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Carpenter Captures Top Spot on Dramatic Day 1 of Qualifying

Following a strange week of weather woes, that saw most of the field opting to sit out portions of the practice windows, the first day of Qualifying for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 provided more of the same, a huge storm barrelling through the region, leaving drivers to amuse themselves in their motorhomes, trying to take their minds off of the task at hand, qualifying as far up the order as possible for the “big show”

Here’s how Day 1 of the Indy 500 Qualifying weekend went down...

Qualifying Day 1:

As mentioned, Mother Nature decided not to play nice this weekend. Only a handful of drivers took a turn around the circuit before the skies opened, rendering the day officially on hold, and the drivers officially stir-crazy. (http://www.indycar.com/News/2017/05/05-20-Indy-rain-social-media) Though some managed to squeeze in a morning practice, most had their first taste of the track on their qualifying warm up lap. Because of the reduced schedule, and the prospect of more inclement weather on the horizon for Sunday’s Pole day, everyone took their turn, as drawn, to at least get a placement on the grid should they have to default to this line up for race day, with IMS President Doug Boles announcing that the track would remain open past the normal cut off time to ensure each driver would get their 4-lap qualifying attempt.

For a reminder of how the qualifying format will go down this weekend, CLICK HERE -> QUALIFYING FORMAT

Pippa Mann was the first driver to take to the circuit at 4:01 p.m., and completing her four-lap run at an average speed of 219.282 mph. (Not indicative of her speed all week, clearly disadvantaged being the first out, as well as contending with handling issues)

From there each driver, in order of their draw, took to the track to attempt their 4 fastest laps. Some met and exceeded expectations, while some missed the mark big time. (We’re looking at you Team Penske)

The Alonso Factor: Ya, “that guy”. It’s not a stretch to say that the 14 drivers that qualified prior to him were essentially the opening act for the main performer, especially when the favourites had failed to put up the really big numbers. (Montoya, Pagenaud, Hinchcliffe, and Castroneves all underwhelmed) You could hear the giddiness in the voices of the commentators when the F1 Champ took to the track. He did not disappoint, pulling off a four-lap average of 230.034 mph which placed him provisionally in the top three.

Four drivers later, with a third of the field provisionally set, Fast Friday's fastest driver Sebastien Bourdais, the 19th driver to attempt a qualifying run, was well on the way to being the fastest car on this day too, knocking off two breathtaking laps in excess of 231mph and getting faster when he made heavy impact with the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier.

His car got loose in the middle of Turn 2. replays made it look as if something broke as his car bottomed out and sparked, just before he corrected in an attempt to save it from hitting. Unfortunately, he didn’t, and the car careened hard, almost head on, into the wall, causing it to flip upside down, and sending it slidding down the track, where it eventually righted itself.

As soon as the car came to a stop, Bourdais could be seen on the video alert and trying to raise his visor while moving around in the car. He was cautiously extricated by the Holmatro Safety Team and taken first to the infield medical centre, then on to IU Health Methodist Hospital for further examination. It would later be revealed that the Frenchman suffered multiple pelvic fractures and a broken hip as a result of the crash. He would have successful surgery that night, but will be out for the remainder of the season. (More on this later)

Last year’s Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi was the first out following the lengthy delay to repair the wall and clean up the debris, but showed no hesitation, putting up a 4-lap average of 230.148 mph, putting him at the top of the chart until teammate Sato took over the top spot with a 4-lap run of 230.382 mph. Sato would hold that spot until 2-time Indy 500 pole sitter Ed Carpenter would take to the track and work his magic, besting the Andretti driver with a 4-lap run of 230.468 mph. No one would challenge that, and he would remain provisional pole sitter going into Sundays Field setting qualifying runs and the Fast 9 Shootout for Pole.

Probably the biggest surprise was the lacklustre performance of the Penske crew, with only 1 (Power) making it into the Fast 9 Shootout for pole. (Realistically, pole position is about speed and bragging rights, as it’s a long race, and starting up front doesn’t guarantee finishing up front by any means…)

The top nine were:

1) Ed Carpenter - 230.468 mph
2) Takuma Sato - 230.382 mph
3) Scott Dixon - 230.333 mph
4) JR Hildebrand - 230.205 mph
5) Alexander Rossi - 230.148 mph
6) Will Power - 230.072 mph
7) Fernando Alonso - 230.034 mph
8) Tony Kanaan - 230.007 mph
9) Marco Andretti - 229.924 mph

Special Kudos goes out to ROTY contender Ed Jones, who’s 4-lap run of 229.717 mph kept him in the Fast nine until the 2nd last qualifier of the day, JR Hildebrand, knocked him down to 10th spot.

http://www.openwheelworld.net/us/races/759/Q1/1/Qualifying_1

POST QUALIFYING QUOTES - DAY 1:

