A Pole Day unlike any other. Today was filled with intrigue, heartbreak, controversy, and drivers getting one shot to make the field for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 next Sunday. After an emotional day, it was Scott Dixon who came away with the Pole for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, with a four-lap average speed of 226.760 mph. It’s the second career Indy 500 Pole for Dixon, who got his first in 2008, when he won his only Indy 500 race. He’ll be looking for déjà vu one week from today.
The day began with morning practice, where Ed Carpenter spun and hit the outside wall coming out of Turn 2. His car went backwards, climbed the fence, and got airborne before coming to a rest on its side. Carpenter was visibly frustrated as he tossed out his steering wheel and threw his helmet. Qualifying for the race was scheduled to begin nearly 90 minutes later. The hometown favorite was surely going to need a miracle if he were to win his third consecutive Indy 500 Pole; a feat that has never been accomplished in the history of the race. Video of the incident is below.
Fortunately for Ed, the CFH Racing team had been through this before, and knew what needed to be done. I left pit road just after the accident happened, and before I even got to Carpenter’s garage, the team already had begun working on the backup car. All three teams (20, 21, 6) were working feverishly to get the car ready. To my surprise, everyone was upbeat as they began building their second new car in less than a week.
Not only did the team get Carpenter’s car repaired in time to qualify, but all three CFH Racing cars qualified in the top 12. It was Dixon’s day though, waiting out 30 other qualifiers, as he was the third car to go out. Joining Dixon on the front row will be the Penske cars of Will Power and Simon Pagenaud.
Carpenter’s accident prompted repairs to the fence and race track, as well as major changes by IndyCar. After the third car to crash and get airborne this week, IndyCar officials had private closed-door meetings with Chevrolet and Honda teams. After lengthy delays and long meetings, IndyCar announced that the turbocharger boost level would be throttled back to the original 130 kPa, downforce was increased to add stability, and whatever aerodynamic bodywork package was used in qualifying, has to be used in the race.
Qualifying began at 3:15, which allowed each car one attempt at qualifying. There would be no Fast Nine Shootout, so the pressure increased even more. Chevrolet took the top five starting spots, which were made up of the Ganassi and Penske teams. Justin Wilson was the fastest Honda, and will start on the outside of Row 2 next Sunday.
At 6:15, four drivers competed for the final three spots in the race. When the gun sounded after the 45-minute qualifying session, it was Jack Hawksworth, Stefano Coletti, and Bryan Clauson that made it into Row 11. Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indy 500 winner, did not qualify for the race.
Teams will have just a little more time to practice before the race next Sunday. There will be one practice session from 12:30 – 4 PM ET tomorrow, and a one hour session on Friday (Carb Day).
Will Power: “Obviously, with the rule change this morning, we did all we could. It (the car) was pretty stuck. Hopefully, we’re in the front row. The race is very different. We felt like we were pretty strong in traffic. I’m pretty focused on winning this thing. I would have loved to win the pole, but this is Indianapolis. Things change quickly — as they did this morning. We reacted as best we could and just didn’t have the pole today.”
Juan Montoya: “The car balance was pretty good. I went out this morning and the first run was pretty competitive. But, that’s all we got, you know.” (Did the rule change affect you today?): “We drive when we need to drive. I think INDYCAR did the right thing. I really wanted to see the cars go fast. If you can tell the difference between a car going 230 miles an hour and 235 on the straight, then you’re my hero.”
Helio Castroneves: “I’ve had to rely a little bit on my teammates, because we only had one long run, which was on Tuesday. On Wednesday, unfortunately, we had the incident. Then Thursday we started to focus a little bit more on qualifying. Thank God we have Monday, hoping the weather cooperates to try a lot on the race setup. Right now it’s time to just focus on the race. Let me tell you, in Indy there is no relaxing time. We’re going full throttle when we hit the track.” (On today): “Changing the plans like that, it gets everybody surprised especially with just 30 minutes of practice. The good news is it went to some of the numbers we already know what to do. Don’t get me wrong because it was numbers we ran in only 30 minutes, but the team did a great job. I couldn’t support the series more in this situation, because you’ve got to make sure everybody’s in the same position.”
