Indianapolis 500: Pole Day Filled with Drama as Andretti Looks for Answers

No NameAnalyst IMay 21, 2011

Alex Tagliani wins the pole
Alex Tagliani wins the pole

To say that Pole Day for this year's Indianapolis 500 was filled with drama, just might be the understatement of the year.

Alex Tagliani captured the pole for this year's Indianapolis 500, but there was drama and excitement throughout the entire day.

It all began early this morning, as Ryan Briscoe lost control of his car going into turn two. He backed it hard into the wall, and got out very slowly. The team immediately went to the garage for the back up car. Briscoe was treated and released from the infield care center, though he had both of his knees wrapped because of bruising.

When practice began at 8 a.m., Briscoe had a car capable of winning the pole. Now he must try to work his way into the field tomorrow, on Bump Day.

Briscoe used all three of his qualifying attempts today, but couldn't get enough speed to make the top 24. While that may have surprised a few people, it was his teammates that I had my eyes on.

Helio Castroneves has been once of the fastest cars on the track all week. His qualifying attempts were much slower, and he failed to make the Fast Nine. He will start the Indianapolis 500 on the inside of row six.

The other Penske car, driven by Will Power, was also one of the fastest all week. He had just the seventh best qualification average early on, barely making the Fast Nine.

The Penske team had a tough day, but it was nothing compared to the misery that Andretti Autosport faced. They have five cars entered in this race, and only John Andretti (the only AA car not running a full schedule) was able to qualify in the top 24.

Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway all struggled, and will have to battle on Sunday for the last nine positions in the field.

Everyone involved with the Andretti team showed frustration throughout the day. The speed just wasn't there, and it wasn't just something that happened today. None of them have put up good numbers during the month. Coming into today, I was really worried that Conway and Hunter-Reay would miss the race, but now you have to worry about all four of the full-time cars.

The Fast Nine was made up of only one Penske car, and none of the five Andretti Autosport cars.
A short rain shower came around 3:30, which ended the 1-24 qualifications. INDYCAR said that if they were able to dry the track by 6 p.m., each driver in the Fast Nine would have one final chance to qualify. Fortunately, they were able to get it started by 5:30.

After the first 24 qualifiers were set, there were still 10 full-time drivers that were not yet in the field. The final nine positions will be set tomorrow, which means at least one full-time driver will miss the race.

Ho-Pin Tung was trying to become the first Chinese driver to make the race, and it looked like he had a decent shot after his first three laps. On his final lap though, he lost control in turn one, and hit the outside wall hard. He was taken to Methodist Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a mild concussion. He has not yet been cleared to race.

The drama continued all the way until the end. Dario Franchitti was the third-to-last driver to qualify in the Shootout, and looked to be on pace to grab a spot on the front row, when he ran out of fuel on his last lap. It was an incredible mistake by arguably the strongest team in the series. Instead of starting on the front row, Franchitti will now start in ninth.

After the Fast Nine made their last qualifying attempts, Alex Tagliani came away with the Pole. This is how positions 1-24 look after today:

Row 1: Alex Tagliani, Scott Dixon, Oriol Servia
Row 2: Townsend Bell, Will Power, Dan Wheldon
Row 3: Buddy Rice, Ed Carpenter, Dario Franchitti
Row 4: Takuma Sato, Vitor Meira, JR Hildebrand
Row 5: James Hinchcliffe, Bertrand Baguette, Davey Hamilton
Row 6: Helio Castroneves, John Andretti, EJ Viso
Row 7: Bruno Junqueira, Justin Wilson, Jay Howard
Row 8: Tomas Sheckter, Tony Kanaan, Simona de Silvestro

There are 16 drivers that will look to make the field tomorrow. The 16 drivers going for the final nine spots in the race are:

  •     Scott Speed
  •     Ho-Pin Tung
  •     Mike Conway
  •     Marco Andretti
  •     Ryan Hunter-Reay
  •     Danica Patrick
  •     Paul Tracy
  •     Ana Beatriz
  •     Sebastian Saavedra
  •     Charlie Kimball
  •     Graham Rahal
  •     Ryan Briscoe
  •     Alex Lloyd
  •     James Jakes
  •     Raphael Matos
  •     Pippa Mann

Positions 25-33 will be set during Bump Day tomorrow. Qualifications will begin at noon.