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CARPENTER WINS FAST NINE SHOOTOUT TO CAPTURE HIS SECOND STRAIGHT INDY 500 POLE
Author: Mark W. Theisen
Photo/Brady Whitesel
Photo/Brady Whitesel
May 18th 2014 -
     INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA:     What had to the most stressful two days of qualifying in Indianapolis 500 history ended the same way it did last May when Ed Carpenter snared the pole away from his fellow Fast Nine competitors to become only the 11th driver to win back-to-back pole starting positions for the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing” today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

     Carpenter, who went out last today by virtue of posting the fastest four lap average yesterday-just as he did last May, edged James Hinchcliffe by .228 miles-per-hour virtually winning the pole on the fourth corner of the final lap.

     ABC Television brought their "Tracker” to Indianapolis this year and the timing device designed to predict the speed of the lap based on previous performance actually had Carpenter finishing fourth entering his final lap but unlike the other eight drivers in the shootout Carpenter saved his best for last, his car did not scrub off as much speed on the final lap and by the fourth turn he was projected to be fast and he did so.

      The qualification procedure, new for this year, featured two days of action requiring drivers to qualify on Saturday and then re-qualify today, stressful enough, but then mix in the weather changes that occur on a regular basis in the Midwest and you have an additional layer of stress and that came into play today.

     After a rather calm day on Saturday that allowed non-stop qualification attempts albeit for a brief rain interruption Sunday dawned very cool and that enabled the cars to go fast, early and then when the sun, wind and temperatures rose it affected those qualifying later in the day just as it always had here.

     Mikhail Aleshin turned in a lap of 232.917, the fastest of the month during the morning practice session that commenced at 8:30 A.M. with 19 cars putting laps in over 230 miles-per-hour.

     When the 10:30 A.M. session that saw cars that qualified 10th through 33rd yesterday begin their re-qualifying, track conditions were still favorable and when Juan Pablo Montoya averaged 231.007 for his four lap attempt he was actually the fastest qualifier of the month, but because he was not in the Fast Nine his effort earned him the 10th starting position of the 500 next Sunday.

     "We struggled yesterday,” said Montoya, "we could just not find the right balance despite the input from the rest of my team.”  Many people felt that Montoya’s plight yesterday was "rust” as it was his first time back to Indianapolis in an IndyCar but that was all put to rest today and the 2000 Indy 500 winner was happy to snap back after his problems yesterday.

     Scott Dixon’s 230.928 and Kurt Busch’s 230.782, the next fastest laps were also faster than Carpenter’s average as the pair will complete the fourth row of the starting grid next Sunday.

     Between the end of the first qualifying session and the Fast Nine Shootout ambient track conditions changed:  temperatures were up, wind was changing directions and nerves were at an all time high.

     It became a question of which of the nine driver and team combinations would push the envelope the farthest, take the most down force out of the car and risk it all to win the top starting spot for the 500.  

    The Fast Nine Shootout, like the earlier session, will feature cars going in reverse order of yesterday’s session with the slowest first.

     JR Hildebrand was the first of the nine to go out driving the second entry from Carpenter’s race team.  Hildebrand struggled throughout the four lap attempt and at the end his four lap average was 228.726 was almost two miles-per-hour slower than yesterday’s effort.

     "We just missed the balance set up,” said Hildebrand.  "The wind and weather changes caught us off guard; it is quite different now than this morning or yesterday.”

     Josef Newgarden was next and despite two laps over 230 he finished with a four lap average of 229.893 down from his 230.033 yesterday.

     Simon Pagenaud was next and his 230.614 was faster than yesterday and he was now temporally the fastest.   

     Marco Andretti was next out and one could readily see what was happening on the track.  The drivers first lap was the fastest and then as the tires began to loose their newness the car would begin to slide up toward the wall, this coupled with little or no down force and the drivers had their hands full.

     Andretti’s first lap was good enough to be the fastest but he lost so much on the final laps that his 230.544 average was slower than Pagenaud.

     Will Power was next and after two laps in the 231 bracket his car also went away but his four lap average of 230.699 was now quick.

     Hinchcliffe was next positing 231.618, 231.086, 230.841 and 229.819 to take over the top spot with three cars left to challenge him.

     Castroneves was faster than Hinchcliffe on his first two laps but fell so off on the final two he dropped to fourth.  That left Carlos Munoz and Carpenter.

     Munoz could get no where near his second fast effort of yesterday and averaged 230.146 which placed him seventh.

