Herta overcomes mistake, wins IndyCar pole

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Bryan Herta felt the pressure after
messing up the lap that was supposed to be his fastest in
qualifying for the IndyCar Series' first road race.

"I couldn't afford any more mistakes,'' Herta said Saturday.
"I knew that next lap had to be right.''

It was.

Herta, considered a top road racer during his nine years in the
rival Champ Car World Series, was almost perfect on his next trip
around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit in downtown
St. Petersburg.

He lapped the course in 1-minute, 2.51-seconds (103.665 mph) --
good enough to take the pole for Sunday's inaugural Honda Grand

"I made a couple of big mistakes and I kind of got away with
something,'' said Herta, whose first IndyCar pole came two weeks ago on
the 1-mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway. "I was just
hoping that last lap was going to be good enough.''

The IRL came up with a unique qualifying procedure for its first
road race in its 10-year history, with each of the drivers entered
starting with a single qualifying lap. The six fastest then had 10
minutes on the track to determine the first three rows of the
21-car lineup for the 100-lap race.

Dario Franchitti turned in the fastest time in the single-lap
qualifying, trailed by Helio Castroneves, Tomas Enge, Herta, Sam
Hornish Jr. and Tony Kanaan.

It wasn't a totally new experience for most of them.

Although this is the first non-oval race in the IRL's history,
Franchitti, Castroneves and Kanaan also had extensive road racing
experience in Champ Car, and Enge is a former Formula One test

Among the top six, only two-time IRL IndyCar Series champion
Hornish -- who won at Phoenix and leads the series points standings
-- has had no big league road racing experience.

"I still have a lot to learn with this car on a road course,''
Hornish said, grinning. "But I was really happy that we're in the
top six. My goal for the weekend was to come in and qualify in the
top 10, then pick off a few guys on the track and a few more in the
pits and finish somewhere in the top five.

"Hopefully, that's what we can do.''

With only one set of Firestone tires available for the shootout,
the teams that took part were figuring on a maximum of three hot

"We expected the second lap to be the fast one but, after the
couple of mistakes I made on the second lap, I had to run the third
one,'' said Herta, who then went to the pits and waited nervously
while Castroneves and Kanaan took late runs at the pole.

Asked how he likes the new qualifying procedure, Herta said, "I
thought it was about 3 minutes too long.''

Kanaan retorted: "I thought it was 2 minutes too short.''

All of the top six improved in the shootout, but Castronves came
up just shy of Herta at 1:02.69 (103.36). He was followed by Kanaan
at 1:02.98 (102.892), Franchitti at 1:03.04 (102.794), Enge at
1:03.27 (102.426) and Hornish at 1:03.45 (102.125).

All of them said they enjoyed the format, although Franchitti
noted he was also frustrated after falling from first in single-lap
qualifying to fourth in the shootout.

"It's certainly stressful,'' the Scotsman said. "We changed
tires pressures and had too much understeer. I'm just a bit
disappointed, but we can still win the race from there.''