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Author: Mark W. Theisen
Photo by Brady Whitesel. Copyright 2015 -
Photo by Brady Whitesel. Copyright 2015 -
May 17th 2015 -      INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 17, 2015:  A morning crash involving defending and two-time Indianapolis 500 pole winner, Ed Carpenter, that resulted in the third airborne flight of a race car this month brought practice to a halt and sent Indianapolis 500 officials into a huddle to determine what needed to be done to prevent this type of accident from continuing.
     First meetings with Chevrolet teams, of which all three airborne incidents happened to, and then Honda to try and sort of what needed to be done.
     It all boiled down to just not enough practice time to experiment with all the new parts that comprised the new aero packages for both Chevrolet and Honda that were used specifically for qualification’s for the 500.
    Indianapolis 500 teams received their new oval kits May 3rd and had just over six days to sort out all the myriad of combinations they could employ for trying to in the pole. And then they had the increased boost pressure, used the past two years, for just Fast Friday and Qualifications that s aw speeds escalade to nearly reaching track records.
     This combination proved to make the cars unstable and, as officials deemed, made the cars susceptible to getting airborne during crashes.  Just too much downforce and speed and what was determined to go back to combinations that were safer.
     Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, parent of IndyCar spoke to the media after the meetings and the addressed the changes that were to be implemented immediately.
     â€œThis morning we saw a third car get into the wall, turn backward and lift into the air.  We’ve said all along we want to go faster to do so safely,” said Miles.  â€œAs a precautionary measure, IndyCar will require that the cars qualify today in the same aero setup that they will run in the Indianapolis 500 next weekend.  Also, for today, boost levels will return to race conditions.  Given these changed we have elected to not award points for today’s qualifications.  Safety for drivers and fans is the top priority for IndyCar and we will continue to be proactive in our research and development to improve all safety aspects of our sport.”
     In addition, procedures to for today’s qualifications were also amended.  Teams needed time to convert their cars back to race day configurations and then needed time to sort them out with practice time.
     Two afternoon practice sessions were scheduled followed by one complete qualifying session that will award the pole position or the 500.  Eliminated was the fast nine shootout, and the day would conclude with qualifying for positons 31, 32 & 33 with all unqualified cars getting a shot to make the race.  34 cars practiced so one will be bumped from the field during the final session.
     Gone from the cars were the exotic side pod and wing combinations giving way to a more stable car.
     Many thought the rule changes favored the Chevrolet powered cars but the rules were the same for both teams and were agreed to by both camps.  Drivers expressed displeasure on either side of the fence but all echoed the fact that safety was at the forefront of today’s decisions.
     The race inspired aero package will provide heavier down force, presumably to keep the cars on the ground and it will be up to the teams and drivers as to how much downforce to reduce in order to obtain speed while keeping safety in mind.
     Will Power of Team Penske was quickest during the two practice sessions at 227.377, nearly five miles an hour slower than the morning practice speeds prior to Carpenter’s crash.
     Once practice was over it was up to team engineers to decide just what to do with the race car as far as set-up goes and then they had to contend with a wind that picked up in intensity as the afternoon wore on. 
     Qualifying order was based on a prior blind draw and those teams that went early were the beneficiary of wind that was not as intense as the rest of the day worth.
     2008 pole and race winner, Scott Dixon is his Target Chip Ganassi Chevrolet emerged, after the initial qualification session that went off without a hitch as 33 cars made their one allowed attempt with the lone exception being Buddy Lazier, to win his second 500 pole with a four-lap average speed of 226.760 mile-per-hour.  His first lap speed of 227.041 was the fastest lap turned this afternoon and it was turned in early in the session. 
    “Obviously this is just one part of our goal for the month here at Indy,” said a jubilant Dixon.  â€œI’m really at a loss for words.  This is really a total team effort.  They (IndyCar) threw us a curve ball today but our car was fast in either trim package and the team did just a fine job for me that this pole win is really for them.”
     The only other time that Dixon started on the pole, he won the race and is hoping that his 13th Indianapolis 500 start will produce win number two.
