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Author: Mark W. Theisen
Photo by  Brady Whitesel -
Photo by Brady Whitesel -
May 19th 2012 - INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 19, 2012:    The Chevrolet contingent of the Indy Racing League cried foul when the Honda engines were given a perceived advantage with the granting of a change to the cover of their turbochargers in April, “they will be so fast down the long straights at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway it will impossible to stay with them,” was the chorus.

     Well that chorus disappeared in exhaust vapor from the potent Chevrolets as they completely dominated pole day qualifications today for the running of the 96th Indy 500 on May 27th with Ryan Briscoe taking advantage of cloud cover in the Fast Nine Shootout to take the pole from James Hinchcliffe giving Team Penske it’s impressive 17th pole starting position for the 500.

     So dominate were the Chevrolets that they placed 8 cars in the Fast Nine Shootout and 12 overall of the 24 cars that were qualified today with Josef Newgarden the lone Honda powered car in the Shootout.

     Pole day at Indianapolis now features two segments; the first beginning at 11:00 A.M. and concluding at 4:00 P.M. with the fastest 24 cars earning starting positions for the 500.  At 4:30 the fastest 9 from the first segment in a battle to win the coveted number one starting position.  At Indianapolis the qualifying attempts are all four laps, or ten miles, and the average of the four laps is the speed that will be used for the effort.

     The top 9 were:  Hinchcliffe; Will Power; Ryan Hunter-Reay; Helio Castroneves; Briscoe; Tony Kanaan; Marco Andretti;  Newgarden and E. J. Viso.  Hinchcliffe, Hunter Reay and Andretti were from Andretti Autosport while Power, Castroneves and Briscoe were from Penske with Kanaan and Viso from KV Racing Technology.  Newgarden, from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing was the lone standard bearer for Honda coming from the third year team surpassing the powerful 4-car Chip Ganassi team to gain entry into the Shootout keeping the lead Honda development team on the outside looking in.

     The rules for the Shootout indicated that qualified teams must take one start in the event in reverse order with the slowest of the nine going first and the fastest from the 1st segment going last. After the first attempt the teams could take as many as they could in the remaining time in their quest to gain the top spot in the race.

     Viso and Kanaan after conversing with team owners decided that they could not keep up with the cars of Penske and Andretti and after taking the green flag for their attempts pulled out happy with their earlier speeds and starting in the top 9 of the 500.

     That left the battle up to the rival Chevrolet teams with Andretti taking the first full attempt averaging 225.456 miles-per-hour which was faster then his 224.680 that got him into the shootout.  The next car out was Briscoe and as he entered the track a cloud cover came over the track that held for the first three laps of the four lap attempt and he averaged 226.484 which then held up for the 11 attempts that were thrown at him to come away with his first pole position start for the 500.

     A cloud cover at Indianapolis attributes to a cooler track and faster speed.

     Hinchcliffe gave the crowd something to cheer about and Briscoe’s only real challenge the rest of the period when he warmed up for his second attempt in the Shootout at 227.006 miles-per-hour but that scrubbed speed from his tires and he lost enough speed that that attempt was waived off as he was slower than his first 4 lap average of 226.481 which was just a tick off Briscoe’s 226.484.

     Joining Briscoe in the front row were Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay.  The third Andretti Autosport car of Marco Andretti will start 4th or pole of the second row with Power and Castroneves alongside.  Newgarden took his attempt in the Shootout and averaged 224.037 to start pole of the 3rd row with Viso and Kanaan, who stood on their segment one times.

     The day started off on a positive note for Kanaan averaging 225.100 as the first car out at 11:00 A.M. under ideal weather condition which would have been good enough for the Shootout but that speed was disallowed in post qualifying inspection as the car did not have the required ballast on board the car.   The Honda’s of Townsend Bell and Dixon were next out and it was clear that speed was not in the Honda’s even with the extra boost that was added for Fast Friday and for qualifications in order to spice up the sessions with increased speeds.

     Power claimed his spot in the Shootout with 225.399 as it seems as though the Chevrolets took to the added boost while the Honda’s did not.  Charlie Kimball was next out and was the fastest of the four Ganassi cars at 223.868.  Castroneves was next at 225.282 with the next car out of Sebastian Saavedra from Andretti Autosports but his engine suffered woes on the warm up lap and returned to the pits for repairs.

