Andretti team is clear favorite for Indy pole

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“It’s a bit of a mixed bag because you work on race setups for the most part until Friday. I think that we’re at least in the ball game. I don’t think anybody’s a lock in,” Team Penske president Tim Cindric said. “There’s a couple of guys that could surprise people tomorrow in terms of the pole or the top nine. You’re never too confident here.”

Who else could be in the mix?

Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand, the 2011 Indy runner-up, and Spain’s Oriol Servia, whose Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team is scheduled to disband after the May 26 race. Both surged Friday. Hildebrand was fifth in practice at 227.549 with Servia sixth at 227.237.

Three-time race winner Dario Franchitti, a Scot driving for Target Chip Ganassi, and points leader Takuma Sato, the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race who is with A.J. Foyt’s team, have been the fastest Honda drivers this week. But they could mount a challenge Saturday because nobody knows what to expect after heavy rains washed away much of the rubber on the track. Had it stayed dry, Marco Andretti said fans might have seen a lap in excess of 230.

That’s the number his father, Michael, thought it would take to win the pole before practice began. It’s unclear now.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be, I think it could be about 228,” Castroneves said.

If all goes as planned, the top 24 starting spots will be locked in Saturday, with the nine fastest drivers advancing to a 90-minute shootout in which each car must make at least one attempt. The final nine spots for the 33-car starting grid would be filled Sunday.

But the forecast is calling for isolated or scattered showers all afternoon Saturday, which threatens to wipe out the shootout and add pressure to making fast runs before the shootout is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.

Sato got one big advantage _ being the third car in qualifying line. Allmendinger will go out sixth.

Hinchcliffe drew the No. 14 spot and will be the first Andretti driver to make a qualifying attempt. He will be followed by Viso, Hunter-Reay, Munoz and Marco, who drew the No. 59 spot.

“You don’t want to be conservative on your first run because that could be the pole run if there isn’t a nine-car shootout,” Marco Andretti said. “So you have to go for it in the first run.”

And the way things have been going, the first three rows could have Andretti’s signature all over it.

“Having team cars up there all but one day bodes well,” Hinchcliffe said. “As a team, I think we’re confident, and it’s going to be tough because like I said there’s a lot of fast cars that are going to be going for that fast nine.”

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