Ray grabs pole

Greg Ray scored one for the IRL when the defending champion of the series knocked off defending CART FedEx Series champion Juan Montoya Saturday to win the pole for the 84th Indianapolis 500.

Ray does not like to become involved in the political battle that is being waged between rival series the Indy Racing Northern Light Series and CART, but his fellow IRL drivers all applauded Ray for defending its turf at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I'm going to go out and buy a Greg Ray T-shirt," said fellow IRL driver Mark Dismore after Ray knocked Montoya off the pole. "He was running for the entire IRL for that qualification lap."

Ray won the pole when he went out late in the day and whipped off a four-lap average of 223.471mph per hour in a Dallara/Oldsmobile Aurora.

Montoya, the 24-year-old CART superstar from Colombia, was on the pole with a four-lap average of 223.372 mph in a G Force/Aurora, before Texan Ray gave Team Menard its third Indianapolis 500 pole in six years.

Eliseo Salazar of Chile put A.J. Foyt's G Force/Aurora on the outside of the front row with a four-lap average of 223.231 mph. Twenty-three of the 33-car starting field qualified for next Sunday's Indianapolis 500 on Saturday. The remainder of the field will be filled on Sunday.

Once the field reaches 33 cars, the bumping process begins where the car with the slowest four-lap average is on the bubble. There were six crashes on Saturday, with five in qualifications. Rookie Andy Hillenburg crashed in Saturday morning's practice session when he slammed into the first turn wall. Those who crashed in practice included Jimmy Kite, Scott Harrington, Memo Gidley, Hideshi Matsuda and Lyn St. James. None of the drivers were injured.

The margin between Ray's time and Montoya's was just .071-seconds. The slowest of the 23 qualifiers is Richie Hearn, who ran a four-lap average of 219.816 mph - a difference of 3.655 miles per hour from Ray's pole-winning speed.

"This field is extremely tight," Ray said. "There is no question that I wanted to put the car on the pole. We didn't get the car set up up until last night where I thought I could leave my foot on the throttle.

"It's just something we wanted, but the competition is so close that I was preparing myself for possibly not getting the pole. I was preparing myself to possibly be on the third row because it's so competitive.

"When you see the difference between putting in one fast lap as compared to four, I think it says a lot of Team Menard.

"We had to put up or shut up and when it came right down to it, we put up."

By doing so, it saved the day for the IRL after CART's best team - Target Chip Ganassi Racing - was ready to beat the IRL at its own game using its rules, fairly and squarely.

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