Hits & Misses From Pole Day
What a difference a year makes! This time last year, the talk was about how Andretti Autosport was so far off the mark. After the first day, the only car they had in the field was the one-off effort of John Andretti. The next day saw Andretti drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway not making the race. Hunter-Reay ended up buying Bruno Junqueira’s ride, but Conway sat out the 2011 Indianapolis 500. This year, the three full-time Andretti drivers qualified second, third and fourth, while the two one-off efforts of Ana Biatriz and Sebastian Saavedra qualified thirteenth and twenty-fourth respectively.
Of course, the big prize of the day went to Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske. I would think that even though Briscoe survived many shots at the pole, Team Penske might consider the day a slight disappointment. I don’t think it would be a stretch to call Briscoe the third driver on the three car team of Team Penske. But when the gun went off at six o’clock, his teammates, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, ended up fifth and sixth in the second row.
But if Team Penske was slightly disappointed, Chip Ganassi Racing must have been crushed. Of the four cars from the Ganassi stable; the highest starting position went to Graham Rahal, who qualified twelfth. Charlie Kimball will start fourteenth, while the veteran Target tandem of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will start fifteenth and sixteenth respectively. I don’t think that’s what they had in mind before practice started a week ago.
In fact, I’m not sure that today’s performance is what Honda had in mind. The lone remaining Honda driver for the Fast Nine Shootout was Josef Newgarden, for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. It was a bittersweet day for SFHR. While they had to be proud that they had put a driver in the Fast Nine for the second year in a row, they suffered a setback when impressive rookie Bryan Clausen crashed his car early in the day in Turn One. He was OK, but his car was damaged. His damage was moderate compared to the frightening crash that Oriol Servia endured. It looked relatively harmless as the back-end of his car came around slowly. It looked as if the car would suffer only moderate damage when it hit the inside retaining wall. then he caught the end of the pit wall and he spun around violently before more wall contact. It looked bad, but Servia was able to climb out of the car unscathed. Of course, that’s easy for me to say. I saw him in the garage area later on. He was moving very slowly and I’m sure he will be very sore tomorrow.
This Pole Day did not carry near as much excitement and drama as last year’s did, when Alex Tagliani snatched the pole away from the big teams. To me the highlight of this Pole Day was when Parnelli Jones took O’l Calhoun for a couple of laps before the Fast Nine Shootout began. My friend, John McLallen, and I went across to sit in the stands outside the track (with a tenderloin, of course) for the occasion. Since that’s where sat as a child, I figured it was appropriate to sit there as I watched Parnelli run by. While Saavedra was on his successful qualifying run, Parnelli began firing up the Offy engine. What a sound!
When the old Watson chassis finally lumbered through the pits to take the track, the sound took me back. While I never saw Ol’ Calhoun race, I heard many an Offenhauser engine when i was growing up. There is nothing like it.
I’ll be curious to see what tomorrow brings. There are still rumors that a couple of Honda engines may “magically” appear. If that happens, it may spell doom for the two Lotus engines. Other than that, the only suspense seems to be who of the unqualified cars will start where. I will “try” to have a post up here later tonight about some of the lighter things we came across today. but remember this, I am a newlywed of barely more than twenty-four hours (scroll down two posts to read of my IMS nuptials if you haven’t heard), so no promises. Plus, our hotel wi-fi is questionable at best. Regardless, we will be here all day tomorrow. With what promises to be a slower day, there will be plenty of time for posting. It’s been a surreal weekend and we’re just soaking this all in.