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Qualifying: Castroneves quickest

Helio Castroneves had no idea how fast he was going. It turned out to be fast enough. Just after his on-board telemetry mysteriously went blank, Castroneves won the pole position for Sunday's Emerson Indy 250 at Gateway International Raceway. His lap of 175.965 mph didn't become known to him until the LEDs on his steering wheel came back as he took the checkered flag

"When I was going into my last lap, I looked up at the pole and didn't see my number," said Castroneves, describing his helpless feeling. "I thought I needed to step on it. I went, 'Grrrr.' I went for it, and it worked. Everything came back on as I crossed the finish line. Then I was like, 'Oh, OK.' It was incredible."

Castroneves then watched on a monitor in the pits as Scott Dixon fell short of the pole speed by less than a tenth of a second. As a result, Castroneves and Kenny Brack will fill the front row for the race. Tony Kanaan and Castroneves' Penske team-mate Gil de Ferran will start on the second row, while Dixon and Bryan Herta will start on the third row.

For Castroneves, the pole was his second of the season and third in the IRL IndyCar Series -- but his first without instruments.

"I had no lap time inside the car," Castroneves said. "All of a suddenly, everything went blank. I was like, 'Wow, now we have to go for it.' That's what I did. Maybe we need to do this more often."

Gateway's unusual 1.25-mile configuration, with sharp turns of differing banking and size, doesn't offer many passing opportunities. As a result, the starters in the first few rows should have a distinct advantage when the green flag drops.

"This track is one that probably would offer fewer passing opportunities than many of the big tracks we go to," said Brack, who matched the best start of his IRL career. "Still, I think there will be passes out there. These cars are very racer friendly."

Dixon, who had the fastest lap in Friday's morning practice session, made a slight error on his qualifying run that left him back on the third row. "The first lap, I missed a downshift coming out of fifth," Dixon said. The car was all right; we just needed a tenth there that we didn't get. Fifth is all right. We can still win from there."

Buddy Rice, using the new Gen IV Cosworth-built Chevy engine, posted his fastest lap of the weekend - 172.100 mph - good for 11th in the 21-car field. He topped Sam Hornish Jr., who nearly won the last IRL race at Michigan with the Gen IV but has to race one more time in the Gen III at Gateway before all Chevy teams receive the new engine next week at Kentucky Speedway.

"We made some pretty big headway," Rice said. "I'm pleased with how we did. This is out best qualifying of the year. This is going to be a big boost for everybody."

The old Chevy's swan song won't be a work of art. Hornish was 14th-fastest, while Vitor Meira was 15th, Sarah Fisher 18th, Robbie Buhl 19th and Buddy Lazier 21st.

Even though his off-and-on experiment with the Gen IV is currently in the off mode, Hornish still thinks he can finish well with the old engine.

"I think a top-five finish is realistic," Hornish said. "A win or a top three is something we'll need luck in order to do. That's the whole thing about racing - there are so many guys who can prepare their cars equally. It's just that little bit of luck that decides whether it's a winning car."

As for the pole winner, he's not looking for luck. A nice, dull Sunday drive would suit him just fine.

"I hope it will be a boring race, that I take the lead by 10 seconds, and that's the way it finishes," Castroneves said with a laugh. "But unfortunately, it's not always like that."

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