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