Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe has become the first Australian to take pole position for the Indianapolis 500, setting a stunning four-lap average speed of 226.4mph in the ‘Fast 9’ shootout on Pole Day for the great race.
Briscoe’s lap, which was set 50 minutes into the 90-minute session, withstood a fiercely competitive attempt by Andretti Autosports’ James Hinchcliffe, who fell short by just .0023mph.
Hinchcliffe, who we learned after the session was carrying a pair of gloves owned by fallen countryman Greg Moore inside his car during an earlier attempt, paid tribute to the late star who ‘Hinch’ described as a major influence on his career.
“I’ve had them all week, and I sort of decided I wanted to save them for qualifying,” Hinchcliffe told SPEED.com.
“Ask anybody, and one of the coolest things we get to do is qualify at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I wanted him to be able to do that.”
Moore, who never raced at Indianapolis due to the CART/IRL split being at the height of its acrimony in 1999 when he was killed at the season-ending Marlboro 500 CART event at Fontana Superspeedway.
Chevrolet effectively owned the Top 9, with Sarah Fisher Hartman’s sensational protégé Josef Newgarden providing Honda with its only entry in the Top 9 session, qualifying on the inside of Row 3 in seventh place.
Ryan Hunter-Reay will complete the front row of the grid for the 96th edition of the “greatest spectacle in racing”, with team-mate Marco Andretti close behind, meaning the three Andretti cars will start second, third and fourth.
Will Power and Helio Castroneves close the book on a dominant Penske/Andretti result in fifth and sixth, respectively.
Behind Newgarden are the two KV Racing entries of Tony Kanaan and EJ Viso, the former of whom had an earlier qualifying attempt disqualified for a lack of ballast on his car.
Undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the day was Rubens Barrichello. Having never raced at Indianapolis in anything other than a Formula One car, Rubens experienced the track in the other direction to the scene of one of his 11 race victories and excelled once again, qualifying an amazing tenth-fastest with an average speed of 224.264mph over his four flying laps.
Last year’s pole-winner Alex Tagliani will start from eleventh place, the highest of the teams still adjusting to their new engine power following the late ditching of the super-slow Lotus.
It was another disappointing day for Team Ganassi, with none of its four drivers participating in the Top 9 session and starting no higher than Graham Rahal in twelfth. Ganassi’s two main entries Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will start all the way back in 15th and 16th.
Lotus’ only two representatives in Simona De Silvestro and Jean Alesi did not even make an attempt, deciding to wait until ‘Bump Day’ on Sunday to try their chances at squeezing into the Top 33 for next week’s 200-lap race.
2012 IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 ‘Pole Day’ Qualifying Results: