Ryan Briscoe celebrates his first Indianapolis 500 pole - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
When the new engines and chassis came in for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season, the series decided, after an oval test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that they wanted to aim for qualifying in the 225-mph range.
The Fast Nine shootout at the end of the day managed to supersede that, as Ryan Briscoe earned the 17th Indianapolis 500 pole position for Team Penske with his four-lap average of 226.484 mph, the second driver to take four timed laps at 4:45PM. Briscoe then had to sit in his car until 6PM as he watched, waited and absorbed the heat of this sweltering and sunny afternoon.
"This is unbelievable. Those four laps were so good and so consistent," Briscoe crowed. "It was lap 4 that won me the pole today' that was the setup I had on it. Getting a pole at Indy, this is huge. I certainly had good schooling from Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves; it feels good to get my first one here." Briscoe earned pole position in Long Beach so this is his second pole of 2012.
With cloud cover for three of his four laps, Briscoe's No. 2 IZOD Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone Indy car never went under 226. He's joined on the front row by James Hinchcliffe's No. 27 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet at 226.481 mph and Ryan Hunter-Reay's No. 28 DHL/SunDrop Chevy at 226.240 mph. These three were the only drivers to break the 226-mph barrier, the latter pair accomplishing the feat on their second of three available attempts.
Hinchcliffe, who had a pair of signed Greg Moore gloves inside his fire suit to honor the fallen fellow Canadian found it "heartbreaking, in a sense" to lose pole position by the slimmest of margins - 23 10-thousandths of a second over the 10-mile run. "At the end of the day we get to start on the front row of the Indy 500," he said, "and that's just the coolest thing ever. I'm going to lose a little bit of sleep over how small that margin was to Ryan and knowing that we had it there for three or four laps." HInchcliffe's 227-mph warm-up lap was a bit too much, too soon.
Hunter-Reay was "just so happy with the team , what they've done with the race cars. They've worked so hard and the put their heart and souls with these things. It's so much fun having a fast race car at IMS," particularly since he didn't make the field last year and had to use an AJ Foyt car in the 2011 race.
Of the nine contenders for Pole Position, two drivers did a warm-up lap only and then parked their cars, realizing they didn't have a snowball's chance - on this very hot day - of getting anywhere near the top of the scoring pylon. Both KV Racing Technology drivers EJ Viso (No. 5 Citgo Chevy) and Tony Kanaan (No. 11 GEICO/Mouser Chevy) parked their cars, unwilling to take the chance of ruining their race cars if they tried to wrest pole from Briscoe.
The second row belongs to Marco Andretti's No. 26 RC Cola Chevy at a 225.456-mph average for the four toughest laps in racing, joined by Will Power's No. 12 Verizon Chevy at 225.422 and Helio Castroneves in the third Team Penske car, the No. 3 Shell/Pennzoil Chevy at 225.172. Andretti made three attempts, Power had two wave-offs after his first attempt and Castroneves tried twice after setting his eventual speed, only to wave off his subsequent tries.
The only other driver to take timed laps was Josef Newgarden, who is the sole Honda-powered car in the top nine entries, posting 224.037 in a single 10-mile qualifying run that was actually worse than the earlier run he made (at 12:30 this afternoon) of 224.677 mph. Still it was good enough to get him into that magic group and he wasn't about to complain. "Our goal was to make the 'Fast Nine' and that's exactly what we achieved," the rookie said.
A total of 24 cars qualified today with some surprising drivers and teams not making the grade for the Fast Nine shootout. Rookie Rubens Barrichello starts 10th in the BMC/Embrase Chevy, Alex Tagliani's No. 98 Team Barracuda Honda is 11th and Graham Rahal's No. 38 Service Central Honda is outside the fourth row.
Row five consists of Ana Beatriz' No. 25 Ipiranga Chevy, Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Honda and Scott Dixon's No. 9 Team Target Honda. On the sixth row are birthday boy Dario Franchitti's No. 50 Target Honda, rookie James Jakes' No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda and JR Hildebrand in the No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet.
Takuma Sato brought the No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda to the inside of the seventh row, joined by Townsend Bell in the No. 99 BraunAbility Honda and Justin Wilson's No. 18 Sonny's Honda. The final qualifiers today were Michel Jourdain's No. 30 Office Depot Honda, Simon Pagenaud's No. 77 HP Honda and Sebastian Saavedra - who is also contesting the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 - in his No. 17 AFS Chevrolet.
There was action from the beginning of practice until the end of the afternoon. The first driver out, Kanaan had his initial run disallowed because the tam failed to affix ballast required of all cars not running an onboard camera. Saavedra's first attempt ended up in smoke and he had to wait until being the final driver to qualify before 4PM to get into the first day's proceedings. Bryan Clauson had a great run going with a three-lap average of 223.786 at noontime in the No. 39 SFHR CURB/Agajanian Honda before he clouted the Turn 1 wall. Team owner Sarah Fisher said the team would get the car fixed for Sunday.
As the temperatures rose to the high 80s, Oriol Servia spun the No. 22 Panther/DRR Chevy on his warm-up lap, doing a three-quarter spin to the left in the fourth turn, hitting the inside wall with the rear of his car and then hitting the pit-wall attenuator with the left front. He spun several times but climbed from the car and was fine after being evaluated. The team will return on Sunday with the primary car fully repaired, they said.
Sebastien Bourdais waved off his first attempt shortly after 2PM and then the track opened for practice. Bourdais went for a second try and bumped Ed Carpenter's No. 20 Fuzzy's Chevy. Wade Cunningham qualified the No. 41 ECat/ABC Supply Honda, bumping Jakes' first attempt. Katherine Legge's first try to qualify her No. 6 TrueCar Chevy was called off when no team member was on the wall to wave the green flag. Carpenter attempted to re-qualify his car and crashed in the second turn, hitting the SAFER barrier with the left front and side. There was heavy damage to the front and left side of the car.
Saavedra then qualified, only to be bumped and Mike Conway made his second attempt, bumping Bourdais and putting himself on the bubble, Jakes withdrew his time, re-qualified as did Saavedra, setting up the Fast Nine shootout.
The order for Sunday's Bump Day shows Simona de Silvestro's No. 78 Lotus first in line after she sat out today's proceedings, followed by Conway, Bourdais, Legge, Servia, Wade Cunningham, Carpenter, Jean Alesi (who also sat out Pole Day qualifying) and Clauson. The weather is supposed to be just as hot as it was today, with a cooling off period at the start of the week.