Stefano Coletti: “It’s the slowest we’ve been all week, so it’s a bit disappointing. But at least we’re in the show and the race is different. It’s a long race, so we’ll see what we can do from there.” (Has the Speedway met your expectations?): “Oh yeah, it’s phenomenal. It’s completely different than what I’m used to. The first time you drive down that track and you go 220 miles per hour for the first time, you’re like, ‘Whoa, that’s fast.’ Then suddenly, it’s amazing what the brain does because everything slows down. You keep going faster. I did 229.4 the other day and it was like, ‘That looks slow.’ But today I think we probably did something wrong because I’ve never been that slow. That’s why I’m really disappointed right now.” (Until you get to Indianapolis, can you really understand what Indianapolis is all about?): “No, you can’t. It’s a very special place. The atmosphere and driving that track is something that you can’t describe.”
James Hinchcliffe: “Pretty frustrating, because we ran 225s in practice. The wind unfortunately picked up and caught us off-guard a little bit. It’s a shame for the guys. Everybody here at Schmidt Peterson put such a big effort in to make these cars prepped for qualifying and try to go for those big speeds. We had them this morning, and it just didn’t happen this afternoon. It’s frustrating. It’s kind of Russian Roulette a little bit. It all depends on what the wind decides to do during your run. A gust of a couple miles an hour difference can make a huge effect on lap times. It’s a bit of a bummer, but at the end of the day, Ryan won this from the mid-teens last year. We’ve just got to stay clean on Sunday.” (On the race): “The approach doesn’t change. Whether you’re starting in the top 10 or outside the top 20, you’ve got to be there at the end. You’ve got to be smart, you’ve got to make it to Lap 150, Lap 170 before you can start thinking about making it to the end of the race. As long as you do that, you’re going to be up there.”
JR Hildebrand: “Track grip was really good when we went out there. I felt we could’ve gotten a little more out of it. We were a little on the conservative side. I think we’ll end up starting in the top 10 here and that’ll be good for next weekend. It feels good to get this team up here. The Penske guys, the Ganassi guys, they’ll end up slotting in ahead of us there, but to be up amongst that group definitely makes me feel good.”
James Jakes: “I’m very disappointed (because) we had a good run this morning. I think we got a little bit aggressive and looking at the flags, the wind has picked up on these last two runs. We just didn’t have it on that run. It (the rules change) affected everybody. What’s important is that they get the data on these cars; hopefully we can learn from the data and the car’s point of view. We’ll just have to get ready for the race now.”
Sage Karam: “It was not where I wanted to qualify, that’s for sure. It’s better than last year. But this place is all about your race car. It’s not about where you qualify and this whole month we’ve just been working on the race car. I think we have a better car. So, I’m not too down. I’m very confident right now going into this race. I think we can get to the front. I’ve got good teammates. Teammates have got some good speed. Hopefully, maybe hook up with one of them and we will go up to the front. I think we have a good shot at this thing. I really do.”
Scott Dixon: “I was thinking we were going to do somewhere in the low 226 range. On the first lap I got a gust of wind, I don’t know what it was, and we got a 227. A huge credit goes to the team. Team Target did a good job all month, even today with the configuration changes.” (Are you satisfied with the safety changes?): “They just tried to do their best. There were a lot of unknowns so they had to make an on-point decision. They tried to eliminate crashes — the big crashes — as much as possible. With a toss of the hat, I think it was the best decision.”
Tony Kanaan: “It wasn’t very consistent. We missed a little bit on the setup. It happens. We tried as hard as we could to start from the pole. Hopefully, we can win from wherever we start. I have a good race car. We still have tomorrow to work on it. When we won here in 2013, we started 12th. I think we can do it.” (On the mandated setup changes): “You’ve got to understand we have a new package. I know we emphasize a lot about safety, but I’ve lost a lot of good friends in racing. Sometimes, I think you need to react. Do I think it was a little bit of an overreaction? Yeah, but that’s my opinion. It is what it is. We’ll respect the decisions. I’m glad that Chevy didn’t get blamed for it, I don’t think it’s fair to say that. They did a great job with the aero kits.” (On the quick turnaround for qualifying): “It was hectic. It was crazy. We ran a package we’ve never run all week long. The important thing is to put a qualifying day for these fans who came to watch. Once we have a good race next week, nobody will remember what happened.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “To think about what’s going to happen next Sunday, I have no idea. The car was really good in race trim and we looked pretty racy in the last session, but we’ll see. Track temp and air temp is going to dictate what kind of downforce and setup we want to put into the car. I guess we’ll find out. I’m really happy. It’s the first time I’ve gotten out of the car in qualifying here that I’m actually happy. It’s a good first. It’s a great qualifying for us. Obviously, we found a lot of speed from practice. The car was pretty consistent and I picked up some confidence from the first two or three runs this afternoon. It’s good.”
