Alex Tagliani had a new spring in his step when his Bryan Herta Autosport/Team Barracuda squad became a Honda-powered IZOD IndyCar Series squad just before the 96th Indianapolis 500.
Tagliani, who won the pole position for last year's Indy 500 race (driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports) and followed that with another pole on the high banks at Texas Motor Speedway, felt the same kind of confidence he had in 2011 upon him once more.
Tagliani took his turn toward the end of the qualifying order and earned his second straight pole at Texas Motor Speedway for the Firestone 550K with a two-lap average of 215.691 mph, half a mile-per-hour better than his 2011 mark of 215.186 mph, pushing Dario Franchitti back to second place with his 215.646-mph average(a lag of 0.0102-sec)--and making tomorrow's front row the same as it was last year.
Different cars, different engines (well, both of these drivers race with Honda power) but the same result!
"It's pretty clear to see that for the team, once we got back with Honda, we're a threat every race weekend," said Tagliani. "I feel good. Our championship started at Indy, and to be on the pole here is a great boost to the morale of the entire team. The car's good and the Honda engine is producing good power at every boost level. We're stoked to be back with them; it makes a big difference."
Franchitti, as did many, found his car "a bit of a handful in the first runs this morning, so we had a bit of work to do and went actually quicker than I thought we would." The winner of one of two races here last year added, "it's definitely the hardest qualifying that I've done here with that level of downforce and that level of grip - and that's what we want."
With the aero changes decreed last week
: the series made another change after meeting with the drivers following qualifying. By allowing a 1/8-inch wicker on the rear wing, INDYCAR expects to add 125-lb of downforce, according to Will Phillips, vice president of competition.
Graham Rahal starts third with his lap of 215.554mph; he was one of those really enjoying the lack of downforce and the degree of difficulty driving the cars, and Scott Dixon joins him on the second row with a two-lap average of 215.331 mph, sharing Rahal's point of view. Both of these drivers race with Honda power, giving the former sole engine provider the two rows.
Dixon, who won here in 2008 "just didn't have enough for the front row today," he said. "I think we have the balance where it needs to be for tomorrow. I think we'll be racy and I look forward to getting going tomorrow night under the lights. There is more emphasis placed back in the drivers' hands with this car and that's what it's all about."
Best of the Chevy drivers was Will Power, lining up fifth, falling prey to the hard rev limiter on his second lap. The Indy cars have a limiter that reduces their highest rpm limit by 100 rpm. "It was a tough run out there for sure. I could hear other people dealing with the same issues and in the race, I think it's going to be about track position. Starting fifth, things are looking good for us," he said.
The balance of the top 10 are James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan with Chevy engines, Mike Conway in eighth but relegated to 18th with an engine penalty, Marco Andretti (Chevy) and Takuma Sato (Honda). Josef Newgarden had to make an engine change after the first, less than one-hour practice and starts last after missing qualifying and taking the penalty.
With a shortened practice time before qualifying it was difficult for teams to figure out what aero configuration they needed for qualifying but with the changes decreed after qualifying, final practice turned out to be lively, with the top 10 comprised of Dixon, Conway, Tagliani, Sato, Ryan Briscoe, Rahal, Power, Franchitti, Ed Carpenter and Newgarden.
After watching his driver take the team's first pole position (he drove for Sam Schmidt Motorsports last year), Bryan Herta noted, "Alex (Tagliani) and Todd (engineer Malloy) are a great combination. They're doing a really good job right now and it's a very proud time for our team to have this kind of success. The next stage for us now is that we have to convert the qualifying pace we've had the last couple of weeks into results."
The 228-lap race is scheduled for 7:45 pm CDT later today and is telecast by NBC Sports. Most everyone expects this race to be an edge-of-your-seats affair--both inside and out of the cockpit. It should be a good one!