Pole Day at Indianapolis. What could be better? How about a little Hoosier and genuinely great guy winning the pole? Today, that’s exactly what we got.
Aside from the day of the race, Pole Day is the most anticipated day of the month. The rain-shortened Fast Friday practice session where we nearly saw a 230 mph lap left us itching even more for today to get started. Unfortunately, the grey skies above the Speedway weren’t as eager as the rest of us were.
The two group practice sessions in the morning (8:00 to 8:30 and 8:30 to 9:30) went on as scheduled. However, the second hour of practice was interrupted by a short rain shower. It only lasted about 30 minutes, but the track was soaked once again and the start of qualifications was delayed two and a half hours, pushing the 11 AM start time back to 1:30 PM.
There was a lot of waiting around this morning, which allowed me to stroll through Gasoline Alley to see what I could find. Something caught my eye down in the area around Schmidt’s garages: There was a third car being assembled and some Dallara parts with black and orange all over them. Something was up.
As I was taking pictures, Katherine Legge went inside and took off her heels. She climbed into the seat and started making adjustments. Despite all of the rumors of her getting Schmidt’s additional car this week, something still didn’t add up. I noticed the nose of the car had the number 81, not the 99 we’d heard about. Luckily, Curt Cavin cleared things up. He said she was confirmed to drive the car and the number had been changed to 81.
Cars began lining up on pit lane for qualifications at 1 PM. Scott Dixon was the first car to go out, setting the pace for the rest of the field. Qualifying for the first 24 positions would go until 6 PM, and the Firestone Fast Nine would begin at 6:30. They would go out in reverse order, with each driver getting one shot to grab the pole.
The first couple of hours of qualifying saw some impressive numbers, especially from Team Penske. For nearly an hour, the team had all three cars on the front row. As the cars kept rolling off, the Chevrolet advantage was still very obvious. The Andretti Autosport cars all performed up to expectations after dominating the entire week of practice. All five qualified in the top nine on their initial runs.
After everyone made their first qualifying run, the top nine drivers were Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Muñoz, Helio Castroneves, Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti, AJ Allmendinger, EJ Viso, and James Hinchcliffe. None of them were bumped out before the 6 PM gun, and so they all advanced for a shot at pole position. Townsend Bell and James Jakes bumped their way into the top 24 in the final minutes of the first session of qualifying.
JR Hildebrand just missed the top nine but will start the race in tenth. Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were 16th and 17th respectively. You would think they would be extremely nervous, but just last year they started 15th and 16th and finished first and second in the race.
Hinchcliffe went first in the Firestone Fast Nine, which was made up of all the Andretti and Penske cars — and Ed Carpenter. Andretti’s first lap was 229.049 mph, the first over 229 during qualifications. Carpenter took it up a notch from there, though. He posted a four-lap average of 228.762 mph, good enough for the top spot with just a few cars remaining.
In the end, Ed Carpenter won the Pole for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500. He will be joined on the front row by Muñoz and Andretti. Row two belongs to Viso, Allmendinger, and Power. Row three is made up of Hunter-Reay, Castroneves, and Hinchcliffe.
You couldn’t write a better script for today than Carpenter’s pole run. The storylines are endless as David took down the Goliath in his hometown at the greatest race course in the world. We knew Ed was capable of getting into the Fast Nine, but how many thought he could win the pole by defeating five Andretti cars and three Penske machines? It was an incredible finish to what was another exciting Pole Day at Indianapolis.
The first 24 positions have been filled, which leaves nine more spots up for grabs tomorrow. With the expected addition of Katherine Legge, we should have ten cars vying for those nine positions. Sunday is Bump Day, and yes, someone will be bumped out of the race.
The forecast for tomorrow looks good, with sunny skies and a high of 85 degrees predicted for the Speedway area. The public gates will open at 7:30 AM, with one hour of practice scheduled for 9 AM. Bump Day qualifications will begin at noon and run until 6 PM. At that time, the 33-car field for this year’s Indianapolis 500 will be set.
I’ll be at the track once again tomorrow to cover events for More Front Wing. Follow me on Twitter at @IndyCarChad, and check for a daily summary here at MoreFrontWing.com.