Qualifying: Ray climbs the Peaks

There is something about Pikes Peak International Raceway that gives Greg Ray a "Rocky Mountain High." Ray, a two-time winner at the 1.0-mile oval, won his fourth-straight pole Saturday for Sunday's Radisson Indy 200.

Qualifying: Ray climbs the Peaks

Ray's pole came with a lap at 176.585 miles per hour in a Dallara/Oldsmobile Aurora. It was his third pole of the season and an IRL-record 12th of his career.

"Team Menard is a great team and we have a great set-up for this track," Ray said. "We have good people, good set-ups, good motors. I believe I have a good feel for the race track itself. It takes that last bit of confidence and feel for the track to be quick. I'm very fortunate."

While Ray's lap was the hottest of the qualification session, he predicts extremely high track temperatures in Sunday's race.

"We spent a week's vacation here and went hiking and camping and it was 105 degrees in Pueblo on Tuesday, but it snowed on the mountains on Thursday," Ray said. "The track temperature on Sunday could get to be 150 degrees and that is very tough on race cars, tyres and drivers. I think in 1997 or 1998 when this track was new, the surface temperature got to be 155 degrees. That is as hot as any tyre manufacturer has ever seen."

Scott Sharp, winner of last Saturday night's Casino Magic 500, will start on the outside of the front row with a lap at 174.795 mph in a Dallara/Aurora.

"Wind was never an issue for me today, but the rise in track temperature was," Sharp said. "When I went out, the track temperature was 135 degrees and that is a very hot track. It takes its toll on the set-up. You have to drive this track so aggressively here to stay on top of the car. You are constantly on it almost every lap. I think temperature and altitude have a lot to do with that.

"I thought we had a good race car this morning and we put it where we needed it to be."

IRL points leader Sam Hornish Jr. qualified third at 174.589 mph in a Dallara/Aurora followed by Robbie Buhl's 174.213 mph in a G Force/Infiniti and Buddy Lazier's 173.566 mph in a Dallara/Aurora.

Saturday's session was affected by high winds in the session.

"It's a compromise because the wind helps you on one end of the track, but hinders you going back in the other direction," Ray said. "Sometimes it's better to have the wind at your back in low gear. Sometimes you have to concentrate on pushing through (Turns) 3 and 4. You never can tell what's best. Sometimes it's a gamble.

"It's going to be the car that is consistent and has the best pit strategy that wins tomorrow. It's not about who is fastest. "I have a good feel for the track. I am just really fortunate. The car was set to the edge, and maybe we edged it the wrong way. It's going to be like driving 160 mph rush hour traffic."

This is the second race of the season where the IRL is using a two-day format, which includes practice and qualifications on Saturday and the race on Sunday, rather than the three-day format used for most of the other races on the schedule.

"It's nice to have hour-long practice sessions," Ray said. "It's tough on the guys and some of the smaller teams because you have to make decisions quicker. I like the three-day format."

Hornish has a 30-point lead over Eliseo Salazar in the battle for the IRL title and is confident of increasing that lead in Sunday's race. Hornish is chasing his third win of the season.

"Myself and Pennzoil Panther Racing are just going out there and doing what we think a championship team needs to do," Hornish said. "This track is totally different than anywhere else we race. The altitude plays such a big factor in the set-ups here. It just adds another variable.

"I had a little bit of a push exiting Turn 4 all morning. We've been working on getting the push out of the car all morning. I think you're going to even have to have a totally different set-up from (Sunday morning's) practice to the race."

Eddie Cheever is the defending winner of the race that begins at 2100 BST.

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