Castroneves tries to change luck

He earned the pole for today’s Watkins Glen International.

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Helio Castroneves has his third straight pole at Watkins Glen International. Now, if he can only escape his bad luck on race day.

In a near repeat of qualifying here two years ago, Castroneves bested Scott Dixon on Saturday, covering the 3.4-mile, 11-turn road circuit at 136.021 mph (1 minute, 29.1919 seconds) during the Firestone Fast Six, a 10-minute showdown among the half-dozen fastest drivers in single-lap qualifying.

“I was so fast on my new tires at the end,” said Castroneves, who earned his IndyCar Series-record 21st pole and will start on the front row for the 37th time in 90 career races. “It was just fast.”

So, too, was Dixon, who again had the best time in the single-lap portion of qualifying for today’s Watkins Glen Grand Prix, then watched Castroneves beat his top speed of 135.449 in the showdown. Both drivers easily eclipsed the track record of 133.806 mph, which Castroneves set in September 2005.

“We definitely had the laps to do it. We just couldn’t piece them together,” said Dixon, who, like Castroneves, posted his top speed on his final lap. “I was getting a bit sketchy at the end trying to push it a little bit harder to make sure we could get the pole. We came up a little short. It’s disappointing and frustrating to be runner-up again. It’s still a good starting spot.”

Another fast lap

For the second time in three years (qualifying was rained out last year), Castroneves had the fastest practice lap and selected the order for the single-lap session. And as he did two years ago, Castroneves chose to invert the order and go last.

Dixon, who won the previous two IndyCar Series races here, finished with the top speed for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, followed by Castroneves and his Penske Racing teammate, Sam Hornish Jr. Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and series leader Dario Franchitti, who all drive for Andretti Green Racing, completed the top six.

That put Buddy Rice on the outside, even though his Dreyer & Reinbold Honda was near the top of the speed charts in every practice session.

“It’s a bit disappointing. We wanted to be in the top six. They’ve got multiple resources going on, and they keep advancing,” Rice said, referring to the top teams in the IndyCar Series. “We’re going to have to work. It’s a little difficult sometimes to keep up with the track and the chassis.”

The shootout became a cat-and-mouse game as the seconds ticked by. Castroneves was first out and quickly posted the quickest lap. One by one, Dixon, Franchitti and Kanaan took turns chasing the Brazilian star, and when Franchitti briefly zoomed to second, Castroneves went back out and turned his fastest lap.

“We did a good time and we started to wait,” said Castroneves, who finished seventh here last year in the rain and was 12th in 2005 after crashing with just over one lap remaining in the race. “I knew there was a little more in the car, but I didn’t want to be stupid and go out there without anybody getting close. When they said Dario was going to try again, I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m going. I’m not going to wait. This is the time to go.’ “

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