What A Fast Finish!

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An interesting day had a fast and dramatic ending. In fact, it was an improbable ending that you’d be more likely to find in Hollywood than at an actual event. I’m still undecided on the Fast Nine Shootout concept. It takes away from the one-time chance to put together four perfect laps. Now, you just aim for the top three rows and count on the weather holding so you can put your main effort towards the last hour.

The way it worked out today though, I really liked it. At 5:25, after successful track-drying efforts were complete, they said everyone in the top nine would get one run for the pole even if it went past six o’clock. Buddy Rice went out first and put up what looked a respectable 225.786. That turned out to be good enough for only seventh. Oriole Servia went out and sat on the provisional pole for most of the session with a 227.168. For a while, it looked as if it might hold for the coveted spot. Servia still ended up with a front-row spot. he will start outside of Row One.

There were some solid runs and some disappointing runs for the next thirty-five minutes. Ed Carpenter had a strong warm-up lap that was clocked at over 226mph. That was about as good as it got. His first lap was 226.500, but he never cracked 226 again. Will Power had a “so-so’ 226.773 average, good enough for the middle of the second row that ended his run of consecutive poles for 2011. Dan Wheldon will start fourth which was about where he was before the “Fast Nine” started.

The biggest disappointment came as Dario Franchitti was on what appeared to be a pole run, when his car inexplicably ran out of fuel coming towards the checkered flag. His teammate, Scott Dixon, seemed to salvage the day for Target Chip Ganassi when he was momentarily on the pole with a 227.340.

The joy was short lived, however. In dramatic fashion, Alex Tagliani had yet to make his run. Tagliani’s first lap of 227.733 was the fastest of the day. Although his last lap was the slowest at 227.238, the average speed was still good enough to knock Dixon off of the pole.

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Alex Tagliani's Pole-winning car

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The steering wheel still had the four-lap average displayed.

When Dixon knocked Servia off of the pole, there was some warm applause mixed in with a smattering of boos. It looked like yet another pole for the Penske/Ganassi juggernaut. When Tagliani knocked Dixon off of the pole at the last minute – the crowd erupted. This was a popular moment with the fans. This was just as much for Tagliani’s car owner, Sam Schmidt as it was for Tags.

Sam Schmidt is a very popular owner. The way he overcame his paralyzing accident eleven years ago, to refocus his love of racing on car-ownership has always been appreciated by fans. He has had a strong Firestone Indy Lights team for years. For the last several years, he has had an Indy-only program usually in association with other teams. This year, he stepped up to running a full-time IZOD IndyCar Series team when he merged his operation with FAZZT Racing, where Tagliani was the part-owner and driver. They don’t have near the budget of any of the power teams in the series, but I’d say things have worked out.

Let the speculation begin on whether or not Tagliani and Sam Schmidt can hang with the big-budget teams of Penske and Ganassi for all day next Sunday. Except for Dixon’s near miss shot for the pole, it was a dismal day for both of the top teams. Some may say this was a changing of the guard, while others will say that they have only awakened a sleeping giant. I will say that it has given fans hope of a more wide-open race next Sunday than thinking that the winner will come from only five possible cars.

There will be additional drama tomorrow. Many experts have predicted that one of the top veterans will surprise everyone by not making the race. Many big names are not in this field yet. Among them are Ryan Briscoe, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Mike Conway. They are all previous race winners in this series. Odds are that one of them will be watching from the stands next week.

It’s been a very fun day today. I have an idea that tomorrow may be even better. We’ll have plenty of posts throughout the day. Check back often.

George Phillips

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15 Responses to “What A Fast Finish!”

  1. Really? Who will say it’s a changing of the guard? They’ll be wrong. More like difficult weather conditions proved to be an equalizer today. Even the worst month of May didn’t destroy Team Penske. And I think Ganassi will find a fuel pump by next Sunday.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Team Penske failed to qualify one year.
      Ganassi Racing probably put too little fuel in 9 and 10 in order to be light & fast. Doubt that a fuel pump was at fault. Lesser teams with lesser cars didn’t have such a problem.

      • That was a reference to having enough fuel on Sunday, not the actual fuel pump.

        And yes. May 1995 completely destroyed* Team Penske. That’s why they returned to win it 5 times in the next decade.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      I don’t know what you were watching, but Penske and Co. got spanked in qualifying yesterday… I don’t think this marks a changing of the guard, as it is a long race and both Penske and Ganassi will certainly be a force to contend with race day….

  2. What happened to Shetkter (spell problem) and Speed? Also curious about who might run in Sarah’s back-up car.

    • nevermind about the dude who’s name I can’t spell. just saw he qualified 22nd or so. don’t know how I missed him.

  3. Big Nasty Says:

    I think that format for the Fast 9 (1 attempt for each car) in reverse order of how they initially qualified, is the way they should go from now on.

    That was REAL drama and was easy to follow for the fans. Keep it for the future.

    Most of these guys don’t want to go back out there anyway. Carpenter and Rice were very content to start where they were. They can’t afford to hurt their cars either.

    Keep that format. It works.

  4. WOW! WOW! WOW! This was one of the best Indy qualifying sessions I have seen in a long time.

    Did anyone have Alex Tagliani winning the pole? Way to go, Tag, and SSM. If they can keep their team together, Sam Schmidt might very well be challenging for best of the rest in INDYCAR. I know that’s hyperbole, but they looked good today, not only with Tag but Townsend Bell. Kudos also go to Oriol Servia-in a car finally worhty of his talents. Also a shout out to Ed Carpenter-and his team owner, Sarah Fisher-Dan Wheldon and Buddy Rice. If I were a team owner, I’d put one of those guys in a car on an oval at some point this season. I wouldn’t be suprised if it happened at Dale Coyne Racing, as rookie James Jakes has not looked good this month (To be fair, it’s his first time racing on an oval.)

