Brazilian rookie unlikely star of Indy qualifying

INDIANAPOLIS — With so many veteran drivers trying to make it into the field for the Indianapolis 500 on the second day of qualifications, it seemed unlikely the spotlight would fall on rookie Raphael Matos.

But the 28-year-old Indy rookie led the way Sunday, posting a four-lap average of 223.429 mph to top the second group of 11 drivers to crack the 33-car field for the May 24 race.

Even Matos was impressed by how fast he ran — especially after failing to make it into the lineup Saturday with a 222.466 effort.

“Yeah, I was a little bit surprised,” the Brazilian said. “But we did a qualifying simulation during the five minutes before qualifying started, and we made a few adjustments in the car for the qualifying run and found almost half a mile an hour. So I’m extremely happy for the Luczo Dragon team. … Let’s go racing.”

Sunday’s seven fastest drivers posted speeds quicker than the 222.622 mph by Alex Lloyd, the slowest of the 11 drivers who earned spots in the lineup Saturday.

Despite a warmer day without the wind gusts up to 25 mph that hampered the first-day runs, nobody was able to come anywhere near Helio Castroneves’ pole-winning 224.864.

Castroneves, who earned his third Indy pole in seven years, was part of a front row that included Penske Racing teammate Ryan Briscoe and 2007 Indy winner and Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dario Franchitti.

Second fastest on Sunday was longtime open-wheel star Paul Tracy, making his first appearance at Indy since finishing second to Castroneves in 2002.

It hasn’t taken the 40-year-old Tracy long to remember the kind of challenges that the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis oval can present.

In the last hour of Saturday’s qualifying session, Tracy posted a qualifying effort of 221.915, which was promptly bumped from the lineup.

On Sunday, he went out early in the six-hour session and got his speed up to 222.749. But, with two more attempts available to him, Tracy and his KV Racing Technology team deemed that too slow and withdrew it.

Finally, in the middle of the afternoon, he went back out and ran a much more satisfying 223.111.

“This (qualifying format) makes your mouth dry and your nerves get up,” Tracy said. “You know, to do it once is OK, but having to hang on four or eight or 12 (laps) is a different story.”

Vitor Meira, driving for A.J. Foyt, had his own difficulties Sunday before becoming the third-fastest qualifier of the day.

Meira was among a flurry of drivers who went out to qualify in the first hour of the session. But his 221.934 was disallowed when an inspection found his rear suspension did not meet specifications.

The suspension was fixed, and Meira made another run, raising his speed to a solid 223.054.

Other Sunday qualifiers included Justin Wilson at 222.903, Hideki Mutoh at 222.805, Ed Carpenter at 222.780, 2005 Indy winner Dan Wheldon at 222.777, A.J. Foyt IV at 222.586, Scott Sharp at 222.162, Sarah Fisher at 222.082 and Davey Hamilton at 221.956.

FORMULA ONE — At Barcelona, Spain, Jenson Button won his fourth race of the season by taking the Spanish Grand Prix ahead of Brawn GP teammate Rubens Barrichello.

Button’s two-stop strategy proved decisive as he became the ninth consecutive winner from pole position at the Circuit de Catalunya, even after Barrichello overtook him out of the start.

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