Qualifying: de Ferran takes pole fight

How's this for fitting? In the last race of his career, Gil de Ferran will go out on top

Qualifying: de Ferran takes pole fight

De Ferran, still chasing the IRL Indy Car Series championship, won the pole Friday night for Sunday's Chevy 500, the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway. The Brazilian, who won the Indianapolis 500 in May and CART championships in 2000 and 2001, will retire following the race.

Now, in his farewell, de Ferran will start from the No. 1 position.

"This is unbelievable," de Ferran said. "For me, it would be a dream come true if I could win the pole and win my last race."

De Ferran returned to the Dallara chassis for the finale and recorded a track record of 222.864 mph, just 0.0009s ahead of Scott Dixon. Tomas Scheckter will start third, Felipe Giaffone fourth, Helio Castroneves fifth and Vitor Meira sixth.

"Obviously, Gil was a surprise," Dixon said. "He got something out of that car. I think all the other cars that went out lost speed from practice. They did a nice job of finding it."

In the previous race at California Speedway, de Ferran and his Team Penske crew went back to the Panoz G Force he drove to victory at Indy. The choice might have cost de Ferran a realistic shot at the IRL championship; he finished 15th at California and dropped 30 points behind the co-leaders, Dixon and Castroneves.

Now, de Ferran has to win the race and hope that the other four contenders - Dixon, Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Sam Hornish Jr. - encounter trouble that keeps them from finishing close to the lead.

"It's important not to get carried away with this," de Ferran said. "Qualifying is important here, but it's not everything. … I don't want to get too emotional here. I still have two days left."

Dixon didn't seem concerned about losing the pole, nor did the other three contenders voice concern about starting farther back in the field. Castroneves, who held the pole briefly before fading to fifth, was too thrilled with de Ferran's pole position to be concerned about his own third-row starting spot.

"I feel much better now," Castroneves said. "He was the farthest one back who still had a chance to win the title. Now he can win the race and I can finish second and win the championship. I am really happy for him."

Actually, Castroneves had a hand in the set-up on de Ferran's Dallara. During a test last week, Castroneves - who has raced the Dallara throughout the season - perfected the car's qualifying setup for Texas' 1.5-mile tri-oval.

"He was fast here in the test," de Ferran said of his team-mate. "He said, 'Man, I think you're going to like the setup.' I drove the car this morning, and I said, 'The car is great, Helio.' They really did a good job, a really fantastic job."

The three drivers who control their destiny in the championship hunt - Dixon, Castroneves and Kanaan - appear to be in good shape following Friday's qualifying. If any of them win the race, they win the championship. Dixon will start second, Castroneves fifth and Kanaan ninth.

"We know we can race," Kanaan said. "We know we can start in the back and pass people. " Kanaan said.

The hottest driver of late didn't do himself any favours. Hornish, winner of three of the last four IRL races, will start 12th when the green flag waves to start the all-important race.

"It could be a blessing in disguise, starting back there," said Hornish, who needs to finish two or three positions ahead of the contenders to win the championship. "You never know what can happen on the first lap."

To a man, though, all four of de Ferran's championship contenders seemed pleased - if not shocked - by his pole position.

"They had to give him one, I guess," Dixon said with a grin. "If it was one of the other three guys, I would have been upset."

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