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Photo by Brady Whitesel. 2013 All Rights Reserved.
Photo by Brady Whitesel. 2013 All Rights Reserved.
May 18th 2013 -
By:  Mark W. Theisen INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 18, 2013:     Growing up in the shadows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Ed Carpenter had always dreamed of racing at the "greatest race course in the world”.  Winning was never really expected.

     Now the owner/driver of an independent one car IZOD Indy Car Series team will start the 97th running of the 500 on the pole with a legitimate shot at winning the race he always dreamed of.  And to win the pole he had to best the best of the best in the series holding off stiff challenges from Team Penske and Andretti Autosports in the Fast Nine Shootout to put his Fuzzy’s Vodka sponsored Dallara Chevrolet at the head of the field for the start of next Sunday’s race, the first American driver to win a pole at Indy since Sam Hornish Jr. did it in 2006.

     All five of the entries from Andretti and the three from Penske plus Carpenter made up the list of entrants in the Fast Nine and in the end it was the conservative thinking on the part of Carpenter that made the difference in what was the first time that action took place on the track after 6:00 p.m.

    "I always look forward to returning to this track,” said Carpenter.  "It is an honor and a privilege to race here,” said the winner of the season ending race in Fontana, California last fall that solidified his position as a top notch oval track racer.

     "Make no mistake this pole is huge for our team,” continued Carpenter, "and we will savor it but we came here to win the race and I don’t want our team to lose its focus because of this success.  We still have a lot of work to do to be completive next Sunday.”

      A day of expectation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dawned dark and dreary as the track opened early for practice and then qualifications for next Sunday’s 97th running of the Indy 500.

     With the boost level increased from 130 kPa to 140 kPa for Pole Day qualifications today and Bump Day qualifications tomorrow teams hurried to the track for their final preparations using the increased boost.  The change adds about 40 horsepower to the engines in hopes of increased qualifying speeds.  The boost changes back to 130 for the final practice, Carb Day, next Friday and for the race.

     Another unique aspect of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 is the four lap format.  Instead of one or perhaps two laps Indy features a full four lap run with the average of the four lap speeds being the qualifying speed to determine the starting spot, thus placing more pressure on drivers and teams to be consistent throughout the run.

     Pole Day features two segments, the first from 11. a.m. to 4 p.m. to determine the first 24 positions in the field based on a four-lap average.  Segment two held from 4:30 to 6:00 features the top nine cars in a "shootout” to determine the final winner of the pole.  The top nine must make at least one attempt during the shootout segment with the fastest at the conclusion being the pole winner.  A driver that finished the day ninth in the first segment could conceivable win the pole over the other faster drivers.

     Will Power set the early morning pace with a top lap of 229.808 followed by his Penske Racing teammate A.J. Allmendinger at 229.086.  Speeds were escalating quickly when rain began to fall at 9:32 a.m. and the session was ended early as the rain became heavier.

     Sun came out over the track and full scale drying efforts began that ended at 1:15 p.m. with a track inspection that proved the track ready for qualifying.

     With the delay Speedway officials announced a change in the format for the day.  The first segment would now go to 6 p.m. with the second segment starting at 6:30p.m.  If rains returned the Fast Nine Shootout would not take place.

     Qualifying order is determined by a blind draw held the night before and it was Scott Dixon in a Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda going out first.

     Dixon has been among the faster Honda powered cars in a month dominated by the Chevrolet powered cars and he began the qualifying with a top lap of 226.405 with a four lap average of 226.158.  Well below the practice speeds of Chevrolet earlier.

     With the possibility of the rains returning later in the day qualifying became steady flow of cars rather than some waiting until later in the day to make their efforts.

     Honda drivers Takuma Sato, 225.892 and Graham Rahal, 225.139 were next out before the first Chevrolet made its run with Allmendinger at the wheel.  His 227.761 four-lap average was well below his morning’s practice effort but gave early indication that the dominance in practice all week long by the marque would carry over into the qualifying.

     Buddy Lazier was next out and with only one full day of practice able to post a four lap average of 223.073 in his first attempt with a team that came together just fifteen days ago.

     Simona de Silvestro was next at 225.400 and then the first of the Andretti Autosports drivers, James Hinchcliffe took to the track.  Andretti drivers led four of the seven sessions prior to qualifications and his 227.493 gave every indication that the team was right on the entire month.

     Troubles continued for rookie Conor Daly, who had the dubious distinction of being the only driver to crash in practice all month long.  After his A.J. Foyt Racing team worked tirelessly to rebuild the car only to suffer a blown engine of his second of the four lap attempt to send the car back to the garage for additional repairs that would preclude the car from returning to make another attempt today.

     Sebastein Bourdais, 226.196; Justin Wilson, 226.370; Helio Castroneves, 227.975; James Jakes, 225.397; Sebastian Saavedra, 224,656; Pippa Mann, 223.153; Townsend Bell, 225.699; and E. J. Viso, 227.612 quickly brought the total to 15 qualified cars in just over an hour of the session.

     From the speeds posted thus far it was clear that it would take at least an average of 225 to make the top 24 for today.

     Alex Tagliani posted a 227.386 to become the fastest Honda car to this point and then Power backed up his practice speed with a top lap of 229.422 and a four lap average of 228.844 to claim the provisional pole of the first segment.

     Ryan Briscoe, 225.043; Tony Kanaan, 226.949; Josef Newgarden, 225.210; Tristian Vautier, 223.814; Dario Franchitti, the defending Indy 500  mile champion at 226.069; Ana Beatriz, 223.488 and Charlie Kimball completed the second hour of the segment and with 24 cars now in the field first day bumping would begin and with four hours remaining it could get interesting.

