(Our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon offers his thoughts on the qualifying result for the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500…)
History beckons for Helio!
To anybody with anything more than a casual interest in the Indycar Series, the result of qualifying should never have been in doubt. Anybody expecting anything less is betting on long odds. Pole position for the 94th running of the Indy 500 belonged to Helio Castroneves.
It is clear that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Castroneves share a special bond. One which continues to astound onlookers every time he takes to the track, even though we’ve seen it before. AJ Foyt, Al Unser Snr and Rick Mears can surely see new company joining them in the 4-time Indy 500 winners club. It has been 19 years since a new member of this club has been categorised among these great names and Helio could become the first foreign driver to join such an elite brotherhood.
Alongside Helio on the front row are current series points-leader Will Power, with the last Penske driver Ryan Briscoe leading Row 2 in 4th place. The only man denying Team Penske a total lockout of the front row is 2007 Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti, driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who has qualified 3rd. The new FAZZT team will be delighted at joining regular front-runners with Alex Tagliani qualifying a superb 5th place. Two-time Indycar Series champion Scott Dixon closes out the second row of the grid in 6th place.
Qualifying threw up two great results for two drivers not competing full-time in 2010. Team Rahal-Letterman returned to the Indycar Series with Graham Rahal at the wheel, who has stuck it on the inside of the 3rd row of the grid. Right next to him is Ed Carpenter, stepson of series founder Tony George, piloting the second Panther racing machine.
For the first time in the history of this race, 4 women will take a place on the starting grid. Interestingly, three of these four are in consecutive grid positions, with Ana Beatriz the highest in 21st position. Simona De Silvestro is next in 22nd position, with Danica Patrick in 23rd place. Sarah Fisher will start in 29th place.
Speaking of Danica Patrick, Andretti Autosports had a dismal time in qualifying. Marco Andretti will start 16th alongside team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay in 17th. As mentioned, Danica will start 23rd. The final Team Andretti entry, Tony Kanaan, has it all to do next Sunday. After two crashes during the qualifying weekend, Kanaan only just managed to sneak into the grid, in a car full of spare parts from his team-mates respective cars. When interviewed, Kanaan was phlegmatic on his Indy campaign thus far. "I have to thank the whole Andretti Autosport team. Everybody wonders why I do so much for this team. For this. I’ve never seen so many guys in so many different colours working on my car."
As always, there are those who miss out on the grid altogether. The highest profile driver to miss the grid was Paul Tracy, who was the victim of an unfortunate series of events coupled with a poor decision. Initially qualifying among the Top 33, Tracy thought – in the end incorrectly – that his original time would eventually be beaten by enough drivers to bump him out of the provisional starting grid. In an attempt to improve his grid spot, Tracy decided to make one last qualification attempt. To do this he had to withdraw his previously recorded time, which as per Indy qualifying rules, cannot be reinstated. His next effort was unfortunately not fast enough to get back into the grid, and as a result, the 2002 Indy 500 runner-up will be sitting on the sidelines next Sunday, wondering where it all went wrong. An unlikely beneficiary of Tracy’s decision to withdraw his recorded time was young Sebastian Saavedra, driving for Bryan Herta Autosports. After initially setting a time that was not good enough for the grid, Saavedra, in an effort to improve, crashed heavily in Turn 1 and was taken to the track hospital for the mandatory evaluation. While in the medical centre, Paul Tracy and Sarah Fisher Racing’s second entry, driven by rookie Jay Howard, both withdrew their times, failed to improve them, and Saavedra subsequently found himself occupying the final place on the grid for the big race next weekend and the last of the 6 rookies in the field, the others being Ana Beatriz, Simona De Silvestro, Takuma Sato, Bertrand Baguette and Mario Romancini.
Joining Paul Tracy and Jay Howard among the unsuccessful qualifiers are Milka Duno and Jacques Lazier, who replaced A.J. Foyt IV at the last minute before Pole Day qualifications, driving for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
Reiterating my tip from my race preview article, my bet is that after 200 laps and 500 miles, Australia will register its first Indy 500 winner. Whether that ends up being Will Power or Ryan Briscoe, will remain unclear for now.
One final thought…
Back in 1995, when Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George created the Indy Racing League to provide a top-flight open-wheel racing series to promote North-American drivers, he did so because of his growing disillusionment of the number of foreign drivers coming into the CART series. This was especially so following the successes of Nigel Mansell, Arie Luyendyk and countless Brazilian drivers, with Emerson Fittipaldi at the forefront. It is interesting to note that here and now, the IndyCar Series is now once again full of foreign drivers. As you will see from the grid below, only 9 American drivers compliment the field of 33 cars, with the highest qualified of these being Graham Rahal in 7th.
Indy 500 Final Qualifying: