What A Fast Finish!
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.
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.