Pole Day for the Indianapolis 500 is a paradox. How many places could you go to where the speed of 222 mph is announced and it is met with groans of disgust and sighs of distain. How many places could you go, where the traditional and the innovative collide on a grand stage? Where generations of patrons come to see one thing. Speed. No matter what changes occur at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speed reigns over Pole Day for the Indianapolis 500.
After a couple years of decreased speeds, fast times have returned to Indy. Last year's pole speed of 224.864 mph - run by Helio Castroneves - would only be good enough for the inside of row five. This year, Castroneves kissed 228 mph, before settling with a 227.970 mph average.
The return of fast laps at Indianapolis is not the only story that can be brought forth from Pole Day. The dominance that Castroneves displayed over his rivals - winning his fourth Pole and second in a row- , might not even be the biggest news from an odd day at IMS. From my perch, at the end of pit road, the story lines started to revel themselves quickly. Just likes the cars circumnavigating the Brickyard.
Ever since Andretti Autosports (then Andretti Green Racing) entered full-time IndyCar competition in 2003, they have had few rivals. As member of IndyCar's Big Three - along with Penske and Ganassi - their success seemed as constant as the tides. That is until, Pole Day 2010; the day Andretti Autosports fell off the map. They could still run a strong 500 miles but, while they normally have a bold showing in qualifying, they were complete non-factors.
Danica Patrick qualified 23rd, 13 spots behind her former lowest starting position. John Andretti had no speed in his car and couldn't make the field of 24. Tony Kanaan, in maybe the lowest moment of the day for Andretti Autosports, crashed in the short-cute of One and Two and was unable to make a qualifying attempt. The best showing of the day was Marco Andretti qualifying in a lowly 16th, and that might not even be their best moment of the Day. Ryan Hunter-Reay, while not being able to find speed all month, found just enough speed to put himself on the inside of row six.
The performance by Andretti Autosports on Saturday was a failure. It wasn't like Penske circa 1995 - when both Al Unser Jr., the defending "500" champion, and Emerson Fittipaldi failed to qualify - but it was a bad day for the proud team. They were expected to be in competition for the Saturday Shootout, and were not even close. Now they are left to two drivers currently out of the field, and need to find speed in order to prevent something that has never happened to Andretti Autosports: a driver missing the field at Indianapolis.
KV's Near Miss
KV Racing has some good cars, with experienced owners - Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser - and a full stable of drivers. And they were in danger of a disastrous day. A day when none of their drivers would qualify.
Pole day for KV began with Takuma Sato crashing into the turn two wall during practice. The Sato crash was followed up by Paul Tracy having gear problems when he attempted to qualify, then with Mario Moraes crashing and E.J. Viso aborting his attempt immediately after he took the green flag; nothing was going right. And part of the KV effort never got fixed. Sato didn't make an attempt and Tracy had no speed. But with the clock running down, relief finally arrived for the beleaguered team. Viso, after almost wiggling himself into the wall, put himself solidly into the field in the 19th position. Moraes' crew then went superhuman and fixed the broken car that he put in the wall earlier in the session, and then Moraes qualified in the 13th spot as the gun fired.
Tracy not being able to contend for the front row and Sato's crash is unfortunate. Crashes always set teams back a little bit, but the Moraes' crew effort definitely takes the edge off of it. Plus knowing that you have the Thrill from West Hill, hungry and in your corner, with a car that had been fast all month, will lead to an interesting race day; at least once he gets in the field.
After the speeds that Alex Tagliani showed this month, his fifth place qualifying effort was not that much of a surprise. Even though Tags is driving the old Roth Racing equipment, they have been fast everywhere they have tried. But, the Little Team that Could was definitely a highlight of the day. Bruno Junqueira on the other hand had the opposite problem.
Oh, Bruno. Junqueira was unable to qualify on Saturday. Not because he crashed or because he was sick, or anything like that; but because his car was parked in the FAZZT Racing garage. Junqueira's sponsor didn't come through. Leaving Junqueira standing in Tagliani's pit and wondering what could have been.
Positives of the Day
For the first time this month, the crowd showed up. It wasn't like the days of track records, but it wasn't embarrassing
The solid runs by the one-off drivers. Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman) and Ed Carpenter (Panther) both put themselves in the Saturday Shootout and will start seventh and eighth respectively
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing got all four of their cars into the show. They're lowest starter is rookie Ana Beatriz who will start 21st
.Speaking of Beatriz. She and Simona de Silvestro - the two female rookie drivers - both are in the show. They will start directly in front of Danica Patrick. Three women are in. Only Sarah Fisher and Milka Duno have yet to qualify.