Takuma Sato: “The speed was not as high as we expected. The car’s handling and balance was good so we need to figure it out. The engine seemed very strong throughout the practices. We just have to work a little bit harder.”
Graham Rahal: “The car decided it didn’t want to shift anymore. It was a pretty frustrating thing because the balance of the car was very good, very consistent. I thought we were looking at a really good run there and, all of a sudden, it didn’t want to go anymore. I’m just frustrated because the car decided it didn’t want to shift on the third lap, and our whole gear strategy was to shift. If it doesn’t want to do that, you’re going to hurt yourself. Unfortunately, the Steak ‘n Shake machine isn’t going to start as high up.”
Sebastian Saavedra: “I think we need to adapt. That’s what makes this sport so interesting. We need to adapt not only for the circumstances for a big race like this week, but you have to understand that we run street courses, ovals, road courses; that’s the nature of our sport.” (On safety as a priority over speed): “I completely agree. It’s a situation that drivers want to keep safe and, of course, give the best show to our fans. At the same time try to get quicker, but at no risk.”
Carlos Huertas: (On the qualifying run): “Yeah, it was OK, I think. We trimmed the car as much as possible and see how fast it goes.” (On the advantage of qualifying first): “We’ll see. If it gets hotter, yes, if not, no.”
Tristan Vautier: “The car felt good, but it was windy. It was windy when I got out. I didn’t know what to expect. The car did really well. It was a pleasure to work with the Coyne guys — a great experience. The goal was to get the car in the show for James (Davison). He’s going to have to start last anyway. We were safe. The car handled really well. In fact, I think we might have had a little more in the car. I really enjoyed working with all of the guys and a big thanks to James and to Dale (Coyne) for trusting me for this. It was a pleasure. We’ll see what happens in the race for James. I wish them the best of luck.”
Ed Carpenter: “I thought we would be out there qualifying for the last row if anything. When I was upside down in the car I wasn’t sure if we would have a chance to qualify at all. I I’m thankful for the way the day turned out for us timing-wise. Especially thankful for the entire CFH team for thrashing and getting a car together that handled well and had a lot of speed. The other car we destroyed, we spent as much time as we had on it. Thanks to the fans for coming out and sticking with us for the last couple of days. I’m very proud of the team. It’s been crazy; I’m glad it’s over. ”
Josef Newgarden: “It’s been a long week for all of us. We had our issue, we had to rebuild a brand-new car and get back up to speed, but we were fine. We have a good team. It’s all about your adversity and how all three of our cars are solidly in the field. It goes to our team – it’s a solid group. They built two new cars for Ed and me and JR has been flying all week. CFH Racing has had some ups and downs this week. We had some issues and unforeseen instances. It’s been tough. We’ve had two cars we had to fix. They built my car on Thursday when we had our incident. They built a new car for Ed this morning in about two hours. It’s amazing. I think we’ll be pretty solid for race day.” (On qualifying): “It wasn’t like qualifying a race setup, it should be easy. It was still knife-edge. The boost was still turned down. It wasn’t quite what we could’ve done, but 227 for Scott is still flying around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
Simon Pagenaud: “I think we have a good chance here, the entire team. But the Indy 500 is a bit like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. You’re never ready enough for this race. There’s so many things, nine to 10 pit stops, a yellow can fall out at the wrong time, something can happen in pit lane. It can go all right up until the race and something can happen at the last moment where you don’t expect it. I’m just going to keep being like I have been, like pretty non emotional about it, and do my job, even though I’m super excited.”
Townsend Bell: “The car was fine and the balance was good. Wide open, I have no idea what happened to our speed. I’m incredibly frustrated to start that far back; just shocked, really. It’s demoralizing. The first lap, you know, right? Coming across I saw 223 and you think there’s a digit out on the steering wheel. I had it wide open all the way around. We have to figure it out. We started 25th last year. It’s just tough; the guys worked hard. We went two miles an hour slower than we did when we had no tow and were on our own. It wasn’t there today.”