     Carpenter’s 231.442 opening lap was slower than Hinchcliffe’s but somehow he was able to keep his car from dropping off as much and averaged 231.067 to claim his second straight pole for the Indianapolis 500.

     "I just had to dig deep,” said Carpenter, who is running only oval tracks on the Verizon IndyCar schedule this year, when asked how he was able to pull it out on the final lap. "This was much harder than last year when we did it all in one day. It was different today (weather) and this it was a different car.  We had to make so many changes to close the deal.  It is just awesome to do this two years in a row.”

     When one considers Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis a week ago yesterday, and was not cleared to practice until Thursday and he was in a position to win the pole today it is amazing.

     "It is a total team effort,” said Hinchcliffe, a member Andretti Autosport which has five cars entered in the 500 this year.  "I have to thank everyone who took care of my car this week including E.J. Viso who practiced my car and worked with the other drivers on the set up.  To have all that happen and then to come up this short is kind of disappointing but is a credit to the team to provide me with what I needed.”

     Power, an early critic of the revised qualifying format, said it was too early to judge the results but that he was just not a factor today.  "I knew after the first lap that I was too loose,” said Power.  "All our cars (Team Penske) are fast but to go fast today you had to be loose and we just went too far.”  Power ended up third fast at the end of the Shootout and will start outside front row for the 500.

     It actually was a good point’s weekend for Power.  He came into the qualifying weekend just one point ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay and picked up points both on Saturday and Sunday to be 14 ahead going into the 500.

     When Carpenter averaged 231.067 as the last car out he deprived Montoya of being the fastest qualifier for the race, a distinction that has happened many times in the past when qualifying was spread over four days and a driver winning the pole the first day saw his speed eclipsed in a later session but the faster car had to start deep in the field by not being a first day fast qualifier.

     Kurt Busch continued his quest to become the 5th driver to race in the Indy 500 and the Coke 600 on the same day and this week was the readiness test.  He recorded two qualification attempts here yesterday and then flew to Charlotte where he competed in the NASCAR all-star race and then back to Indy where he had to re-qualify today.

     He was 10th on Saturday just missing the Fast Nine and then came back this morning to record a faster average than yesterday but loose two spots on the grid.

     "It has just been a pleasant experience this far,” said Busch.  "I could not be working with a more professional group of people at Andretti Autosport, they have taken me in and are sharing everything with me.”

     "I have been preparing both mentally and physically for this effort for some time now and yesterday was a good indication of what I will go through on the 29th.” Busch continued.  "I have spoken to the other fours drivers who have attempted this and received their input and I have talked to doctors and trainers and they will be assisting me on race day.  I am really looking forward to it.”

     From Carpenter’s 231.067 to Lazier’s 227.920 the average speed of the 33 drivers computes to 229.382 miles-per-hour which makes this the fastest field ever assembled for the 500 eclipsing the 228.648 average that has stood since 2002.

THE 500 LINE-UP:

 Row One:  Carpenter, Hinchcliffe, Power

Row Two:  Castroneves, Pagenaud, Marco Andretti

Row Three:  Munoz, Newgarden, Hildebrand

Row Four:  Montoya, Dixon, Busch

Row Five:  Jack Hawksworth, Justin Wilson, Aleshin

Row Six:  Tony Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia

Row Seven:  Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Carlos Huertas

Row Eight:  Pippa Mann, Takuma Sato, Alex Tagliani

Row Nine:  Townsend Bell, Charlie Kimball, Jacques Villeneuve

Row Ten:  James Davison, Martin Plowman, Ryan Briscoe

Row Eleven:  Sage Karam, Sebastian Saavedra, Lazier

     Six former winners are in the race:  Kanaan, Dixon, Castroneves, Villeneuve, Montoya and Lazier while seven are making their first start:  Busch, Hawksworth, Aleshin, Huertas, Davison, Plowman and Karam.

    With a record number of lead changes in last year’s 500 coupled with the closeness of the field this year bodes well for an even more exciting 500 come next Sunday.

WHAT’S NEXT:

     Because of the complicated qualifying format this year the cars will all return to the track tomorrow Monday for a full day of practice in race trim.  Gone will be the extra boost given for qualifying and return to more normal down force set-up which will assist the team in preparation for 500 miles here and not the ten at a time in qualifying.

     "Carb” day is set for next Friday, the final practice session before the 500 as well as the Freedom 100 for Indy Lights and the annual Pit Stop contest.  A full day of activities for one and all!