Former Grand Prix driver Jean Alesi will make his IndyCar and oval racing debut after sneaking onto the 33rd and final grid spot for next weekend’s 96th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The Frenchman, running in a Lotus-backed entry with the Fan Force United Indy Lights team, posted a qualifying average speed over 17mph slower than the pole-winning effort of Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe.
Having made it through the compulsory Rookie Orientation Program, the Frenchman needed to rely on there being no last-minute entries into Sunday’s ‘Bump Day’ in order to be assured of a grid position for Sunday’s 200-lap race. The official entry list had 33 drivers, the total number of available grid positions for the classic race.
There had been rumours that former IndyCar racer Pippa Mann was on the verge of securing a berth – which could have derailed Alesi’s efforts to make the field – but that deal fell through at the eleventh hour.
So it was left for Alesi to compete among the other eight remaining entrants who had failed to post qualifying times in Saturday’s ‘Pole Day’.
As one of two Lotus-powered entries – the other being HVM Racing’s Simona de Silvestro – both were assured of qualifying in the last two places of the grid, with the universally-disliked Lotus engine proving to be absolutely gutless on a circuit where engine power is critical (one only needs to look at nine of the grid’s top-ten being Chevrolet-powered to prove that).
Alesi had been comfortably slowest in every practice session that he’d participated in – prompting speculation that he would withdraw from competition amid fears that he would be a mobile chicane all race – and it was therefore little surprise to see him as the slowest runner on the day.
The Frenchman posted his fastest four-lap average speed of 210.094mph – over 3mph slower than de Silvestro, the next-slowest runner – which was a lap speed that hasn’t been witnessed since the 1988 Indianapolis 500.
Quickest of the ‘Bump Day’ runners was Alesi’s countryman, fellow ex-F1 racer Sébastien Bourdais, who posted a lap speed of 223.760mph in his Dragon Racing entry, which is competing its first event with Chevrolet power, having acrimoniously split with Lotus during the build-up to the Indy 500. In comparison to Saturday’s pole day, the Frenchman’s effort would have put him 15th on the grid, ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing drivers (and former Indianapolis winners) Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.
The full grid for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 is as follows:
2012 IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Final Qualifying Results: