Qualifying: Penskes sandwich Franchitti

Penske Racing's Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran will start Saturday's Firestone Firehawk 500 in Motegi Japan from first and third on the grid respectively, with Team Green's Dario Franchitti in between

Qualifying: Penskes sandwich Franchitti

Castroneves was the fifth to last driver to run under CART's oval qualifying procedures, which sends drivers out in reverse order to the Vanderbilt Cup championship standings. He beat Franchitti's benchmark by 0.142 second to earn his sixth career pole and second on an oval track. But Castroneves had to sweat out four more drivers' qualifying runs, including that of his team mate de Ferran before he was confirmed as the pole winner.

"I tell you, that wait was nerve-racking," said Castroneves with a smile. "I knew that Gil had the same package as me, and that he had a good chance. Cristiano da Matta was the last to run, and I was worried that he might find a good lap. But it worked out well for us, and I'm very excited to win this pole for Honda here in Japan. They've been working very hard, and they want to win this race really badly.

"This has been a perfect weekend so far," Helio added. "My car was very fast since the start, and to be honest, I barely touched it. I thought I could do a 25.9, but in qualifying you can push a little harder. My qualifying lap (25.849 seconds/215.591 mph) was a good one."

Franchitti was fastest in Friday morning practice at Motegi, but he felt that he and the team just missed on the set-up for qualifying.

"That was a good run," said Franchitti after posting his 25.991-second (214.413mph) lap. "We had the car right on the edge this morning, and unfortunately picked up just a little bit too much understeer in Turns 3 and 4 for me to really hang it out in qualifying. It's frustrating that we didn't get the balance just right for qualifying, but we're still on the front row."

De Ferran's chance at winning the pole was compromised when CART adjudged that he exceeded the 50-mph speed limit as he exited the pit lane to begin his qualifying run. Instead of getting two qualifying laps, the penalty only left de Ferran with one.

Gil's first lap, timed at 25.993 seconds, was good for third place, 0.02 second behind Franchitti. He ran a precautionary lap after receiving the chequered flag that would have moved him ahead of Franchitti, but it didn't count. De Ferran has started from the top five in every Champ Car race at Twin Ring Motegi.

"I left my pit very slowly and accelerated out, but apparently I was going too fast by the time I reached the end of the pit lane," de Ferran commented. "The officials decided to impose a penalty, which is to take away one qualifying lap. It is in the rule book, and I did speed in the pits, so I guess it's my fault.

"The car has been very good all weekend, as Helio can attest to," de Ferran continued. "Obviously it would have been nice to have an all-Penske front row, but I'm starting up front and it bodes well for the race."

Tony Kanaan completed a 1-2-3-4 qualifying sweep for Honda, while Toyota-powered Bruno Junqueira and Ford-powered Kenny Brack were best of the rest and will start from the third row.

For qualifying results, click here.

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