Despite being in an accident in the final practice session with pole sitter Takuma Sato, Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Alex Tagliani will start Saturday’s IZOD IndyCar Series’ Iowa Corn Indy 250 on the inside of the eighth row after qualifying 15th today at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.

Driving the No. 77 Bowers &Wilkins Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, Tagliani recorded a time of 36.0754 seconds at 178.426 mph. In oval track qualifying, IndyCar officials determine the qualifying speed by using the cumulative time of two laps.

Alex Tagliani, Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Alex Tagliani, Sam Schmidt Motorsports

Photo by: Michael C. Johnson

“We are a lot slower than last year,” said Tagliani after qualifying. “I don’t think that the set-up of the car is all that good. We’re struggling with the grip level. We have both understeer and oversteer at the same time. It’s not where we want to be for sure. I was expecting the car to be a lot quicker than it is right now.”

KV Racing’s Sato won the Peak Performance Pole Award after recording a time of 35.6857 seconds at 180.375 mph late in the qualifying session. This is the Japanese driver’s best IZOD IndyCar Series starting position, with his previous best coming in 2010 at Mid-Ohio Sportscar Complex in Lexington, Ohio. It is also KV Racing’s third Indy car pole.

In the closing five minutes of the final practice session, the cars of Tagliani and Sato touched in turn two and crashed into the outside wall. Both cars continued along the wall before separating and coming to a stop along the back straightaway. Neither driver was injured.

“I’m very disappointed and upset for the boys because it’s going to be a lot of work,” said Tagliani. “We had a very racey car in the final session. We were making good improvements and running side-by-side early on, so I felt comfortable racing with him. I felt like he crossed down into the bottom lane, and my right front (tire) touched his left rear.”

The cars of both Tagliani and Sato are expected to be repaired overnight, and the drivers should be able to assume their original starting positions.

Andretti Autosport’s Danica Patrick will start on the outside of Sato in second after she recorded a lap of 35.7184 seconds at 180.210 mph. It is Patrick’s first front row start since 2008 at Nashville Speedway in Tennessee.

Sato’s KV Racing teammate Tony Kanaan had his best qualifying result of 2011 with a lap of 35.7932 seconds at 179.833 mph. He will start third. Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand (35.8458 seconds at 179.569 mph) and Team Penske’s Will Power (35.8648 seconds at 179.474 mph) rounded out the top-five in qualifying.

Power shares the IZOD IndyCar Series point lead with Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti. The two qualified fifth and sixth, respectively, with the same speed of 179.474. Power’s lap time was 35.8648 and Franchitti’s was 35.8649. The difference in the their two-lap qualifying runs was .0001 of a second.