Pole day at Indianapolis provided us with a little bit of everything. Higher speeds, late drama, and spectacular crashes were all part of a memorable day at the greatest race course in the world.
The temperatures were high early in the morning, which set the tone for the rest of the day. The morning practice did not feature any Andretti Autosport cars, because the track conditions were not close to what they would be during qualifying. Tony Kanaan was the first car out, and posted a lap over 225 mph, getting the fans on their feet. Unfortunately, his car was 1.5 pounds too light, and he was forced to qualify again later.
Sebastian Saavedra was the first Andretti car out to qualify, but his engine blew on his warm up lap. He went back to the garage, visibly upset. The first incident we saw came when Sarah Fisher’s rookie driver Bryan Clauson spun exiting turn one. The back end came around and he was sent into the wall. The crew quickly began preparing Josef Newgarden’s back up car for Clauson.
After visiting the SFH garage area, I noticed something on Clauson’s right hand. I was able later to confirm that he had suffered a sprained wrist, but he would be fine to drive on Sunday.
Oriol Servia had a rough Fast Friday, and things didn’t get much better on Pole Day. He lost control of his car in turn four, and spun towards the pit entrance. In a crash that looked eerily similar to Kevin Cogan’s crash in the 1989 race, Servia made contact with the end of the pit entrance wall, spinning him violently out of control.
The final accident of the day came when Ed Carpenter lost control of his car in turn two. He spun backwards, went into the SAFER barrier and his car lifted off the ground. Looking at the replay, it appeared that Ed’s helmet was close to scraping the wall. He struggled on his first qualifying attempt, and may have pushed too much. He is fine, and will attempt to qualify tomorrow.
James Hinchcliffe brought the crowd to their feet with his blistering qualifying run that was the fastest of the five-hour qualifying session. He was part of a dominating Andretti bunch that clearly has to be the favorite for the race next weekend.
Chevrolet seemed to have the upper hand yet again, as they held eight of the nine spots in the Firestone Fast 9. Josef Newgarden was the only non-Chevy, in his Honda powered machine.
The Fast 9 featured three Penske cars, three Andretti cars, two from KV Racing, and Newgarden.
It was a bad day for Honda, especially the once-dominant Chip Ganassi. Of his four cars in the race, Graham Rahal had the best qualifying spot, which was 12th position. Charlie Kimball qualified 14th, and Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will start 15th and 16th on race day.
The Fast 9 shootout was really a six-car duel between Penske and Andretti. Viso, Kanaan, and Newgarden didn’t make a run for the pole.
Ryan Briscoe won the pole for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 by .003 mph over Hinchcliffe. Hunter-Reay will start on the outside of row one. The second row consists of Andretti, Power, and Castroneves. Newgarden, Kanaan, and Viso make up row three.
KV Racing has all three cars in the top ten, as Rubens Barrichello will roll off in tenth. The pole winner from last year, Alex Tagliani, will start in 11th, and Rahal in 12th.
Positions 13 through 24 look like this: Beatriz, Kimball, Dixon, Franchitti, Jakes, Hildebrand, Sato, Bell, Wilson, Jourdain, Pagenaud, and Saavedra.
The remaining nine positions for the field of 33 will be set on Sunday afternoon.
This was Roger Penske’s 17th pole at Indianapolis. Of the last 39 poles here, Penske has won 25 of them. It also keeps their undefeated streak alive for the 2012 season. The team has now won every pole so far (five).
For Briscoe, it’s quite a turnaround from his 2011 month of May. After a crash in early morning practice on Pole Day last year, Briscoe was forced to start in 26th position, and ended up finishing 27th after an accident with Townsend Bell.
It was also a great turnaround for Andretti Autosport. Last year they struggled to get their cars qualified, and actually had to put Hunter-Reay in another car. This year, Ryan will start from the front row. The Andretti stable has clearly been the dominant team throughout the month.
Obviously the favorites for the race this year will be the Penske and Andretti cars. We must remember though, this is the Indianapolis 500, and anything can happen.