Qualifying: Scheckter takes pole

The new Chevrolet engine didn't win the pole position Saturday at Michigan International Speedway, but the controversy surrounding its introduction shifted into overdrive. Meantime, Tomas Scheckter will start Sunday's race from pole in his Toyota-powered Panoz G Force

Qualifying: Scheckter takes pole

Scheckter won the pole for Sunday's Firestone Indy 400 with a lap of 222.458mph for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Sam Hornish Jr, debuting the Cosworth-built Gen IV Chevy Indy V-8, qualified fourth fastest at 221.837mph.

Not everyone was pleased, though. The decision by IRL IndyCar Series officials to allow the new engine has been questioned by several Toyota and Honda teams, some suggesting they'd better receive the same break in the future if their speeds don't match the competition.

"It sets a unique precedent," said Greg Ray, at seventh the fastest Honda on the grid. "Once you open the gate, you have to figure out where you close it. I just think it was a bad move."

While Ganassi Racing won its fourth consecutive IRL pole and Toyota swept the top three positions, Hornish's lap and his new engine were the talk of the pits. IRL officials allowed Chevy to replace its 2003 engine - which had run just nine races - with a Cosworth unit originally built for Ford.

When told of criticism from Toyota and Honda drivers, Hornish bristled.

"We didn't sit here and complain about them being faster than us all year," Hornish said. "There are a lot more dangerous things out there than me being quick."

While some expressed displeasure at the unprecedented approval of the new engine, others played it down.

"It does not change my life," said Helio Castroneves, whose Toyota recorded the third-fastest lap Saturday. "I have to keep working hard to make sure we stay on top of everyone. I'm not the one to judge if it's fair or not. Obviously, the Chevy people are trying to do the best they can. If that's the way they found it - to give them one car to have the game - then maybe that's the best shot they have."

Ray, co-owner of Access Motorsports, said the new engine's introduction has created a situation in which manufacturers will constantly lobby for rules adjustments and changes to level the playing field. While he said he welcomes the competition on the track, Ray indicated he was uncomfortable with the IRL's decision from a business standpoint.

"A lot of my decisions going into this season about my partners were based on where things were," Ray said. "There are a lot of politics and financial matters at hand. When they just change in mid-season, it might be good for competition, but it's bad for business. I think it's going to set a precedent that's going to be hard to change, and I'm not really happy with it."

The criticism didn't end there. Referring to the new Cosworth as a "Ford or a Chevy, whatever you want to call it," Scheckter said he "feels sorry for Toyota and Honda." His Ganassi team-mate, Scott Dixon, also criticised the decision after practice sessions on Friday.

More than 4mph faster than the fastest of the 2003 Chevy engines, Hornish argued that the IRL would have done the same for Toyota or Honda had they been noticeably slower than the competition.

"If the same thing had happened to somebody else, the same thing would have been done," Hornish said. "If one of the other manufacturers would have been struggling, they would have done something to help them out. It's not like they gave us less wing to run."

The decision, announced hours before last week's race at Nashville, became more controversial after Hornish led that race briefly with the old engine before finishing 11th. The criticism is likely to increase in volume should Hornish win Sunday's race.

"I wouldn't expect anything different," Hornish said. "They've been complaining all year long, saying we were cheating because we would keep up with them with better-handling race cars. We'll keep doing what we're doing. I'd rather win than make people happy."

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