Veteran driver gives Ganassi team a pole in its first event

By Dave Lewandowski

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Spirited competition started in the second practice session and carried over to qualifications under the lights. It definitely was a flavorful forecast for the Miami 100.

Veteran Chris Festa presented Target Chip Ganassi Racing the pole position in its first Indy Pro Series event, posting a blistering lap of 187.280 mph (28.5455 seconds) on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval on a breezy evening. It will be Festa's first pole start in 24 career races. Last year, with Cheever Racing, he started sixth and finished 16th.

A record 25 cars will compete in the 67-lap race -- the first of 16 that includes nine on road/street courses. Alex Lloyd (186.556 mph) will start second in the No. 7 Lucas Oil/Isilon Systems car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. The penultimate qualifier, Lloyd displaced Hideki Mutoh from the front row. Bobby Wilson, driving the No. 1 Brian Stewart Racing car, will join Mutoh on Row 2 after a quick lap of 184.864 mph.

Chip Ganassi Racing fields Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon in the IndyCar Series and also is competing in the Rolex Grand-Am Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was a pleasant start to the season.

"It's a great thing," said Festa, who qualifying lap was 2 mph quicker than his best in two practice sessions. "The team is starting out for the first time, so to come out and get a pole is just a really good thing. They've worked so hard over the winter. I'm just so proud to be a part of this team. When somebody like Chip Ganassi hires you to drive his car, it definitely builds your ego a little bit, but I don't want it to get too big because that's when things start happening.

"We're feeling pretty good. We ran race setup in the session this morning, and we can put the car anywhere we wanted, so we're feeling very confident. We're looking forward to tomorrow."

Television broadcast of the race will be Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 5:00 PM on ESPN2

For more information visit: www.chrisfestaracing.com;