It took three years for Tony Kanaan to earn his fifteenth pole, but it was certainly worth the wait.
Kanaan, who has been saddled with early qualifying slots in most every oval contest this year was the second to last driver up to the line as the IZOD IndyCar Series performed their final time trials session of the 2011 season and the last for the long-lived Dallara/Honda/Firestone package.
Kanaan's average of two laps at 222.078 mph moved Oriol Servia back one slot to second; the Catalan driving for Newman/Haas Racing held top slot at 222.061 mph as 13 other drivers tried to top him; only KV Racing Technology's Kanaan could do the deed.
In fact, Servia told the KV team that "Tony has a rocket ship" after running with him in the morning session, where the duo were also first and second.
"At tracks like these we rely on engineers more than ourselves," Kanaan explained. "I had a greet car from the get-go but didn't think I had the car for pole. As it became cooler," later in the qualifying order," It helped us and that's one of the factors that helped us get pole. The cooler weather and overcast conditions gives the engine more power and the delay," after James Jakes clouted the wall and escaped a fiery No. 19 Acorn Stairlifts race car without injury, "surely helped For most of the season I've qualified in the front of the line so it was nice to nearly be dead last in line."
Servia, who practiced second-fastest on Thursday had his own rocket ship. "Front row is the best place to start," he said after earning his third front-row start of the season (the others were Indianapolis and New Hampshire). "It's all about the little details. With the same car all these years we all learn and finally, we have caught up" to the Ganassi and Penske powerhouse teams.
"I expect four-wide racing - a lot on Sunday. We'll come from two-wide to three-wide as the race progresses and I expect really hairy, dangerous, exciting races for the fans. I just hope," Servia said, "that it's safe and clean."
Ed Carpenter held second place until Kanaan pushed him back to third with his laps of 221.509 and he's joined on the second row by Alex Tagliani, who is driving the No. 98 car that Dan Wheldon used to win Indianapolis this year--while Wheldon races with the No. 77 car that Tag used all season for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
Ryan Briscoe, the final qualifier starts fifth and Marco Andretti, making his 100th start on Sunday earned the sixth start spot. His teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal occupy the fourth row and Danica Patrick and Mike Conway are ninth and tenth, respectively.
And what of our championship contenders? Neither point leader Dario Franchitti nor Will Power had exceptional qualifying sessions. They'll start next to one another in 17th and 18th places. Franchitti knew he wouldn't qualify well. "I said to Ashley (wife Ashley Judd) if we can do a top-20 it would be good," he said. "I think," the reigning champion said, "dust is a bigger problem than marbles because the tire is so hard here."
Power said, "The race around here is going to be really difficult because it's going to be such a 'pack' race; it's going to be quite intense. We need to be a fair bit ahead of Dario to beat him in the championship. We just have to be smart in the race, have a good strategy and see what we can do."
All the drivers, while accustomed to the Dallara chassis, recognize that the 2003 model is outdated and It's time for a change. Kanaan noted, "Nine years of a relationship it's plenty. With the car, I mean! It's sad to see it go because of the history. We won everything in this car. I had a deal with Jimmy (team co-owner Jimmy Vasser) that he would give me a car at the end of the year so I could keep it. But I think it's time for a change."
The IZOD IndyCar World Championship begins on Sunday at 12:45 PDT. It's a 200-lap, 300-mile dash for glory on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval and is being broadcast by ABC TV.
© 2011 Anne Proffit