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Indy 500 Qualifying

Indy 500 Qualifying
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Los Angeles, Calif., May 2011– Qualifying for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on May 21-22 proved to be as exciting as expected. In fact, it was high drama both days. Saturday pole day and Sunday bump day were the most captivating in decades. The car count was 41. Numerous drivers did not qualify for the 500 after getting bumped or not qualifying fast enough in several attempts. Amazingly, five drivers who have 2011 season-long Indy Car rides did not qualify for the historic 100th anniversary Indy 500. Mike Conway, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Raphael Matos, Sebastian Saavedra and rookie James Jakes were the series regulars who did not qualify in the fastest 33 for the centennial Indy 500. Jay Penske's two-car Dragon Racing missed the race after both cars (No. 8 and 20) crashed during practice. Andretti Automation drivers Conway and Hunter-Reay, the last two Long Beach GP winners, missed the show in their 27 and 28 cars.

Indy 500-only entrants who qualified for the 500 this year were: Townsend Bell, Dan Wheldon, Buddy Rice, John Andretti, Bertrand Baguette, Bruno Junqueira, Jay Howard, Tomas Scheckter, Alex Lloyd and Pippa Mann. Three drivers—Davey Hamilton, Paul Tracy and Ana Beatriz—have partial 2011 season rides, so that makes 13 of 33 drivers part timers. Too bad sponsorships can't be found to make all of them full season drivers. A post-qualifying flap developed after bump day and angered many fans when Michael Andretti “bought” the A. J. Foyt No. 41 ride qualified successfully by Brazilian Junqueira on pole day. Andretti installed his own driver Hunter-Reay, the last driver bumped from the field, and his two sponsors—DHL and Sun Drop—on the 41 car. It will have to move from the 19th starting position on the grid to 33rd (last) because of the driver change.

One has to feel sorry for good guy Junqueira because he earned a 500 berth and will have to watch it from the sidelines. He also lost his successfully qualified Indy 500 car (No. 36) two years ago to his Conquest Racing teammate Alex Tagliani, the 2011 Indy pole winner. That type of driver switch has happened at Indy before, usually within a team. Everyone agreed that this Andretti – Foyt inter-teams switch of drivers for a qualified car is an Indy 500 first. The reason was to ensure that Hunter-Reay's season-long sponsors made the race. Foyt's second car in the race is reportedly run out of his own pocket, so it appears he accepted a financial offer he could not refuse. A.J made the loss of his 500 ride financially right with Junqueira, a former Indy 500 pole sitter. Bruno had worked the 41 car up to speed from 219 to 225 prior to qualifying it at four laps above 224 mph. His 224.691 average was 19th quickest of the key 24 fastest on pole day. Many fans on the Internet blasted qualified car ride buying as did some fellow competitors. Brazilian Tony Kanaan, a former Hunter-Reay teammate and friend at Andretti, said he understood both sides of the situation. Indy 500 rules state that the race is for the fastest 33 cars. Cars qualify, not drivers. Who said life is fair? Capitalism is the American way. Perhaps the track or Indy car should address the issue in the off-season.

2011 INDY 500 FACTS:

> Ten Firestone Indy Lights drivers made the 500 field this year. They are: 500 veterans Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal, Alex Lloyd and Ana Beatriz, plus all five of the 500 rookies—J. R. Hildebrand, Canadian James Hinchcliffe, Jay Howard, diabetic Charlie Kimball and Britisher Pippa Mann, a 2010 Indy Lights race winner. Clearly, the Indy Lights Series is the Indy Car driver feeder series. USAC open wheel sprint car and midget racing champion Bryan Clauson and Conor Daly, 19, are two American drivers now racing in Indy Lights.

> Davey Hamilton, 48, is the oldest driver in the 2011 500 and G. Rahal, 22, is the youngest.

> John Andretti, with 11 Indy 500 races, is the most experienced Indy 500 veteran in the 2011 field. A. J. Foyt made 35 consecutive 500s from 1958-1992 for the record that will never be matched.