    What happened with Dario Franchitti’s car? How do you run out of fuel on your qualification laps at Indy? I wouldn’t like to be in the TCGR trailer tonight. Or maybe I’d like to be, to hear the 4 letter verbs and 7 letter adjectives that undoubtedly will fill the air with blue intstead of Target red.

    In the words of Desi Arnaz, Andretti Autosport’s got some ‘splainin’ to do. The best qualified of the 5 cars is the one-off of John Andretti? It’s not just today. Only PSP was fast in practices; the others were all struggling for speed. And I agree with you, George, I also believe that one of the 4 regulars in AA will be watching next week from a seat not in a racecar. You know who I’m hoping it will be.

    Penske also struggled, except for Will Power. Helio’s qualifying was surprising to me. Ryan Briscoe at least was running his T-car after his early morning crash,, so that can be used as something of an explanation for his issues today.

    I also need to praise Simona De Silvestro, who continues to impress me every time she’s out there. Burned hands, destroyed primary car, oldest, slowest chassis in the field, and still outqualifies some of the bigger name and team drivers. Unlike that idiot Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, I feel there is no need to bend over backwards to keep she-who-shall-not-be-named in the series. Sim, Pippa, Ana, and Kat-who might be arriving later this year-will hold down the fort just fine for the Y chromosome brigade.

    Finallly, I disagree with you about the qualifying process. I loved it. Sports is all about drama, and today was definitely dramatic. If it were possible to modify this qualifying process for all the races, I’d be all for it.

    • Simona … Burned hands, … oldest, slowest chassis in the field, … outqualifies some of the bigger name(s)” Loved it. Love to see underdogs do well.
      By the way, Will Power is an android, while Briscoe Inferno is flesh-and-blood like you and me.

  5. StephenP_83 Says:

    George,
    Haven’t posted in awhile since I’ve been stuck in Iraq, but I definitely have been taking the time to keep up with racing. I have no way to watch qualifying where I am at, but I was able to keep up with everything during Saturday thanks to the streaming audio feature on 1070the fan (where I’ve also been enjoying “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”).

    I am completely and utterly impressed by Simona. After I saw the video clip of her wreck and the huge white gloves she was wearing, I didn’t think she would be able to drive a car. It blew me away that she was able to go out in that chassis and get it qualified when a whole bunch of other people couldn’t get their primary cars in. Pretty good drama while listening along on the radio. Speaking of listening on the radio, I’m pretending I’m experiencing the 500 in the older days when unless you were in Indianapolis you had to listen to the radio. That’s the only way I can not be depressed about not seeing the race on the 100th anniversary of that first race in 1911. (BTW, I picked up a book about the 1911 race at the beginning of the month called, “Blood and Smoke” by Charles Leerhsen. I’m only about halfway through it, but I recommend it. Especially if you have any doubt in your mind about the outcome of the first race.)

    Sam Schmidt is nothing but inspirational. Being a HUGE Formula 1 fan, I can’t help but compare him to Frank Williams. Both of those men have a huge following amongst whole motor sports fan base. It would be something to see Sam Schmidt win the 500!

    My last note…Good call IMS by having a medal of honor winner be the starter for the 500. Bruce Crandall is an American hero and on memorial day having a hero speaks to my heart a lot more than some celebrity does!

  6. I’m envious of your front-row seat for the action! I can only imagine what the atmosphere there is like.
    Mario claimed on the TV broadcast that Andretti Autosport had discovered their problem and should be able to get their cars in the field Sunday. We’ll see.
    Focusing on the positive and the underdogs, congrats to Tagliani for the pole and to the 4 part-time or one-off drivers in the Fast Nine.

    I’m looking forward to Sunday’s action and am positively giddy for the race itself.

  7. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    It was an exciting and unexpected outcome yesterday, but I have to admit that I agree with Mr. Foyt regarding qualifying…. At Indy, if you go out and turn the time you are happy with (and you get three shots during the course of the day). That should be your slot. Being required to go back out at the end of the day after putting your car on the fiirst three rows, especially the front row for most drivers and teams, is nothing but tempting fate…

    • I hesitate to disagree with Foyt, but the Final Nine thing sure made quals exciting–and made for great TV also. I like it. For an event like Indianapolis, qualifying should be an event too.

      • Agreed. I understand the old guys’ (A.J. and Robin Miller) take on things, but for the sake of trying to get some TV viewers, I’m 100% behind the Fast 9 concept. Guarantee that barring rain there’ll be action for 90 straight minutes and that you will see the Pole winning run is a far better way to get people to tune in than the old “you have to watch 6 straight hours of TV, endure periods when nothing may be happening, and hopefully you’re not left staring out the window at a nice, warm May afternoon” way of going about things. I’m pretty much a purist at heart, but I’m cool with this tweak making for some compelling drama (which it certainly did on Saturday).

  8. I think the Fast Nine arrangement is a good compromise. First, it’s entertaining for the fans. No one will argue that after Saturday. Second, it rewards bravery and risk. The 9th fastest qualifier knows he has the chance to improve his position, if he’s willing and able to put four mor laps together. Finally, the timid (for lack of a better word) don’t have to risk starting worse than 9th, wrecking a car, etc. They could always go out and make a slow, conservative lap just to stay in the field.

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