     Will Power, who entered the month of May with four goals saw his shot at a sweep go away as he came up just one position short of the pole qualifying his Verizon sponsored Team Penske Chevrolet in second at 226.350.
     â€œWith what we had to deal with today, I’m happy with starting second,” said Power.  â€œWe’re in the first row and that is exceptional!  Our team did an excellent job with reconfiguring the car in all-together different trim and we, perhaps, made just the wrong gear selection for our run.  Hindsight is everything but given the wind increased all afternoon we probably could not have done any better if we had another chance, as with regular qualifying for the 500.”
     Simon Pagenaud, also of Team Penske, completed the front row at 226.145 after being the fastest car at the end of two of the six practice sessions leading up to today’s qualifications.
     Chevrolet powered cars took the top starting positions with Tony Kanaan of Ganassi being fourth and Helio Castroneves taking 5th.
     Justin Wilson of Andretti Autosports was the fastest of the Honda powered cars taking 6th at 225.279 miles-per-hour.  Sebastien Bourdais was 7th, Marco Andretti 8th, Josef Newgarden 9th and JR Hildebrand 10th.  Andretti was in a Honda, the rest were Chevrolets.
     Andretti’s 225.189 came late in the session and attributed his speed to the luxury of watching all other four teammates qualify and then incorporate their results into his handling package to deal with the win.  â€œSure we would have liked to win the pole,” said Marco Andretti, “but given all we had to deal with today shows our team can adapt and I feel very confident about race day.”
     Carpenter, who entered qualifications with a chance to become the first driver to win three consecutive pole positions for the 500 saw that chance take a huge hit with the morning crash, came back in a brand new race car and qualified 12th.
     â€œIt seems like this day would never end,” said Carpenter.  â€œPoles are nice but I want to win this race and I still feel we have a chance.  We have a practice day tomorrow and then next Friday to fine tune the new car and I’m extremely optimistic.”
     With 34 cars entered and practiced the Group Two qualifying session went off at 6:15 P.M., the first time qualifications for the 500 went that deep into the day.
     Jack Hawksworth, Stefan Coletti and Bryan Clauson were faced with the dauntless task of having to requalify their cars as Lazier, who passed n his afternoon attempt as his very small and underfunded team was still making changes to his car.
     These four cars would have 45 minutes to which to fight for the final spot in the race, with each having to take at least one attempt but as many as possible in the 45 minutes Hawksworth, Coletti and Clauson all bettered their earlier times on a cooler track with less wind but Lazier could not muster the speed required.  He averaged 219.291 on his first attempt and then with under four minutes left in the session he brought his car up to 220.153 but short of earnings the 1996 500 win a chance at his 19th 500 start.
   For the Lazier it was a question of “what ifs”.  The four day, cheaper engine lease, cut his track time, then the rain-out yesterday and today’s rule changes all hurt his chances and should he have had the time it might have become the feel good story of the month.
     Rain threatened all day but held out and the field is now set for the 99th running of the 500 next Sunday May 24th with an all-day practice set for tomorrow and a one hour final tune-up on “carburetion day” next Friday the teams now get to hone in on race-day set-ups.
Row  1:   Scott Dixon, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud
Row   2:  Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Justin Wilson
Row   3:  Sebastien Bourdais, Marco Andretti, Josef Newgarden
Row   4:  JR Hildebrand, Carlos Munoz Ed Carpenter
Row   5:  Oriol Servia, Charlie Kimball, Juan Pablo Montoya
Row   6:  Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Carlos Huertas
Row   7:   Simona de Silvestro, James Jakes, Tristan Vautier*
Row   8:  Alex Tagliani, Sage Karam, James Hinchcliffe
Row   9:  Conor Daly, Townsend Bell, Takumo Sato
Row 10:  Pippa Mann, Gabby Chaves, Sebastian Saavedra
Row 11:  Jack Hawksworth, Stefano Coletti, Bryan Clauson
Note: *Vautier qualified the car for James Davison who will start the 500 last because of the driver change.