     Justin Wilson, Hunter-Reay and James Jakes were next to put four laps together before rookie Bryan Clauson took to the track in the second entry from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and after three solid laps he wiggled in the first turn and spun through the short chute hitting the Safer Barrier causing significant damage to the car that the team indicated they would repair over night and would return tomorrow, Bump Day, to qualify for the race.

     Two-time Indy 500 winner and three-time IRL champion Dario Franchitti was next out and he could muster only 223.582 in his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

    Graham Rahal, Newgarden, Briscoe, Ana Beatriz and Ed Carpenter were the next cars to post qualifying speeds with Carpenter’s being the slowest of the cars qualified thus far after he brushed the wall on the final lap of the attempt.

      Michel Jourdain, Takuma Sato, Viso, JR Hildebrand and Simon Pagenaud were the next four into the field when Hinchcliffe took the top spot from Power with his 225.746 mile-per-hour average.

     All eyes were then on Marco Andretti as he posted the top speed in practice this month but qualifying in mid-afternoon on a warm day slowed his attempt but he was able to average 224.680 to gain his spot in the Shootout.

     Alex Tagliani and Rubens Barrichello filled the allotted 24 positions for the day to set up “bumping” where the slowest car was bumped out of the top 24.

     Mike Conway had earlier put A.J. Foyt’s #14  in the race bumping Carpenter from the race only to have his car fail inspection due to a weight infraction putting Carpenter back into the show, albeit for only a short time.

     Oriol Servia became the second car to strike the Safer Barrier when he spun his car during the warm lap for his first attempt.  Next out was Wade Cunningham in an A.J. Foyt Racing Honda but his attempt was waived off after being tow slow.  The same happened to Sebastien Bourdais attempt before Kanaan came back to average 224.751 this time to regain his position in the Shootout but at the cost to his teammate Barrichello who was bumped out.

     Bourdais then made his second attempt a good one bumping Carpenter from the field.  Bell then withdrew his car from the field due to his speed average being the next one to be bumped and he then averaged 223.134, faster than his first run, to bump Jakes from the field.

     The rest of the first segment saw Carpenter crash in his attempt to regain a spot in the field as the Foyt cars scrambled to make the show only to be bumped out at the end by Jakes, who gained reentry, and Saavedra who came back after his engine misfire to put the 5th and final Andretti Autosport car in the 500.  All five Andretti Autosport drivers will be starting in their best ever positions for the 500, a testament to how well the team has worked together this month and all season long.

     “Roger (Penske) motivates us all by wanting to do good not only here but everywhere,” said Briscoe, who was surprised by today’s outcome.  “We were not the fastest car on our team but the day worked for us.  The temperature, the wind down the back stretch, and then the clouds made it a different and difficult environment but in the end we prevailed and all that really matters is that one of the team cars in on the pole.  It means we all win.  It is an honor to continue to build the Penske legacy here.”

     “It will be difficult to go to bed tonight knowing I came up 23/10000ths of a second short of the pole position,” said Hinchcliffe, who is quickly building a huge Indy car fan base as the driver of the Go Daddy car formerly driven by Danica Patrick.  “To know I was just that short is frustrating but it is also a positive thing to know that we can be competitive with the best here.”

     In measuring terms Hinchcliffe came up about 9 inches short after four laps or ten miles to finish second in the shootout, not bad for his second year at Indianapolis.

     Hunter-Reay’s attributed his best ever Indy starting spot to team chemistry. “We are all one at Andretti Autosport and are all on the same page working towards the same goal,” said Hunter-Reay.  “It seems as though, despite five cars, it has been easier in that we all work so well together, drivers, engineers and crew.  It’s amazing.”

     Newgarden became the top-qualifying rookie, in seventh, the best starting spot for a rookie since 2005 when Patrick started fourth.

     The final 11 spots in the field will be filled tomorrow on “Bump Day” and it will be interesting to watch the two Lotus entries of Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi in their quest to make the race.  With the additional boost allowed for qualifying they were able to post  practice laps in the 215 range today but that will fall back to the 210-211 they had been at in practice and place them in a precarious position of being able to maintain a safe racing speed come the 500.

      Conway, Cunningham, Servia, Katherine Legge, Bourdais, Clauson and Carpenter will vie for their starting berth tomorrow with a surprise or two, who knows which surprise could surface on bump day  at Indy, it has happened in the past.

Stay tuned!