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Archive for Sunday, May 4, 2003

Indy 500 practice starts today

May 4, 2003

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— The Indianapolis 500 embraces tradition, from the nostalgic "thump-thump" as cars cross the brick-covered start-finish line to the winner's milk-chugging in Victory Lane.

Helio Castroneves added a new ritual the past two years: his "Spiderman" climb on the steel mesh fence along the main straightaway.

As practice begins today, Castroneves is in a position to break tradition by winning a third straight Indy 500.

"The first time, in 2001, I did not know what it would be like. I had no pressure," he said. "The second time, I do believe I had pressure because I was the defending champion of the place."

And this year?

"I'll come back and know what to do, or I'll be more nervous than ever," he said. "Who knows? It's just a matter of being patient and putting yourself in a situation that is exactly what you did in the previous years, and do it again."

Qualifying will be May 10-11 and May 18, with the fastest 33 cars at the start May 25.

Only four others have won consecutive 500s. The closest anyone came to a third straight win was in 1972 when Al Unser Sr. finished second, more than three minutes behind Mark Donohue in the first win for car owner Roger Penske.

Bill Vukovich won in 1953 and 1954 but was killed in a crash while leading the 1955 race.

Until last year, when Castroneves gave Penske a record 12th victory, no one had successfully defended his Indy championship since Unser 31 years earlier.

Four other former winners are entered this year, with Arie Luyendyk and Al Unser Jr. trying for a third Indy victory and Buddy Lazier and Kenny Brack each trying for his second. Eddie Cheever, the 1998 champion, isn't driving this year, instead devoting his attention to being the car owner for rookie Buddy Rice.

Michael Andretti, who has led more laps than any other Indy non-winner, plans to retire as a driver after the race.

Two Andretti Green drivers are recuperating from injuries. Dario Franchitti was ruled out of the race because of a back injury, while Tony Kanaan broke his wrist in a crash at the last IRL race in Japan.

Robby Gordon, a regular in NASCAR's Winston Cup series, will take Franchitti's spot at Indianapolis, then try to do "The Double" by driving in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, N.C., that night.

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Tracy takes CART pole: Paul Tracy is on the verge of becoming the first CART driver to win the first four races of the season. Tracy won the provisional pole Saturday for the London Champ Car Trophy, securing a spot on the front row for Monday's race at West Kingsdown, England.

Tracy turned a fast lap of 37.006 seconds at an average speed of 115.960 mph on the narrow 1.192-mile circuit at Brands Hatch.

Bruno Junqueira of Newman-Haas was second in 37.022, and teammate Sebastien Bourdais was third in 37.112. Oriol Servia (37.254), Darren Manning (37.565) and Patrick Carpentier (37.580) rounded out the top six.

Final qualifying is today.

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Schumacher takes pole in Spain: Michael Schumacher won the pole position at the Spanish Grand Prix for the fourth straight year, driving his new Ferrari to the fastest time in qualifying Saturday.

Schumacher, the two-time defending race champion, turned a lap on the 2.93-mile Circuit de Catalunya in 1 minute, 17.762. The Formula One champion won his third pole of the season.

Season leader Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren failed to record a time and will start last.

Schumacher, who is coming off a victory in the San Marino Grand Prix, was driving the new Ferrari model F2003-GA, which made its debut after being delayed after crashes.

"We knew all the time the car was a step forward, and finally we have been able to prove that with official times," Schumacher said. "The car is better than last year's car, and we had been achieving pole position with last year's car."

Schumacher's teammate, Rubens Barrichello, qualified second in 1:18.020. Renault's Fernando Alonso was third in 1:18.233, and teammate Jarno Trulli qualified fourth.

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