> Five drivers in the 500 this year have 200+ leading laps at Indy—Franchitti-255, Wheldon-234, Castroneves-231, Dixon-220 and Kanaan-214.

> Five past Indy 500 winners made the 2011 race...2004 winner Buddy Rice, after being absent for two years, joined the first four lap leaders mentioned above.

> All four female drivers entered this year made the 500 to tie the record of 2010. Veterans Danica Patrick, 29, Simona de Silvestro, 22, and Ana Beatriz are joined by rookie Pippa Mann. Past entrant and 500 veteran Milka Duno has been racing only a stock car on the 2011 ARCA circuit. Only Danica is American-born.

> A list of 269 living Indy 500 drivers was compiled for invitations to attend the centennial Indy 500. Ill health prevented Jim Rathmann and Cliff Hucul from attending. Imprisonment kept two drivers (Salt Walther and Randy Lanier) away reportedly. Two drivers (Gordon Johncock and Jim Guthrie) were not interested in attending. A list of 105 drivers showed those who tried to make the Indy 500 at least one time but failed to do so.

> Indy Motor Speedway track PA announcer of 60+ years Tom Carnegie, 91, passed away. He received a special tribute before 2011 qualifying started on pole day.

> On Friday, May 20 at 6:15 pm teams participated in the pole day qualifying order draw for all 78 entered cars, including the T or backup cars. IndyCar.com showed the number draw on the Internet via live streaming. It was the first-time I've seen that and I hope it continues in coming years. It only took about half an hour for team owners or reps to draw all 78 numbers.

> Of 12 USA drivers entered in the 500 this year ten qualified for the 33 car grid and 11 are now in the race including Hunter-Reay. Only surprise rookie entrant Scott Speed, a NASCAR Sprint Cup and Formula One veteran, missed the race. His No. 20 car crashed at 223+ mph by Patrick Carpentier (flown in from his home in Las Vegas) on May 21 while working it up to speed after Speed had a best lap of 222+ in the car.

The national importance of the 100th anniversary of the first Indy 500 in 1911 was shown by the U. S Postal Service. It issued a “Forever” first class postage stamp that depicts the yellow No. 32 Marmon Wasp, the 1911 winning car, at speed. A set of 20 stamps sold for $8.80 on the issue date. U. S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe was the honorary starter for the busy Friday, May 20 final practice day—the first day of issue for the Indy 500 stamp. The postal service write-up accompanying the new stamp read: “On May 30, 1911, approximately 80,000 spectators gathered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to witness the first running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Driving a Marmon “Wasp” he designed, Ray Harroun beat 39 other drivers to win with a time of 6 hours, 42 minutes and 8 seconds. A century later the Indy 500 has become an American cultural phenomenon rich in ceremony and tradition and is hailed as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

POLE DAY: There were several key story-lines that deserve attention.

> Paraplegic car owner Sam Schmidt, a 1997-99 Indy 500 driver paralyzed while testing at Homestead in Florida in 2000, was all smiles and tears of joy this year in his motorized wheelchair. He and Canadian driver Alex Tagliani & team won the pole position in qualifying and in the Fast Nine final qualifying for the fastest nine drivers with their77 car. Sam also won the fourth starting position with Townsend Bell in his 99 car. Wheldon took sixth spot in the Bryan Herta 98 car affiliated with Schmidt Motor-sports. Three cars-three in the top nine = little team takes the big prize ($150,000).

> Rain interruptions influenced the final outcome both Saturday and Sunday.

> Roger Penske team having only one of three cars in the Fast Nine final qualification runs for the pole position and one driver (Ryan Briscoe) not in the top 24 locked in on pole day. He became a bump day qualifier and qualified easily in his backup “6T” car after crashing his primary car during morning practice on pole day.

> The Fast Nine pole eligible drivers included three Indy-only drivers, Wheldon, Bell and Rice, and one limited schedule driver—Carpenter.

