2011 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race (Rd 5, Pole Day, May 21st)

© Creative Commons / Will Pittenger

In what turned out to be a frantic and constantly surprising Pole Day, Alex Tagliani scored an emotional top spot for next week’s Indianapolis 500.

Top of the Pile
During what was a windy and moist-riddled day, speeds struggled to match what had been laid down during “Fast Friday”, but as the pole position shootout opened, the sun returned and the winds died down.

Tagliani topped the initial qualifying session, but went quicker still in the “Fast Nine” stint to score his first and Sam Schmidt Motorsport’s first IndyCar pole position. For Schmidt himself, it was an emotional end to the day, especially considering how close the team was to closing only a few months beforehand.

It was unclear if the final session of qualifying would actually run – slight rain disrupted the tail-end of the first session, getting heavier as it reached 3.40pm in Indianapolis, bring it to a halt with twenty minutes remaining.
The shower was brief; however the inevitable delay meant the fastest nine drivers only got a single run.

Going out last in the shootout, Tagliani set the benchmark with four very consistent laps, finishing with an average of 227.472 mph, although for a time it looked as it Ganassi’s Scott Dixon had done enough to take top spot.
The Kiwi had the penultimate run in his red Target machine – his four-lap average of 227.340 mph did, however, drop Newman-Haas pilot Oriol Servia to the outside of the first row.
Servia had set a leading pace early in the shootout (227.168 mph), before being toppled by Dixon; however no one else was able to crack a run at over 227 mph.

Several drivers had a go at Servia’s pace, including Tagliani’s one-off teammate, Townsend Bell. The American has not had a solid drive since his Formula 3000 days, but stepped into take 4th as if he had never been away.
Bell nudged ahead of Penske’s Will Power by 0.114 mph, while Dan Wheldon returned to the series to take 6th spot for Bryan Herta Autosport.

Former winner Buddy Rice gave Panther a solid starting place with the inside of row three, with Sarah Fisher Racing’s Ed Carpenter securing 8th on the grid.
The day’s biggest question mark was Dario Franchitti – the two-time Indy 500 winner was looking at 3rd on the grid, when his Ganassi-engineered machine spluttered and died, its fuel exhausted. Incredibly, Franchitti had been short filled prior to running – too short in fact, as he coasted to the pits without a shootout time.

Best of the Rest
Outside of the “fast nine”, KV Racing’s Takuma Sato assumed the inside of the fourth row with an average stint of 225.736 mph – a solid effort by the Japanese pilot. Alongside Sato will be IndyCar veteran Vitor Meira (11th, AJ Foyt Enterprises) and the highest placed rookie, JR Hildebrand (12th, Panther).
James Hinchcliffe came close to pipping Hildebrand for the top rookie honours – his four-lap average of 225.572 mph was only 0.007 mph shy of the Panther driver’s average, leaving Hinchcliffe in 13th spot. In their return to IndyCar racing, Bertrand Baguette and Davey Hamilton take 14th and 15th respectively.

Helio Castroneves struggled during the day, eventually only making it onto the inside of row six in his Penske-prepared machine. An Andretti will sit alongside Castroneves, but not one of the regulars as John Andretti became the only Andretti-Autosport driver to qualify on the first day. EJ Viso became the second KV Racer to make it in.
Bruno Junqueira (19th, AJ Foyt Enterprises), Justin Wilson (20th, Dreyer & Reinbold) and Jay Howard (21st, Rahal / Sam Schmidt) filled out the seventh row. Tomas Scheckter (22nd, KV / SH Racing), Tony Kanaan (23rd, KV Racing) and Simona de Silvestro (24th, HVM Racing) secured the eighth row.
It was a great effort by the “Swiss Miss” in her back-up car – de Silvestro’s hands received 2nd and 3rd degree burns in a crash on Thursday and was only cleared to qualify not long before qualifying.