Justin Wilson: “It definitely helps being on the scoreboard. Qualifying was great, everything was just right. I was pleased when we got out there and there weren’t any other cars around.” (On the setup changes): “I understand the safety element and totally support INDYCAR. It’s a shame they had to do that because we really wanted to go quick. We just wanted to focus on how to make our day as productive as possible. It was a little bit of a handful when we first ran this morning.” (On starting in the second row): “It’s good for your comfort level to be near the front. You want to get to the front and stick around there for most of the race. It was nice to get a good (qualifying) run in. It’s been a long day.”
Carlos Munoz: “It was a good run, you know, just a shame we lost so much speed on the last lap. We were counting on there being a little bit more there. You know qualifying is nice, for sure, but the real payoff is the race. If you have a good race car, you’re going to go to the front. We’ll see what happens and where I end up, but today you only have one shot, so now I’m
Marco Andretti: “Honestly, I thought we maximized our package. We knew (teammate) Justin (Wilson) had a quick car all along, so he did a heck of a job hanging it out, as well. But like I said, we couldn’t have expected much more out of that, so onwards and upwards to the race. Obviously, we’re within striking distance of the front. I was happy in race trim, so hopefully that thing is as good as it was the other night.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It’s unfortunate that Honda had to change our cars, but that ship has sailed so we’ll get on with the job, really. That’s my job and everyone else’s on the team. It was a reset and we lost some of the balance on the car. But our job at that point when they redid the configuration and the rule, it was just get to the job at hand and do the best you can in the short amount of time given.” (Did it feel like anything you had during the week?): “No, it was a lot different. When you tune the car for six miles an hour quicker than what we’re doing now, it’s a lot different. You have to do different things to run the race downforce that we’re going to run and trim it out in qualifying.” (How crucial is Monday’s practice now?): “Very crucial, it’s an important one for us as a team because we need to get our strategy together for the race.” (On the difference running today versus yesterday): “It was shocking just the difference in the car. But when you’re handed temporary rules, as a team we just need to get on with the job. Really, when you look at it, it’s a very short amount of time to react to a very serious situation. When we have three warning signs like that, you’ve got to do something. We were forced with a situation today and safety’s first. That’s what we did. At the same time, Indy comes with a lot of risk. It’s always been dangerous, and we know that going into it. There have always been options. You don’t have to qualify with the least amount of downforce. It’s your call at that point. But dealing with the short time frame we had today, it’s very tough to make all the right calls in all the right places. Either way, we’re going to go out and have a good show next week.
Simona de Silvestro: “It’s the trickiest four laps you have to do, you’re always hanging on out there. I’m always more nervous for qualifying. I’m happy to be in the show, Andretti did an incredible job to get the car together again. Qualifying was OK, it’s going to be really good in race trim, I think.” (Strategy change after the morning?): “Quite a bit. For us, we worked so hard to get the car in balance for those four laps with the trims we had and the boost we had. All of a sudden we had to change that, but at the end of the day it was the same for everybody. We had a half-hour practice and we had to figure it out.”
Oriol Servia: “The run was good, solid. I’ve just been very happy with the car, honestly. The car this morning on normal qualifying configuration felt awesome, really fast, solid. But we all had to adapt to the new rules in half an hour’s time and the team did a good job. As I said, the car felt great. I think we’re going to be in a good position to start the race. As we all know, what matters is how you finish. I feel very good with how the car has felt the whole week, so we’ll see. I think we did a great job with the qualifying car and the race car is even better, so I’m looking forward to Sunday.”
Jack Hawksworth: “We thought the day was going quite well and that we would be competitive, but then it went terrible. The car felt fine in the corners but we couldn’t pull the gear down the straight for whatever reason. We didn’t have any real speed. My car felt similar than it had before, it was slow on the straight. It would have been better in qualifying trim because you would have seen some high numbers.”
