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.
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.
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 precautionary 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||Sam Schmidt||226.954mph||227.472mph|
|2.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi||226.701mph||227.340mph|
|4.||Townsend Bell||Sam Schmidt||226.277mph||226.887mph|
|5.||Will Power||Team Penske||226.089mph||226.773mph|
|6.||Dan Wheldon||Bryan Herta||226.300mph||226.490mph|
|7.||Buddy Rice||Panther Racing||225.746mph||225.786mph|
|8.||Ed Carpenter||Sarah Fisher||226.171mph||225.121mph|
|9.||Dario Franchitti||Chip Ganassi||226.379mph||no time|
|10.||Takuma Sato||KV Racing||225.736mph|
|11.||Vitor Meira||AJ Foyt Enterprises||225.590mph|
|12.||JR Hildebrand||Panther Racing||225.579mph|
|15.||Davey Hamilton||Dreyer & Reinbold||225.250mph|
|16.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||225.216mph|
|17.||John Andretti||Richard Petty / Andretti||224.981mph|
|18.||E.J. Viso||KV Racing||224.732mph|
|19.||Bruno Junqueira||AJ Foyt||224.691mph|
|20.||Justin Wilson||Dreyer & Reinbold||224.511mph|
|21.||Jay Howard||Schmidt / RLL||224.483mph|
|22.||Tomas Scheckter||KV Racing||224.433mph|
|23.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing||224.417mph|
|24.||Simona de Silvestro||HVM Racing||224.392mph|
|25.||Paul Tracy||Dreyer & Reinbold||224.353mph||224.939mph|
|26.||Danica Patrick||Andretti Autosport||223.831mph||224.861mph|
|27.||Ryan Briscoe||Team Penske||224.134mph||224.639mph|
|28.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||224.074mph||224.628mph|
|29.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi||224.262mph||224.499mph|
|30.||Graham Rahal||Chip Ganassi||223.822mph||224.380mph|
|31.||Alex Lloyd||Dale Coyne||223.564mph||223.957mph|
|33.||Ana Beatriz||Dreyer & Reinbold||224.258mph||223.879mph|
|DID NOT QUALIFY|
|34.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||222.951mph|
|35.||Raphael Matos||AFS Racing||222.786mph|
|36.||Mike Conway||Andretti Autosport||222.247mph|
|37.||James Jakes||Dale Coyne||221.846mph|
|39.||Ho-Pin Tung||Dragon Racing||no time|
|40.||Scott Speed||Dragon Racing||no time|
|41.||Patrick Carpentier||Dragon Racing||no time|
[Images via IndyCars]