“What a difference a year makes!” Larry Foyt said when asked to sum up Tom Carnegie Pole Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Both Vitor Meira and Bruno Junqueira qualified their ABC Supply entries for the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500.
Alex Tagliani won his first pole position driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports with a speed average of 227.472mpg. Joining him on the front row were Scott Dixon and Oriol Servia.
Meira, who had been quick all week, put his No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda safely in the race with a four lap qualifying average speed of 225.590mph which at the time was sixth quickest. He would eventually drop to 11th quickest as track temperatures cooled and several cars went faster later in the day. He will start in the middle of row four.
... we’re going to run with full tanks, and really focus on what matters.
“The best thing about today is getting both cars in, because tomorrow, myself and Bruno, we are just going to work on race stuff, we’re going to run with full tanks, and really focus on what matters,” Meira said.
For Junqueira, the day was a little more challenging, reflective of his week here. His team struggled to make the car comfortable for him, a situation exacerbated by three days of rain. But patience and methodically going through the car allowed the problems to be identified and corrected .
He qualified in the top 24 on his first attempt with a speed of 224.236mph with all four of his laps varying by less than three tenths of a mile an hour. However as the track cooled, cars started to bump him down to the bubble spot. Eventually Simona DeSilvestro bumped him by one thousandth of a mile an hour! Three hours later, he went back out to re-qualify which he did with a four lap average of 224.691mph good for 19th on the grid. He will start on the inside of row seven.
“I am very happy to be able to qualify today and to qualify 19th,” said Junqueira. “It was better than expected and I think the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt team did a very, very good job turning this car around and improving it so much. We gained so much speed, we are much closer to Vitor. The car had a great balance in qualifying, we were really trimmed, low downforce and I was flat all the way around—I enjoyed it so much!”
The drama surrounding Junqueira as teams took their shots at him was a new experience for him here at the Brickyard where he qualified on the pole in 2002.
“It was the first time in my life that I was on the bubble–it was Not Nice,” he said. “When I was taken out, I got my helmet and gloves and said ‘Let’s go and do it.’ We took some more downforce out and to have done it, I’m very happy about that. Big emotions! I remember when I was on the pole here, I was the first guy out at 11 am and I sat in the garage from 11 to 6, waiting on everybody having their runs trying to go faster than me. Today it was the opposite. Seven, eight guys tried to beat me and Simona did by a thousandth [of a mile an hour] and I said ‘Wow. I need to go back there and do it again!’ but I had a great car so that helped.”
Meira credited the team with doing their homework over the winter which resulted in the positive performance.
“This qualifying run puts into perspective how much our work over the winter paid off,” said Meira. “We left here with a crashed car that had started 30th. We came back with the very same car. The crew got together over the winter worked on the car and did what they did and now we have two cars safely in the top 20 in the hardest 500 field in a long time. That shows how much work the ABC Supply crew did.”
Foyt echoed the sentiments, saying, “Last year we were on the outside looking in after Pole Day so coming here the thought was just to get both cars qualified on the first day. Then when we unloaded we were pretty happy with the speed the 14 was showing. At Indy, the details matter so much that it’s the attention to details that makes the difference. The other thing that helped us is having the consistency of a driver like Vitor here at Indy. He knows this place very well, he’s very good here, he understands these cars and what he needs out of them to go well. Bruno knows the same thing and they can drive very similar cars so that was a help. Having the same engineer Jeff Britton working with Vitor for the second straight year also makes a difference.”
A.J. Foyt spent the week overseeing the team’s preparation of the cars while also handling requests related to his driving the Chevrolet Camaro pace car at the start of the race. “I’m real proud of my team. Today went a helluva lot better than it did a year ago. The crew worked real hard over the winter and it paid off because the competition is so close right now. You have a bunch of great teams that have cars that haven’t qualified yet and we are in sound. I’m just happy, very happy that we’re in and we can work on our race setup a little bit tomorrow.”
With both of the Foyt team’s cars carrying retro paint schemes in honor of A.J.’s first and last Indy triumphs as a driver, his son Larry recounted a moment from Meira’s qualifying run.
“It was really cool when Vitor put up that good time—that 226 lap and at the time he was in the top six,” he said. “Dad was driving down pit lane and I jumped on the back of the golf cart, and all the fans were cheering for him. It took me back to when I was a kid and used to ride around with him and people would cheer for him. That was a pretty cool moment for me.”
The first 24 positions of the 33 car field were filled with the last nine to be filled tomorrow on Bump Day. Once the field is set Sunday, the cars will not be on track again until Carb Day, the next Friday.