Conor Daly: “The wind was picking up pretty big. I felt like we were dragging a parachute down the front straight. That was a shame, especially after this morning. I think this morning, we were really happy with the car with the more power and happy with it kind of on the edge. I think right now we’re just missing a little bit. I don’t know where that is, to be honest. It’s pretty easy and comfortable flat but there’s just not enough speed. I think the wind is a huge factor in that.” (On Race Day): “Thursday, we were really happy with the race car; happy in traffic. We could duck and dive; could really move through people. I was really happy with it, so we’ll just keep working tomorrow and on Carb Day.”
Alex Tagliani: “The guys did a fantastic job to work on the car. It was a late deal, so it’s nobody’s fault. But obviously when you run so little, it’s tough to get everything right. But I’m pleasantly surprised with the pace of our car, because I think we had a 225 in there. But we just missed on the gears, big time. Our biggest problem was gear, and that’s what caused a problem with the wind. But other than that, the car was good. It’s been good in traffic for the very little time we had. So hopefully we can do well with this car.” (On working with legend A.J. Foyt): “You can see it – all the people gravitating around A.J.; the legacy; what he brought to this particular place. He’s very special. It’s intimidating at first, but the team made me feel very comfortable. They really worked hard and they took pride in preparing this 48 car.”
Pippa Mann: “This is absolutely incredible; it’s hard to describe how amazing the Dale Coyne Racing crew guys are. When I crashed the main car we didn’t have a backup car. We didn’t even have a spare tub sitting around. It was an absolute monumental effort. It’s so important to have this car in the show with the money we are racing for the Susan G. Komen campaign. (On the qualifying setup changes): “The most important thing here at the Speedway is not only the safety of the drivers, but the safety of the fans. The additional downforce wasn’t a bad thing for us. I’m so stressed. I’m so glad that I’m not part of the Last Row Party.”
Charlie Kimball: “We needed every ounce of emotional energy and physical energy today. It’s been challenging, but I’m really proud of the Novo Nordisk team and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. When such a diametric change in regulations comes out for qualifying day with one shot through — you spend 364 days just thinking about how to qualify for the Indy 500, then you wake up on Sunday morning and it’s a little different. It’s been an interesting day, and I’m really proud of my guys. We were just kind of ready to handle whatever it was they threw at us. However it worked, we were going to try to maximize it, and the team did a good job.”
Bryan Clauson: “It’s exciting. This place is magical, especially as a kid growing up here at the track. To be a part of it is something special. It’s been a long three years. I’m glad to be back.” (How was your qualifying effort?): “Not very good. We lost quite a bit of speed from practice. It’s tough. These guys (other drivers) are very talented at what they do. Getting in and getting acclimated to Indy cars is tough, but it is something I’ve done before. I just need to keep working away at it.” (After his Group 2 run): “It’s been tough with everything that happened today, moving around, switching around from different packages. Obviously, we didn’t get it right, kind of on a fundamental level other than (teammate Sebastian) Bourdais. He was pretty good. Us and Stefano Coletti both struggled quite a bit there just to find speed. We’re still not real sure where it went, but we lost quite a bit from the qualifying practice at 1 to the run. We’ll have to figure out what happened and obviously switch focus to the race setup tomorrow. I don’t know that there’s probably been an entry that waited longer. We announced it a year in advance and waited until 7 o’clock on qualifying day to get it in.”
Buddy Lazier: “We broke an upright and an axle this morning in practice and, for us, that took every minute of the qualifying time to get that back on the car. Even though we got a late start and had one problem after another, yesterday morning I thought we looked pretty good or for the last day and a half. I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s just disappointing. Certainly we could do better than that. You get a late start and you are a small effort, you are really going to be up against it. No question.” (Coming back next year?): “I hope so. Just not like this. Obviously, we don’t want to roll in with one day of practice and go and qualify. So, I hope so. Owner and sponsor willing.”
Gabby Chaves: “It was a good run. I think most importantly the car felt very good. I think our engine liked the higher boost; we were very quick on our own on Fast Friday. Now, back to the race configuration on the engine, I think we just lacked a little bit of overall performance from it. We’ve got the race engines coming in soon and the car feels very good in traffic. It’s all about the race here and we’re very confident in our car. The team’s doing a great job.” (On the decisions made today): “When you put safety first, whatever the choice is, it’s going to be the right choice. Obviously it’s disappointing not to see the speeds we were hoping for, but the big show is going to come next Sunday.”
Below are some of my photos from Sunday. (Special thanks to IndyCar and IMS)