Pippa Mann's qualifying run for Friday's Freedom 100 set a historic mark as the 26-year old became the first woman to earn a pole position at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mann watched as the last driver in the qualifying line took to the 2.5-mile speedway, completing their first lap at an average speed of 185 mph, well shy of Mann's 188 mph first lap. Her huge smile grew larger as the checkered flag waved for the final driver, making it official.
"These guys gave me an awesome car," said a jubilant Mann. "They gave me a fantastic car. I just went out there and did my best to pedal it."
Although Mann is the first woman to start from the pole in the history of the 101-year old Indianapolis Motor Speedway, she is the second woman to earn a pole in the Indy Lights Series. Sarah McCune started from the pole in 2005 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Two of the four Sam Schmidt Motorsports entries will start on the front row as Mann's teammate Wade Cunningham will start alongside her. Cunningham started on the pole last year and went on to win the race giving the team its fourth Freedom 100 victory.
"We're struggling a little bit with car pace this morning," said Cunningham, who was seventh in practice, "but that's why that was practice and this is qualifying. It's good that we're up here."
Both Andretti Autosport entries will start on the second row with Charlie Kimball nipping Martin Plowman by eight one-hundredths of a second.
"Qualifying is only one part of it," said Plowman. "We have a really long race ahead of us now."
Plowman also noted that he was happy that he'd been at the Speedway before. "I think I'm better for it this year."
Jeff Simmons will start fifth in his fifth Freedom 100. His best finish was second in 2004.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports was able to qualify all four cars in the top seven. Series points leader J.K. Vernay will start sixth and his teammate Phillip Major seventh.
"Qualifying wasn't so bad," said Vernay. "I think we had a good result. Qualifying is not that important. I just wanted to be in the top six or seven."
Vernay won the first two races in 2010 at St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park.
Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe will start 8th followed by Gustavo Yacaman and Dan Clarke. Yacaman was second fastest after two practice sessions with a speed of 187.617 mph. In qualifying, Yacaman averaged 185.691 mph.
Yacaman said the conditions were not ideal during qualifying. "Windy and really warm," he noted. "The track is really greasy. The ambient temperature is really hot, so that means less downforce and grip. That makes it a very hard race car to drive."
Sebastian Saavedra will become the third driver to serve double duty, competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Freedom 100 in the same year. Jeff Simmons and Marty Roth also competed in both races in the same year.
Saavedra survived qualifying for the 500 after two drivers withdrew their qualified cars, essentially putting Saavedra back in the field after he had been bumped.
"It's the hottest we've been around even from the Indy cars," said Saavedra, referring to the weather. "I think maybe we made a wrong choice because of the conditions."
Saavedra will start 12th in the Freedom 100. He is slated to start 32nd for the 94th Indianapolis 500.