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IRL: Hornish earns Chicagoland pole

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IRL: Hornish earns Chicagoland pole
Sep 9, 2002, 5:32 AM

Joliet, Illinois (September 7, 2002) - Sam Hornish reinforced his championship hopes after qualifying on the pole for Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Hornish's qualifying speed of 222.867 mph was a new track record, beating the old ...

Joliet, Illinois (September 7, 2002) - Sam Hornish reinforced his championship hopes after qualifying on the pole for Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Hornish's qualifying speed of 222.867 mph was a new track record, beating the old record set by Robbie Buhl during last years race.

"We've been really working on our car to make sure it would run well in traffic," said Hornish nonchalantly. "That's been our main focus throughout the weekend."

Speeds topped 223 mph yesterday during practice when drivers were able to run in the draft. Drafting another car, where an engine might pick up an extra 300 rpm, can create uncertainty as engineers work to find the right qualifying setup. "We almost missed the gear a little bit, Hornish said. "We were planning on running fifth gear but had to go to sixth to keep from hitting the revlimiter. Things just seemed to work out exceptionally well today, better than we expected actually."

Sunday's race marks the penultimate round in 2002 Indy Racing League championship with Hornish trailing current points leader Helio Castroneves 437-429. Castroneves' Marlboro Penske teammate Gil de Ferran is second in the season long battle with one point separating the pair.

Hornish has his work cut out for him as he battles the Penske tag team and with two race left, he can't afford to sit back looking to collect points. "One time this year I thought about just hanging back, making sure I finish the race and get the points and about that time I got hit in the side pod and spun into the wall.

"I've learned not to think about that. I go out there and push it as hard as I can and try and win the race. You have to make sure that you're always up there towards the front, pushing for the win. Next weekend at Texas might not turn out as well as you would like it to, so you have to get as many points as you can when you can get them."

Although they've had no problem collecting points, Marlboro Team Penske has struggled on the ultra-fast superspeedways. De Ferran qualified 11th and Castroneves 21st for Sunday's race. De Ferran was disappointed with his speed, "especially because we had such a nice clean run. However, it's a long race, and what's most important is that the car handles well throughout the day and we can move up through the field."

Obviously disappointed with his qualifying position, Castroneves was still optimistic regarding his prospects for the race. "The car ran well in the test here. Now we need to stay focused because tomorrow is the day that counts."

During the 2001 season, pole position was worth two points. This year, points are only distributed on race day. "Basically, the way I look at it is it's another trophy and you can say that you're on the pole," said Hornish, who is looking to defend his 2001 championship.

Despite the less than stellar qualifying performance by the Penske drivers, Hornish knows they'll be gunning for him early in the race. "You can pretty much win from anywhere here," Hornish said. "If you start in the back, you can win the race if your car is good enough."

But Hornish remained cool, saying, "I not really all that worried about it, I was 18 behind going into Kentucky when we took the points lead by four points. So we picked up 22 there. You can pick twenty or thirty points if your opponent has a bad race."

Notes from the Delphi Indy 300 at the Chicagoland Indy 300:

Former Indy Lights driver Derek Higgins has been added to the Panther Racing team roster this weekend. With Dan Wheldon aboard a second Pennzoil car, Higgins joins Pancho Carter atop the roof of Chicagoland Speedway as a second driver coach/spotter.

For more racing news at Chicagoland: IPS qualifying story

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