More to Come
Surprisingly neither Ryan Briscoe (Penske) nor any of the regular Andretti-Autosport drivers made the race during the first day.
Briscoe crashed heavily during the morning, apparently cracking the steering wheel off his knees in the process, while none of the four Andretti-Autosport runners could garner the speed to make the field.
Neither of Ganassi’s second team drivers qualified either. Charlie Kimball found himself bumped out late in the session; however poor luck saw his final attempt interrupted by the last rain shower. Graham Rahal suffered from fuel pick-up problems.
Dragon Racing’s one-off entry, Ho-Pin Tung had been setting respectable speeds during practice week; however the Chinese / Dutch national crashed hard on the final lap of his opening run, leaving him with a concussion. Upon medical, Tung cannot run tomorrow and is out of the race.

Qualifying continues tomorrow with Bump Day, where fourteen drivers will be fighting it out for the final nine positions and with the presence of a Penske and the Andretti-Autosport regulars, it could be the most fraught Bump Day since 1995.

Pos Driver Team Speed
(Pole Position shoot-out)
 1.  Alex Tagliani        Sam Schmidt              227.472mph
 2.  Scott Dixon          Ganassi                  227.340mph
 3.  Oriol Servia         Newman/Haas              227.168mph
 4.  Townsend Bell        Sam Schmidt              226.887mph
 5.  Will Power           Penske                   226.773mph
 6.  Dan Wheldon          Herta                    226.490mph
 7.  Buddy Rice           Panther                  225.786mph
 8.  Ed Carpenter         Sarah Fisher             225.121mph
 9.  Dario Franchitti     Ganassi                  (no speed)
(First Qualifying)
10.  Takuma Sato          KV                       225.736mph
11.  Vitor Meira          Foyt                     225.590mph
12.  JR Hildebrand        Panther                  225.579mph
13.  James Hinchcliffe    Newman/Haas              225.572mph
14.  Bertrand Baguette    Rahal Letterman Lanigan  225.285mph
15.  Davey Hamilton       Dreyer & Reinbold        225.250mph
16.  Helio Castroneves    Penske                   225.216mph
17.  John Andretti        Petty/Andretti           224.981mph
18.  EJ Viso              KV                       224.732mph
19.  Bruno Junqueira      Foyt                     224.691mph
20.  Justin Wilson        Dreyer & Reinbold        224.511mph
21.  Jay Howard           Rahal/Schmidt            224.483mph
22.  Tomas Scheckter      KV/SH                    224.433mph
23.  Tony Kanaan          KV                       224.417mph
24.  Simona de Silvestro  HVM                      224.392mph
Yet to qualify:
     Paul Tracy           Dreyer & Reinbold        224.353mph
     Charlie Kimball      Ganassi                  224.262mph
     Ana Beatriz          Dreyer & Reinbold        224.258mph
     Ryan Briscoe         Penske                   224.134mph
     Marco Andretti       Andretti                 224.074mph
     Danica Patrick       Andretti                 223.831mph
     Graham Rahal         Ganassi                  223.822mph
     Alex Lloyd           Dale Coyne               223.564mph
     Pippa Mann           Conquest                 223.070mph
     Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti                 222.951mph
     Raphael Matos        AFS                      222.786mph
     Mike Conway          Andretti                 222.247mph
     James Jakes          Dale Coyne               221.846mph
     Sebastian Saavedra   Conquest                 221.526mph
     Ho-Pin Tung          Schmidt/Dragon           (injured)

2011 IZOD IndyCar Series (Rd 5, Qualifying)
Pos Driver Team Points
 1. Will Power           Penske                  178
 2. Dario Franchitti     Ganassi                 160
 3. Oriol Servia         Newman-Haas             122
 4. Tony Kanaan          KV Racing               103
 5. Mike Conway          Andretti-Autosport      102
 6. Ryan Briscoe         Penske                  101
 7. Alex Tagliani        Sam Schmidt Motorsport  100
 8. Scott Dixon          Ganassi                  97
 9. Takuma Sato          KV Racing                84
10. Graham Rahal         Ganassi                  82
11. Simona de Silvestro  HVM Racing               82
12. Vitor Meira          AJ Foyt Enterprises      81

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