> Michael Andretti's team struggled for speed and on pole day qualified only one of its five cars in the top 24 and that was by Indy-only driver John Andretti. On bump day the other four Andretti season-long drivers bumped each other. Two of the four DNQ fast enough to make the 33 car field. Danica had to wait out a long rain delay to post her 224s and if it had continued raining she would've been outside the 33 qualifiers. His son Marco made a banzai qualifying run with no margin for error after he pulled out from the pits with 50 seconds to go before the 6 pm gun sounded and ended qualifying. It was tense and dramatic. The final two bumped drivers were Andretti's Hunter-Reay and Conway.

> Pole day attendance was up from recent years according to most IMS observers. It was 50,000 or so according to the Indianapolis Star newspaper. (It reported the latest seat count at 252,000 with room for about 100,000 more persons in the infield.) Indy's 500 is the largest one-day sporting event in attendance.

> Television coverage by the Versus Network was outstanding for camera work, booth announcing and analysis, pit reporting and features. Bob Jenkins, Jon Beekhus, Wally Dallenbach, Jr, Robin Miller and the three pit reporters all deserve praise for their knowledge, delivery and enthusiasm both days.

> While Versus TV was off the air from 11:30 am to 1:25 pm the IndyCar.com Internet live streaming carried 13 qualification runs and had 11,531 viewers at one point.

> Second year Indy car driver Simona de Silvestro became the media and fan darling after she emerged from her frightening Friday, May 20 crash after a mechanical failure at speed sent her 2011 No. 78 Dallara into the third turn wall. It caused a flip and fiery crash that ended on the inside edge of turn four. She received second degree burns on both of her hands and walked to the ambulance after rescuers assisted her from her overturned car. She proved she has courage and grit by coming back from the hospital the same day to talk to her crew as they prepared her backup 78T car, a nine year old, reported 30 pounds heavier car. Despite trepidation and pain from her treated and wrapped hands, she qualified at 224.3 on pole day and earned the 24th grid position. Rain helped her stay there. She was cordial and friendly during all interviews, smiled and signed autographs. She seems to have the gritty determination and guts of A. J. Foyt. The personable “Swiss Miss”, who speaks five languages, has become a major fan favorite like Danica, Helio and Tony Kanaan. She said she will start the 500 and go as far as she can.

BUMP DAY: Six and a half consecutive hours of coverage from “The Brickyard” made bump day (9:00-3:30 PDT &12:00-6:30 pm Indiana time) fly by and exciting to watch. Sixteen cars were listed to qualify Sunday, but the number was reduced to 14 after Jay Penske withdrew his two badly damaged cars that spun into the first turn wall in similar crashes Saturday and Sunday. First-time Chinese entrant Ho-Pin Ting crashed the No. 8 Dallara Saturday on his fourth of four qualifying laps. He had run 224.4, 224.3 and 224.2 when he looped in turn one on his final lap. He received a concussion and was not able to qualify Sunday. Carpentier in the team car duplicated Ting's crash during Sunday morning practice in the team car (20) without injury.

> Two successful qualification runs (Beatriz and Rahal) made it 26 qualifiers. They barely beat heavy rainfall that resulted in a 2+ hour delay. Then more qualifying filled the 33-car field at 11:52 PDT (2:52 Indiana time) More rain fell with Danica not yet in the field and next to go out to qualify when rain hit. She was in danger of not qualifying for the 500 for the first time since she was a 2005 rookie if rain continued. It stopped and track drying continued. At 1:42 PDT (4:42 CDT) Danica qualified and bumped Alex Lloyd. Then eight unsuccessful qualifying runs followed until Lloyd bumped his way back in the race and sent Marco Andretti to the hectic re-qualification line. Great drama with three Andretti drivers continued. Danica was in, but Marco and Conway had to scrap for the final bump, with teammate Hunter-Reay, the 33rd fastest, squirming on the bubble. Rookie J. Jakes went out and only ran a 221 on L 1 so, the yellow light flashed, ending his run. Marco left the pit lane with only 50 seconds until the 6:00 pm gun ended qualifying. He ran four excellent laps in fifth gear at a 224.628 mph average to bump Hunter-Reay's No. 28 and get back in the field. Hunter-Reay was in his car at the head of the qualifying line ready to go out to bump the 33rd fastest driver, Ana Beatriz, when time ran out.