     Carpenter qualified at 227.952 to bump Lazier and Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified at 228.282 to bump Mann however it was announced that Jakes car did not pass post qualifying inspection and his effort was disallowed so Mann was still in the race.

     Rookie Carlos Munoz showed his quickness all month long was not accident as he recorded an average of 228.171 to bump Mann.

    JR Hildebrand bumped Beatriz with a 227.441 and Marco Andretti ousted Vautier with 227.893.

     Simon Pagenaud bumped Saavedra with 225.674 and then Oriol Servia’s average of 226.814 knocked Briscoe from the field as the entire qualifying draw was completed in less than three hours leaving time for additional attempts and or practice until 6:00 o’clock.

     After less than an hour of open practice it became a cat and mouse game to try and make the field on the first day of qualifying.

     Briscoe was first to try and get back into the race but he was not fast enough.  Jakes came back to bump teammate Rahal from the field.  Rahal made another attempt but could not get the job done. De Silvestro withdrew her qualified time in hopes of going faster but did not.  Her 225.226 was slower than her original average but it was still good enough to get back into the field after her gamble.

     Mann made her second attempt but came up short and Bell, who had also withdrawn a qualified speed, came up short at 224.560 and now was out.  Beartriz’s 225.117 got her back in the field but only for five minutes before Briscoe, on his last allowed first day attempt made it back into the show.

     Vautier and Mann both were unable to muster speed before Bell returned on his final shot of the day to average 225.643 to outs Jakes again.  Jakes than came back to get in on his final attempt knocking Newgarden from the first day field.

     The average speed for the top 24 cars today was 226.879 miles-per-hour, and that fact that those 24 cars were separated by 2 and one-half seconds indicates the closeness of everyone in the series despite the cream rising to the top day, it is still an open race next Sunday given Carpenter’s performance today.

     At the end of the first segment it was:  Power, Hunter-Reay, Munoz, Castroneves, Carpenter, Andretti, Allmendinger, Viso and Hinchcliffe in the Fast-None Shoot out.  All nine cars were powered by Chevrolet to shut rival Honda out of the showdown.

     Because of the early rain the shootout format was amended to include just one attempt rather than as many as could be fit into a one and a half hour segment.  This was down because of the early rain putting the day way behind schedule.

     With the inversion of the top nine it was Hinchcliffe that was out first and his 227.070 was slower than his segment one attempt but that was do to a bad first lap, his second third and fourth laps were all faster than his earlier performance but it is all about consistency when it comes to the four lap Indy program and Hinchcliffe came up just short.

     Viso was next and his first two laps on the 228 bracket got the crowd that stayed all day long to witness the shootout excited.  With the later in the day start it was believed that the speeds would be quicker with less sun and less wind.  Viso dropped in his third and fourth laps but still put up 228.150 to lay stake to the top spot.

     Allmendinger’s 228.099 average was just short of Viso’s and Andretti then put in a 228.261 next to move to the top of the list with five cars to go.

     Carpenter was next and he built upon his first attempt plus observing the cars ahead of him to post 229.049 on his first lap to follow that with 228.976, 228,774 and 227.955 to average 228.762 and move to the provisional pole with four cars to go.

     Castroneves was next out and the winner of three previous Indy 500 poles was not a factor in the contest posting 227.762 which was slower than his segment one speed.

     That left two Andretti cars and a Penske in the way of Carpenter’s upset.  Munoz was fast on his first lap but not as fast as Carpenter, yet he was more consistent in his four lap attempt to finish at 228.342 to move into second.

     Hunter-Reay was next and fell off also to end the session at 227.904 leaving Power, the fastest in segment one to take the pole away from Carpenter and after a 229.119 first lap Power speeds also dwindled and in the end he averaged 228.087 to go from the provisional pole to the outside  of the second row.

     "We normally don’t run this late in the day, so it (car setup) became a guessing game,” said Carpenter.  "I knew 229 was going to be the key with all the cars so evenly matched and we needed to be able to do more than one lap at that speed to contend.  We decided to not do too much to the car after segment one.  Down force changes were discussed but not implemented in hopes to be fast and consistent and in the end we were as it looked as though the Penske cars and some of the Andretti cars were too aggressive in their changes and thus not able to sustain the speed through the run.”

     At the end of the Shootout it was Carpenter, Munoz, Andretti, in the first row; Viso, Allmendinger and Power in the second row and Hunter-Reay, Castroneves and Hinchcliffe in the third row for next Sunday’s race.

    Munoz’s runner up finish and middle of the front row start was a continuance of the strength the rookie has shown all month long at Indy.  "I don’t have too many words to describe how happy I am,” said Munoz.  "To be in the front row here, is just a dream I am so thankful to all my teammates for the help that they have given me this year.”

     Andretti was also happy despite not winning the pole.  "We came here as a team this month with one goal, that one of us wins the race and were on target,” said Andretti.  "I am happy for all our guys were all right there.  We made so setup decisions that cost us but we were going for it and came just a bit short.”

     Nine positions remain open and will be filled tomorrow when qualifying resumes at noon.  Katherine Legge completed a deal with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and will drive the third team entry the #81 Angies List car tomorrow in hopes of making the race.  Her entry brings to 34 the number of cars entered and means a car will be bumped from the field tomorrow.  10 cars for 9 spots ensures competition right to the end of the day Sunday.