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AUTO RACING ROUNDUP

Hornish speeds to Indy pole

Now he hopes to end his 500 jinx

Sam Hornish Jr. came up a bit short on his prediction but not his speed.

The fastest driver at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for most of the month did not disappoint yesterday, driving away with the pole position for the May 28 Indianapolis 500.

After running a lap at 229.996 miles per hour in the morning warm-up -- by far the fastest lap since practice began nearly two weeks ago -- Hornish came back less than two hours later and proved it was no fluke with two more laps over 229 m.p.h. on the way to a four-lap qualifying average of 228.985.

''This car is about as perfect as I've ever had," Hornish said. ''I was really about 99 percent happy with it."

Hornish, who has failed to finish the big race in each of his six previous starts, said he told his Marlboro Team Penske crew Thursday night he would qualify at 229.

''I made myself look bad to them because I didn't quite get there," he said, grinning.

It didn't matter. None of the other 31 drivers who qualified yesterday could come close to knocking Hornish off the top spot for the race. His big day gave team owner Roger Penske his 13th Indy pole, matching the record number of wins for the elite team.

Hornish, a two-time IRL IndyCar Series champion, would like nothing better than to join the nine drivers who have won here for Penske and finally end his own Indy jinx -- he has crashed three times and failed to finish more than 196 of the 200 race laps.

''It's a long race next Sunday and I want to make it through that. I want to make sure I make the full 500 miles," he said.

''You know, it's not the guy who's the fastest here that wins this race; it's the one who makes the fewest mistakes."

Defending Indy champion Dan Wheldon posted a solid run with four consistent laps over 227, but his average of 227.338 was far short of what he'd hoped for, placing him tentatively on the outside of the front row of three.

Two-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves was the only driver able to even approach teammate Hornish's performance.

The Brazilian started with a lap of 227.741 before ticking off three straight trips around the 2.5-mile oval above 228 for an average of 228.008. That run placed him in the middle of the front row, but it was still nearly a full mile an hour slower than Hornish.

Danica Patrick, last year's rookie sensation and the only woman in the field, remained far off her 2005 pace but was still content after posting her four best laps of the month on the way to an average of 224.674 and the inside of the fourth row.

Champ Car -- Sebastian Bourdais broke his course record, finishing his best lap in 1 minute 13.253 seconds at an average speed of 103.401 m.p.h. to capture the pole for today's Monterrey (Mexico) Grand Prix. His time was 0.279 seconds faster than Justin Wilson on the 2.104-mile course. A.J. Allmendinger, the only American in the field, will start third (1:13.796).

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