The field is now set for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500. While Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn’t offer the normal dose of drama that fans have come to expect over the past many years, there was still plenty of on-track activity to keep fans interested on a hot, muggy afternoon.
When the qualifying line opened at noon, seven of the nine remaining positions were quickly filled. A couple of hours later, Ed Carpenter finally put his #20T car into the show and rounded out the field of 33. The balance of the afternoon was spent by teams running in race mode and putting in significant efforts with full fuel loads.
When all was said and done, the Lotus teams were, as expected, the slowest cars in the field. With a speed of 210.494 mph compared to pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe’s speed of 226.484 mph, the differential between the fastest and slowest qualifiers in this year’s race is the largest since 1983. The good news is that the updated Lotus engine in Simona de Silvestro’s car qualified approximately 4 mph faster than Alesi’s. While a 10 mph speed differential is still not preferable, it suggests that perhaps the Lotus cars won’t be as dangerously off pace during next weekend’s race.
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver Bryan Clauson was able to successfully return to the track after his qualifying crash on Saturday. He put his car into the field with a very conservative 214 mph average, admitting later that the team had no intention of running anything but a very high downforce setup during qualifying as their position in the field was assured due to the expected lack of bumping. Given Bryan’s outstanding performance during the practice sessions leading into the qualifying weekend, there is no reason to suspect that he won’t have a good car beneath him and will be much racier than his slow qualifying speed suggests.
The most disappointed driver on the day had to be Charlie Kimball, who crashed his #83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing car into the turn 1 wall during afternoon practice. Kimball extricated himself from the car and walked away without assistance but was visibly disappointed after becoming the fourth significant crash of the week for the new, mostly un-crash tested Dallara DW12. In much the same manner as Ed Carpenter’s car the day before, Kimball’s car simply swapped ends and spun 180 degrees, making hard contact with the left side of the car, causing the right side to leave the ground but quickly settle back onto the track without further damage.
As expected, the crowd was small at the start of the day and got smaller as the day wore on. Between the oppressively warm temperatures, the lack of any Bump Day drama, and the Indiana Pacers playoff game starting at 3:30, the crowd on Sunday was no comparison to attendance on Saturday. It also didn’t help that the one-hour practice session at 9:00 was followed by two hours of down time before the track opened for qualifications again at noon. Even Gasoline Alley had a thin crowd through most of the day with most of the teams working behind closed garage doors and fans clamoring to find shade.
The slow activity on track did give me a bit more time to check out the IMS Social Media Garage. This effort by the IMS PR department to engage new fans through their social media outlets was being well-received by fans young and old. Many of our friends in the INDYCAR blogosphere, including INDYCARAdvocate.com, andhesonit.com, newtrackrecord.com, anotherIndyCarblog.com, and 15daysinMay.com were on hand to meet with INDYCAR fans, discuss racing topics, host tweetups, and add to the interactive nature of the event. I think more sponsor interaction and activation could be achieved here and more guidance for those fans who may not be experts in social media would have been helpful, but for a first-time effort, IMS and the bloggers represented themselves very well. (The IMS Social Media garage will be open through race day. It is located immediately south of the Pagoda in the F1 garages, next to the Lids store.)
More Front Wing will take the next couple days to recover and then be back on-site for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing next weekend. Coverage will start here and on Twitter Friday for Miller Lite Carb Day and continue all the way through the wrap-up of the 2012 Indianapolis 500.