“CARB DAY” (Fri. May 27): A good size crowd assembled on the front straight to see the annual triple-header and Versus televised it live for five hours.

  • A one-hour practice session for the 33-qualified cars ran a total of 1,406 laps without incident. Laps run ranged from a low of 4 by Sato to a high of 62 by Power. The average lap total was 42 laps. Dixon, the consensus race favorite, ran the fastest lap (225.474 mph) on his 40th of his 60 laps. Hunter-Reay got his first laps in the 41 car and was seventh fastest at 223.9 mph. Second through tenth fastest drivers were Tagliani at 224.7, Franchitti, Meira, Wheldon, Rice, Hunter-Reay, Kanaan, Castroneves and J. Andretti. The fastest rookie (Hildebrand) was 11th quickest. Fastest speeds by drivers: 225-1; 224-5; 223-13 and 222-9 = 28 drivers above 222, making it an extremely close field for the 500. Pit stops (7 to 10) will be vital factors in determining the winner.
     
  • Firestone Indy Lights 100-mile race (40 laps) with 18 starters, 15 of them series rookies: It had four yellow flags and 21 laps under caution. One of four Sam Schmidt cars (No. 11 Josef Newgarden) won. USAC 2010 midget and sprint car star Bryan Clauson finished fifth, giving Sam's cars P. 1, 2, 5 and 18. With qualifying rained out, car owner points after four races determined starting spots. Clauson, driving the car raced in road and street events this season by Conor Daly, had the pole. At the start he dropped to P. 4 by the first turn. He was ninth after a lap and 12th on lap 3 in heavy traffic for his Indy Lights debut. It was the first time he had to shift in a race car. He was up to P. 9 on lap 20 and P. 7 at the lap 29 green and at the end. His next Indy Lights race will be in mid-June on the Milwaukee mile. After racing at the 2.5-mile Brickyard, Clauson went to the Indy Fairgrounds mile dirt track for a USAC Silver Crown 100-mile race. He qualified third fastest in a 31 car field and was 25th out of 30 drivers in the feature. Saturday night versatile Clauson raced a USAC Midget in a 50-lap race at the O'Reilly Raceway Park paved short track just west of the Brickyard in Clermont. He qualified sixth fastest of 33 drivers, won his 8-lap heat race and was 20th in the feature.
     
  • Pit Stop Contest with 12 eligible teams eligible for the $100,000 total purse--$50K to first, $30K to P. 2 and $20K to P. 3. Match races from a standing start on pit row had teams race against the clock and avoid errors such as loose lug nuts. Each team changed four tires and made a simulated fuel hookup. The winner as usual was one of Penske's three teams (Ryan Briscoe). Penske has won every year since 2004 with one year rained out. Castroneves' team held the contest record at 7.962 seconds. Briscoe's crew beat that mark twice—a 7.788 in a quarter final match win over Justin Wilson, and 7.568 in his semi-final heat win over Kanaan's team. Briscoe's 7.881 time in the final round beat Franchitti's 8.481 Target-Ganassi Racing has never won the Indy 500 pit stop contest and must wait until 2012 to try again. With the IMS triple-header finished, drivers adjourned until the 90-minute Indy 500 Festival Parade over a two-mile route in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday at mid-day. As usual, all 33 Indy 500 drivers rode atop the back seat of Chevy Camaro convertibles in 11 rows of three matching their starting positions. Next on tap is the eagerly anticipated 95th Indy 500--The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.