It might have been a bit anticlimactic, but the field is full for the 96h Indianapolis 500 scheduled for next Sunday, May 27.
There were 9 additional cars ready to complete the field after the fastest 24 performed their four-lap runs on Pole Day; the drama concerned who would take what position--and whether they'd keep their cars together sufficiently to allow all nine to make their 10-mile runs.
Despite not having a completed car until just this past Thursday, Sebastien Bourdais earned space No. 25 on the grid in his No. 7 TrueCar-McAfee Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone IZOD IndyCar Series entry.
The black and silver bullet from Dragon Racing was second quick to Oriol Servia in the hour-long practice this morning and the four-time Champ Car World Series champion was the third car out on the track.
Bourdais put together four consistent but successively slowing laps for an average of 223.760 mph.
None of his competitors could match it.
"The run was good," Bourdais said. "I just wish it had been yesterday and we'd be quite a bit higher up on the grid. We haven't really changed the car at all; the balance has been good. I'm just happy we're in the show; I'm glad to be with Chevrolet and looking forward to the rest of the season."
A three-time Freedom 100 Firestone Indy Lights winner at this track, Wade Cunningham ran four very consistent laps for an average of 223.258 mph in the No. 41 AJ Foyt Racing ECat-ABC Supply Honda.
The Kiwi was third-quick in the morning practice; while he was glad to put the car in the show, he had to be a bit disappointed because, as he put it, "Instead of doing the maximum, we're basically doing the minimum to get in and that's not how I enjoy racing. We didn't come here to be field-fillers but we're safely in the field and we can start working on race setup."
Servia, who qualified on the front row last year with Newman/Haas Racing recovered well--thanks to the stout efforts of his Panther-DRR Racing crew--from his vicious accident on Pole Day to take 27th on the grid with a four-lap average of 222.393 mph in his Chevy-powered Indy car.
"We just wanted to make sure we had a solid effort to get into the race--obviously," Servia said. "You have to be in it first. This race has been won from the back many times and if you have a good car, you can definitely go forward. So that's what we're going to focus on."
It's been a very tough 24 hours for Ed Carpenter Racing and the sole owner-driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series. After his Turn 1 crash on Saturday the team pulled his spare car (actually the car he raced in the first four road/street contests) out and spent much of the night building it for speedway duty. They didn't get the job done in time for morning practice and waited until the other eight drivers had taken their turns in the qualifying line, hoping to get a few installation and practice laps under their belts before making an attempt.
After everyone else had qualified, Carpenter did his install laps and just after 2PM set out in the heat and humidity of the day to get his 10 miles in the books. He earned the inside spot on row 10 with four laps at 222.324 mph in the No. 20T Fuzzy's Ultimate Vodka Chevrolet. While Carpenter, the most recent oval winner on the Indy car tour has had some fairly seamless months of May in the past, "The whole month hasn't gone as you script them. You never know with Indianapolis, when it's going to decide it's your turn for a bad month," he remarked. "I was made at myself (after his accident) and mad that the car got destroyed, mad that the setup wasn't better and mad that I was stubborn and insisted on keeping my foot in it when I knew it wasn't any good."
Mike Conway starts in the middle of row 10 - another guy who's had some poor luck at Indianapolis in the past and this month, as he didn't pass tech inspection after qualifying yesterday for a height infringement. On Sunday the Brit took his No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing ABC Supply Honda and produced a four-lap average of 222.319 mph but he still "would have loved to have put it in the show yesterday. The car has been very similar all month in terms of handling--it's been very good. We weren't looking to blow the world away with speed today," Conway admitted.
Rookie Katherine Legge, who did her Rookie Orientation Program a week late, thanks to an engine manufacturer change from Lotus to Chevrolet is on the outside of the tenth row, following her four-lap average of 221.624 mph performed directly after her Dragon Racing teammate Bourdais. Legge found it "a massive relief after the week or two that we've had," after she put the No. 6 TrueCar.com Chevy in the show. "We basically qualified our race car because we haven't had time on track to work on qualifying setup or anything like that. We needed to find a car that was easy to drive at this stage," the rookie explained. "This is a very special place with all of the tradition and everything else that surrounds it. All I have to do is go out, put my foot to the floor and drive around for laps, right? But you still get nervous; it's the Indy 500, for goodness sake!"
The final row - who will take part in the traditional Last Row Party before the race - consists of Bryan Clauson (No. 39 Angie's List/CURB-Agajanian Chevy), who performed four very, very careful laps this time around after his big accident on Saturday in a rebuilt car. His four-lap average was 214.455 mph; the first qualifier today, Simona de Silvestro (No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus) at 214.393 in a car she called "comfortable to drive," and Jean Alesi's No. 64 Lotus-FP Journe-Fan Force United Lotus at 210.094 mph. "It's a big relief for me to finally get into this race," he exhaled.
So that part of the drama was complete by 2:10 but with open practice shortly thereafter, 14th qualifier Charlie Kimball had an accident eerily similar to Carpenter's--in the first turn. The team said it wasn't bad for the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Honda, but the accident certainly ruined Kimball's opportunity to get some practice laps in hand before Carb Day on Friday and Sunday's 200-lap Indy 500.
For the balance of the field, Sunday afternoon was a festival of drafting practice with teams looking to discover how their cars handled with the kind of traffic expected next week - and with the same type of weather anticipated.
The close of practice showed two drivers that qualified on Sunday - and who recently changed manufacturer affiliation - atop the time sheets: Oriol Servia and Sebastien Bourdais were quickest on the day at 223.752 and 223.479-mph respectively, and the next three drivers were also Sunday qualifiers: Ed Carpenter, Wade Cunningham and Katherine Legge! Just goes to show how quickly things change at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
(Following practice, several qualifying violations were disclosed by INDYCAR. Once we've figured out exactly what they mean, we'll have a review. The violations merited fines but no additional penalties.)