Alex Tagliani celebrates his Indy pole position Alex Tagliani and team boss Sam Schmidt

When Alex Tagliani claimed pole position for the centenary running of the Indianapolis 500, the form book was well and truly thrown out the window last weekend.

Our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon casts his watchful eye over the heroes – and zeroes – from a busy week that was affected by rain, heavy practice crashes, driver tantrums and plenty of surprises…

While rain remained a constant threat on Saturday, the heavens held strong during the first session. Strong gusty winds however were causing havoc for many drivers, especially between Turn 1 and 2. A later rain shower forced a delay to the Top-9 pole shootout.

At the end of the first session, it was the unfamiliar sight of Alex Tagliani heading the running order, with a four-lap average speed of 226.954mph. Toward the other end, Hélio Castroneves found himself clinging to a spot in the Top 24, while team-mate Ryan Briscoe was even further back, requiring a special effort to ensure his presence on race day.

Marco Andretti just managed to scrape onto the grid The biggest surprise though came from the Andretti Autosports team, with Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway, Marco and John Andretti well off the pace. All five drivers were equally puzzled and frustrated at their apparent lack of speed.

As per traditional rules at Indy, each car was allowed three attempts at qualifying with each attempt consisting of a four-lap run, measured as an average speed. After the first session, the top nine cars participate in a single-effort shootout for the pole, with the results from this session finalising the first three rows for race day. The shootout was run with the ninth-fastest driver, Panther Racing’s Buddy Rice, going first, with Tagliani going last.

The shootout was to provide a shock in its own right as not one, but both Ganassi cars ran out of fuel on the final lap of their respective runs. Scott Dixon managed to cross the line with enough momentum to secure second place, while Dario Franchitti barely made it around Turn 1 on his fourth lap before his tank ran dry. The defending race winner will therefore start ninth.

Patrick Carpentier's return to the IndyCar stage was all too brief... A notable absentee from Saturday’s action was Scott Speed, who was unable to find a workable balance on his Dragon entry and did not take to the track. On Sunday morning it was announced the team had parted ways with Speed – there were suspicions he had thrown a not-out-of-character tantrum – and had drafted in former IndyCar and Champ Car frontrunner Patrick Carpentier. This was no more successful. During a shakedown lap, Carpentier crashed heavily, writing the car off, and the team subsequently withdrew its entry.

Another story involving another rookie was the first Chinese participant at Indy – Ho- Pin Tung. The promising youngster spun on the third lap of his first pole effort, hitting the wall on the outside of Turn 1 hard. After being checked at the infield care centre, Tung was awake and alert, but transferred by road to Methodist Hospital for further Ho-Pin Tung suffered concussion and took no further part in qualifyingprecautionary checks, with a concussion later reported to be the problem. As per IndyCar rules, any driver suffering a concussion is automatically ruled unfit to drive for a predetermined period if time which, in Tung’s case, prevented him from returning to the track for the remainder of the weekend and therefore unable to attempt to qualify.

All four ladies who attempted to qualify did so, with Simona de Silvestro, Danica Patrick, Pippa Mann and Ana Beatriz qualifying 23rd, 25th, 31st and 32nd respectively.

With a combined total age of 96 years, age showed no signs of slowing veterans John Andretti and Davey Hamilton down. Hamilton qualified an excellent 15th, while the elder Andretti, who debuted at Indy in 1988, will start a little further back in 17th.

In a late development, for the second time in three years, it has been announced that Bruno Junqueira will step out of his seat to make room for Ryan Hunter-Reay, in a last-minute deal struck between Andretti Autosports and AJ Foyt Racing. As per Indy rules, this is allowed, and Hunter-Reay will start from 33rd position.

The drivers who did not qualify for the race were Ho-Pin Tung, Patrick Carpentier, Mike Conway, Sebastian Saavedra, Raphael Matos and James Jakes all failed to qualify.


2011 Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Results: 

No. Driver Entrant Q1 ‘Pole Day’ ‘Bump Day’
1. Alex Tagliani CDN Sam Schmidt 226.954mph 227.472mph
2. Scott Dixon NZL Chip Ganassi 226.701mph 227.340mph
3. Oriol Servià ESP Newman/Haas 225.775mph 227.168mph
4. Townsend Bell USA Sam Schmidt 226.277mph 226.887mph
5. Will Power AUS Team Penske 226.089mph 226.773mph
6. Dan Wheldon GBR Bryan Herta 226.300mph 226.490mph
7. Buddy Rice USA Panther Racing 225.746mph 225.786mph
8. Ed Carpenter USA Sarah Fisher 226.171mph 225.121mph
9. Dario Franchitti GBR Chip Ganassi 226.379mph no time
10. Takuma Sato JPN KV Racing 225.736mph
11. Vitor Meira BRZ AJ Foyt Enterprises 225.590mph
12. JR Hildebrand USA Panther Racing 225.579mph
13. James Hinchcliffe CDN Newman/Haas 225.572mph
14. Bertrand Baguette BEL RLL 225.285mph
15. Davey Hamilton USA Dreyer & Reinbold 225.250mph
16. Hélio Castroneves BRZ Team Penske 225.216mph
17. John Andretti USA Richard Petty / Andretti 224.981mph
18. E.J. Viso VEN KV Racing 224.732mph
19. Bruno Junqueira BRZ AJ Foyt 224.691mph
20. Justin Wilson GBR Dreyer & Reinbold 224.511mph
21. Jay Howard GBR Schmidt / RLL 224.483mph
22. Tomas Scheckter RSA KV Racing 224.433mph
23. Tony Kanaan BRZ KV Racing 224.417mph
24. Simona de Silvestro SUI HVM Racing 224.392mph
25. Paul Tracy CDN Dreyer & Reinbold 224.353mph 224.939mph
26. Danica Patrick USA Andretti Autosport 223.831mph 224.861mph
27. Ryan Briscoe AUS Team Penske 224.134mph 224.639mph
28. Marco Andretti USA Andretti Autosport 224.074mph 224.628mph
29. Charlie Kimball USA Chip Ganassi 224.262mph 224.499mph
30. Graham Rahal USA Chip Ganassi 223.822mph 224.380mph
31. Alex Lloyd GBR Dale Coyne 223.564mph 223.957mph
32. Pippa Mann GBR Conquest 223.070mph 223.936mph
33. Ana Beatriz BRZ Dreyer & Reinbold 224.258mph 223.879mph
34. Ryan Hunter-Reay USA Andretti Autosport 222.951mph  
35. Raphael Matos BRZ AFS Racing 222.786mph  
36. Mike Conway GBR Andretti Autosport 222.247mph  
37. James Jakes GBR Dale Coyne 221.846mph  
38. Sebastian Saavedra COL Conquest 221.526mph  
39. Ho-Pin Tung CHI Dragon Racing no time
40. Scott Speed USA Dragon Racing no time
41. Patrick Carpentier CDN Dragon Racing no time

[Images via IndyCars]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.