Toronto Helio Castroneves celebrated his second pole of the season and the third of his career by hugging every member of Marlboro Team Penske he could get his arms around.
Then the 25-year-old Brazilian, who will start at the front of a 25-car lineup in today's Toronto Molson Indy, breathed a sigh of relief.
"Winning poles is exciting, but the way things have happened the last couple of races, it's safer, too," Castroneves said, a huge grin lighting up his face.
Each of the last two CART FedEx Series races in Portland, Ore., and Cleveland has begun with a first turn melee that has taken out or damaged multiple cars.
"Drivers need to be clever," Castroneves said. "It's a long race and you just can't put your nose in anywhere and expect it to work with so many cars together at the start."
Michael Andretti, starting third, echoed that thought.
"The problem is that it's so difficult to pass because everybody's so equal now," the five-time Toronto winner said, pointing out there have been eight different winners in the first nine races this season. "The start, with everybody still bunched together, is the easiest time to move up, but you have to use your head.
"There's maybe one guy who isn't thinking and that's when things happen. It's always been that way, but maybe it's worse now because it's so competitive."
Compounding the problem today is the fact that the first of 11 turns on the 1.755-mile temporary street circuit at the edge of downtown Toronto is a narrow, 90-degree right-hander that forces the cars to squeeze down to single file after taking the green flag two-by-two.
"Turn one is very tight and it's going to be tough," said Castroneves.
He turned a fast lap of 110.455 mph to easily lead Saturday in the final round of qualifying. "If you leave some room, somebody is going to stick his nose in there and something can happen. I have to be sure not to give anybody that chance."
The race itself has been lengthened from 95 to 112 laps, one of several races this season made longer to produce a longer television show.
"That could certainly make for different strategies in fuel loads and such," Andretti said. "Unfortunately, it could open it up to luck more than anything how the yellows fall and when you make your pit stops. And this place is tough on equipment, so it could be a race of attrition as well."
Cristiano da Matta, in only his second full season in CART, qualified a career-best second at 109.804, followed by Andretti at 109.562, defending series champion Juan Montoya at 109.066 and Dario Franchitti, who improved to 109.044 after leading Friday's provisional qualifying at 107.308 on a wet track.
Franchitti, whose qualifying effort ended when he slid into a tire barrier, bringing out a red flag, said, "The car bottomed out and there was some understeer, but the fault is mine. I went into the corner too fast and made a mistake. It's unfortunate because we had a car that was good enough for the pole."
Roberto Moreno, who leads Andretti by 22 points at the top of the CART standings and is coming off his first career pole and win two weeks ago in Cleveland, was a disappointing 16th in qualifying. His fast lap was 108.107.
"We tried a different setup today and it didn't work out," Moreno said. "But we know what we need to do. I was just reminded that I started 17th here last year and still managed to finish fourth, so Toronto is a race that you can move up and finish in the top five even when you qualify back on the grid."