Even though Helio Castroneves earned Team Penske's 14th Indianapolis 500 pole by knocking Dario Franchitti off the top of the scoring pylon on the next to last qualifying run of the day, not all the excitement took place at the front of the ...
Even though Helio Castroneves earned Team Penske's 14th Indianapolis 500 pole by knocking Dario Franchitti off the top of the scoring pylon on the next to last qualifying run of the day, not all the excitement took place at the front of the field.
Under the current procedure, qualifying days are limited to locking 11 competitors into the field each day. Bumping from the field of 33 starters doesn't take place until the fourth and final day of qualifying but bumping essentially takes place each day as participants compete to fill each of the 11 starting positions.
A total of eighteen drivers attempted to fill the first 11 starting positions. Vitor Meira, the nineteenth driver to start an attempt, waved off after completing two laps.
A.J. Foyt's IV made one attempt but was knocked out of the field by Tomas Scheckter, the 12th driver to make a run. "We dropped off a little bit from this morning," said Foyt after averaging 221.476 mph on his ten-mile run. "That's not the speed we wanted ."
Michael Andretti, who would later find himself on the bubble, made his run after Scheckter, bumping Buddy Rice's (221.766 mph) from the field. "It's going to be really close," said Rice after making the first run of the day. Comparing times, Rice lost more than a tenth of a second from the morning practice to his best qualifying lap. He noted that "some of that is going to be weather. Some of it is going to be wind, just a little bit of everything," including sun.
Rice's teammate Sarah Fisher was a tick slower than Rice in practice and did not make a qualifying attempt. "I'm a little disappointed we didn't get a chance to qualify (Saturday), but Buddy's car and my car are very close in setup. We'll work on the setup for Sunday."
Kosuke Matsuura found himself on the bubble after Michael Andretti's run and Jeff Simmons promptly knocked him out of the field with an average of 222.687 mph compared to Matsuura's 221.866 mph. "The wind pushed me out in Turn 1," said Matsuura. "It's very scary."
Matsuura spent the rest of the afternoon making practice runs but never presented himself for a second run. He turned 59 practice laps, one shy of most on the day, with his best at 222.299 mph.
Scott Sharp was the next driver bumped from the top-11 when his run at 222.498 mph failed to hold up. Sharp made a second run at an average of 222.743 mph in an attempt to knock Michael Andretti from the field of 11, but it wasn't quite enough to displace Andretti's 222.789 mph average. "We did find a little bit of speed," said Sharp, noting how close he was to Michael Andretti. "On that last lap, it just slid a little bit, made my speed go down by about a mile per hour. I was real worried that it was going to drop my overall lap time, and it did."
Although four drivers tried to knock him form the field, Michael Andretti held onto to first day bubble spot and will start 11th. Each failed attempt to knock Andretti from the top-11 was met with wild cheers from the fans behind the Andretti Green Racing pits.
Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. gave up their place in the qualifying order, opting to wait for better conditions later in the day. At 4:12 p.m. Castroneves knocked Ed Carpenter from the field and 25 minutes later his teammate bumped Jeff Simmons. Both Simmons and Carpenter put their cars back in the qualifying line but with speeds at 222.437 and 222.652, respectively, neither were able to get back into the first day field.
Darren Manning took one final shoot at Michael Andretti's 11th place starting position (222.789 mph) but came up a wee bit short. Manning noted that he didn't get much practice time earlier in the week. "That kind of hurt us," he said after missing Andretti's mark by a tenth of a second. Apart from being "a little loose," Manning said that he had chosen the wrong gear to run in. "I think we could have had it with a bit more gear."
Manning will be able to try a different gear tomorrow as positions 12 through 22 will be filled Sunday. As Tony Kanaan put it, the twelfth starting position "is the pole for tomorrow." And the driver in the 22nd position will be on the bubble.