Ah, what could have been. The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is such a crapshoot, it's actually two races as drivers must qualify for the 200-lap Memorial Day Classic before they can race. With new qualifying structures in place for this 89th Indy...
Ah, what could have been. The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is such a crapshoot, it's actually two races as drivers must qualify for the 200-lap Memorial Day Classic before they can race.
With new qualifying structures in place for this 89th Indy 500, some new wrinkles come into play while some traditions remain in place. Tony Kanaan earned MBNA Pole position last Sunday after a Saturday rainout with four laps of 227.566mph in his #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone racer. Twenty-two drivers earned spots in the race last Sunday, leaving only 11 spaces up for grabs.
Had Buddy Rice been able to qualify last week, had he not hit the wall in practice, things might have been different as qualifying today proved. Substituting for Rice at this race, just as Rice stood in for him in the first part of the 2004 season before getting a permanent spot at Rahal Letterman Racing, Kenny Brack turned the fastest speed in time trials this month about a half-hour after time trials began.
Driving the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda, Brack averaged 227.598mph over his ten mile drive, an effort that would have, could have knocked Kanaan off Pole had the Swede performed the feat last Sunday. As it is, he'll start 23rd.
In racing, though, could have and would have simply don't count.
Brack stepped into the ride on Wednesday and immediately began turning fast laps - like he'd never been away. But 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner Brack has been away from racing, though, since his horrific accident at Texas Motor Speedway during the 2003 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series finale.
That Brack survived to race another day and is here at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval as more than a spectator is a tribute to his own fortitude and determination not to let the eight surgeries and months upon months of rehabilitation keep a good man down.
"Rahal Letterman Racing gave me a chance and a great car in qualifying today," Brack confirmed. "It all happened quite quickly the last few days. It's been a lot of fun. I always do what's in my heart and from the time of the accident I had faith I could work my way back through all those surgeries and rehabilitation."
Brack had tried to put a deal together for this season but was unable to do so until Rice's accident. "I believe in being prepared," he said. "I came back because I wanted to write my own chapter to my own book." Interestingly, this is the first time a former winner has substituted for a former winner at Indy.
With eleven spots up for grabs this afternoon, the first driver to take a qualifying run was rookie Ryan Briscoe, who turned his laps at 224.080mph in the #33T Target/Pioneer Panoz/Toyota. Briscoe hit the Turn 1 wall last Sunday on his first attempt on the tricky Brickyard oval and called it "a bit of a setback.
"We were still confident we could run well and those were four solid laps so I'm happy," the Australian said. "We had plenty of preparation for today and we wanted to be conservative with our run. It wasn't necessary to hang it all out." Briscoe earned the 24th starting spot.
The former Formula One Toyota test driver felt "confident I could keep my foot down today. I'm glad to be in the show in the greatest race in the world. It doesn't matter where you start if you drive smart and have good strategy."
Calling the difference between his 2005 experience and his rookie run last year "phenomenal," Marty Roth still was "not very happy with our qualifying run and we'll probably take another crack. We just had a massive push. There's a lot more in the car" than the 219.497mph Roth turned in his #25 Dallara/Toyota. The Canadian had practiced in the 222mph range in morning practice. He never went back out this afternoon and is set to start in the middle of row 10.
Patrick Carpentier's #83 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Toyota had an exciting first try at qualifying today after being bumped from the field last Sunday. The La Salle, Quebec, Canada native brushed the Turn 1 wall on his first and second laps and decided to return to the pits for a later, second try.
When the former CART/Champ Car star returned to the field of play, he produced four laps at 222.803mph, his quickest of the meeting to gain 25th place in the field of 33.
"It's been so tough for us all month that this is gratifying," Carpentier smiled. "I slid around too much on my first try and bent the toe ring so we had to come back in," he explained. "This is the fastest we've run here without a tow all month. We started at 219 [mph] and just stayed there. We kept trying to make the car faster and it's much better than it was last week."
Ed Carpenter was another who waved off runs on MBNA Pole Day yet returned this afternoon to post his best speeds of the race meeting in the #20 Vision Racing Dallara/Toyota at 221.439mph, good for 26th.
"We found a little something last night and, while we wanted to get into the show last week, this is just as good. We're happy where we're at," Carpenter advised. Vision Racing wasn't even a blip on the radar screen in mid-February, but "we have done a lot of work and as long as we keep improving, I'll be happy."
After being tossed from the grid last Sunday, Jaques Lazier and his #21 Playa Del Racing Panoz/Toyota team had something to prove. A bobble between Turns 1 and 2 cost the Colorado native his first try at making the field but he returned to run four laps at 221.228mph a bit later, placing him 27th.
"I'm extremely pleased because four and a half weeks ago all we had was a bare tub. I got a bit sideways my first try but we got it solidly qualified without running very aggressively. I'm happy with the package we have; this may be a young team but we've got a lot of knowledge."
Larry Foyt followed Brack to take his four timed laps in his #48 A.J. Foyt Racing Panoz/Toyota and accepted 219.396mph for the effort. "We've been struggling for speed all month," Foyt admitted, "but that run was pretty decent and consistent. We've been having problems getting speed of our [turn] 2 all month but I think we'll stick with the run. I don't think we have much else!" A.J. Foyt Jr.'s son holds 30th grid spot.
Larry's nephew A.J. Foyt IV wasn't nearly as fortunate as Larry on his first qualifying run as the #14 ABC Supply Dallara/Toyota erupted in a plume of white smoke on his second warm-up lap, forcing the 2002 Menards Infiniti Pro Series champ back to the garage for a new infusion of Toyota horsepower.
"Just going into Turn 3 I felt it let go," Anthony said. "The last two years I've had dramas [in qualifying] but it always ended good both years. Hopefully it will end good this year, also. I'm getting used to it!" Later in practice he had another power mill problem but came back as the final qualifier today to his an average of 220.442, good for 28th.
Shortly after 2PM Jeff Ward brought the #22 Vision Racing Dallara/Toyota to take his timed laps. Ward put together four tours of the 2.5-mile Indy oval at 218.714mph and holds 31st on the provisional grid. The eight-time motocross champion explained, "that was kind of our race setup but we didn't get out of it quite what I thought the car would do. For a race setup, though, it's a good speed," Ward said.
Just before Foyt IV took his four laps Jimmy Kite strung together a quartet of tours at 218565mph in the #91 Ethanol Hemelgarn Dallara/Toyota to get 32nd on the grid. Kite, who just got into the car this Wednesday now "knows what the car needs. It's a good race car. His team did a gearbox change between practice and qualifying. "We wanted to let the track cool off before we went out (at 5:30PM EST)" in semi-qualifying trim.
Although Arie Luyendyk Jr. did pass his Rookie Orientation Program in spurts throughout the practices that were held when no one was in line to qualify, he didn't make a qualifying attempt today in the #98 Curb/Agajanian/Beck Dallara/Chevrolet.
The weather could create a problem for Luyendyk as there is one space left in the field of 33 and he's the prime candidate to take it. Should rain ruin the second generation driver's plans, will IMS and the Indy Racing League permit him to start?
Many of the qualified teams have packed up their pit road equipment and are not expected on-track tomorrow, although some who put their cars in the show today will likely take the opportunity, weather permitting to hone their race setups for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 29th.