IRL series for the first time since a one-off run with Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Indianapolis, backed up his morning practice form with a 24.5206secs (223.159mph) tour of the 1.5-mile Chicagoland speed bowl during his one and only MBNA Pole Qualifying lap.

The pole was the first for the 32 year-old Hearn since New Hampshire 1996, the fourth race in the history of the series, and the first for team boss John Menard since Vitor Meira put the familiar blue John's Manville/Menard's sponsored Dallara-Chevrolet on pole for the 2002 season-ending Chevy 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway. It was also the second MBNA Pole award for the new Chevrolet/Cosworth Gen IV engine in three races.

Second best to the elated Hearn/Menard bunch was a slightly disappointed Tomas Scheckter. The young South African born Target Chip Ganassi driver had been fastest in both of Friday's practice sessions but came up short when it counted, setting a best time of 24.5290secs (223.083mph) during his two flying laps.

On a day when returning drivers shone, Felipe Giaffone placed the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing G Force-Toyota in third place on the grid with a fastest lap of 24.5771secs while Kenny Brack enjoyed one of his most competitive days in recent weeks as he put the Team Rahal Dallara-Honda fourth.

Scott Dixon rounded out the top five in his spare Target G Force-Toyota with veteran Robbie Buhl an impressive sixth, Bryan Herta seventh in the best of the Andretti-Green Racing entries, Sam Hornish Jr eighth at a track where he won last season, points leader Helio Castroneves ninth and English born rookie Dan Wheldon tenth.

Of the other title contenders, Gil de Ferran refused to be too upset despite qualifying twelfth and both he and Marlboro Team Penske partner Castroneves expect to be strong in race conditions, when drafting will be the keyword. Tony Kanaan meanwhile was less than ecstatic with his 14th place qualifying time, more than 3mph off Hearn's pace as the Brazilian continued to struggle to get a smooth, consistent line around the high-speed 'cookie-cutter' oval.

Ed Carpenter had no problems with hopping straight from his Infiniti Pro Series mount into the PDM Racing Dallara-Chevrolet as he qualified a more than respectable 16th for his IRL debut, ahead of both Kelley Racing Dallara-Toyota's, 2000 IRL Champ Buddy Lazier and rookie duo Roger Yasukawa and AJ Foyt IV.

 

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