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, 2017 championship leader): “What really matters is the race trim. I’m not as surprised as you would expect. We just can’t find the speed somehow. The good thing is we got a great balance in traffic. The car has a pretty good balance. It is what it is. We have to work hard. It’s great that Will (Power) is up there for Team Penske Chevrolet. That’s good. The track isn’t changing too much. There’s a cloud cover. The track temp is not moving up. We knew we were going to have similar conditions. There’s some wind in some different corners, and Will gave me some really good pointers. It is what it is. I just couldn’t be as fast as him.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We’re 50 percent of the way there. We’re going to try to get as high as we can. Tenth spot is the best we can do tomorrow. So we’re going to try to get as close as possible. It’s good to get the first day out of the way. It’s been a fun month in a lot of ways, but obviously a tough one with the Thursday incident. I’m excited about being here with these hum guys. Hopefully we can get this car a little bit faster tomorrow, then we can work on our race car for next Sunday.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet): “The whole week, the car had pretty good balance, but for some reason we’re not that fast. This place, there are so many details. We even tried to do something different in Will Power’s setup; but if it doesn’t go, it doesn’t go. We trimmed out as much as we could. It is what it is. We had wind in one of the corners, and we lost a mile an hour. It is this place, it is special. I’m glad the rain went away, the sun came out, and the fans came in. I don’t think it will hold up for the Fast Nine. Right now we’re just thinking about the race. We’re going to change engines for the race.”

CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s too easy. We have too much downforce in it. To be fair, I’ve been really uncomfortable in the car all week. I’ve been begging to trim out, but hopefully we can do that tomorrow. We need at least another 2-3 mph to even be somewhere, so we’ll see. I think we can take some downforce off of it and pull some more speed out of it. We were so conservative on downforce. That was our best single-car run we’ve done all month. I guess that’s good, but it’s still super-slow. We’re going to work on it for tomorrow. We knew today we weren’t going to be attempting the Fast Nine. We were planning to use today as a test session and hopefully improve tomorrow. It’s about the weather tomorrow. Tomorrow’s going to get really competitive. Hopefully, we can get a full day of running and a proper qualification day, but who knows? It’s Indiana.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda):“Honestly, we just didn’t have the pace. That seems like a super-obvious thing to say. One of the tricks to qualifying here at Indy is consistency. The degradation over four laps can have a huge impact on it. That is what won us the pole last year. Josef (Newgarden) had faster laps, but we had more consistent laps. If you look at our run, that is as consistent a run as you will see here, so the car was really well balanced, really well set up, but we just didn’t have the outright pace. Wind could have played a part of it. It’s not where we have wanted it all week, but the race car is good. That’s what matters in terms of the race. You don’t just win because you started on the pole. So hopefully this means we have a strong car for next Sunday. When you look for margins here, everything counts. The wind, the track temperature, everything.”

MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I wasn’t too happy because we’re not in the top nine. That wasn’t what we expected, especially after the speed we had here last year. We will need to do some work to decide why we’re there. During the practice, we had a good race car. I’m sure that all of the team will work really hard. I mean, the most important thing is the race, right? The track conditions were OK. We just struggled. It wasn’t because of the track conditions.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Gallagher Honda): “The conditions are quite challenging and it makes it even more difficult with the rain today which took away all the practice time. The track was kind of green and hasn’t been the best it’s been all month, but I gave it my best to get it into the Fast 9 Shootout. I lifted on just one lap as I was pointed toward the wall once in Turn 3, but got it corrected and got in a good run.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It’s a great day today in Indianapolis and it’s great to see so many fans out here even after the rain we had. Just the butterflies and anticipation before you get to go out always gets you here. I think the NTT Data car has been strong and the whole Ganassi team has been performing great. We’re happy with our time and we’re pleased with the laps we ran. There is still tomorrow of course so doing the best we can on Sunday is what really matters.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): “I can rest easy tonight knowing that I gave everything I had and the car had in that qualifying run. The guys gave me a great car – I’d say it was at 95%, so pretty close to as good as it can be. I’m happy with the run and the boss was happy with the run, so it was a good day. Now we just need to regroup and focus on doing this all again tomorrow and hopefully grabbing that pole position.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 11 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Going into qualifying…it wasn’t ideal. We were never going out there to try to set a blistering lap time or big speed after the Juncos Racing guys worked literally all night to repair the car. They worked so hard and I can’t thank them enough for all of their efforts. With the rain this morning we didn’t get an install lap, we didn’t get anything, so that was literally the first time the car had been on the track since the crash. For me to have the confidence to keep it wide open the whole time I think says a lot about how I feel about our guys. We’ll give it another shot tomorrow and be a little more aggressive.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We didn’t have a big drop-off, so that was good. The car kind of got faster down the back straight with the wind. I don’t know if the wind is going to change, but it felt solid. It was solid enough I wished we could have trimmed some more, maybe, but you don’t know what the degradation was going to be like. So I think that was a reasonable run. One thing was to beat (Tony) Kanaan. That’s good. That’s one Honda out of the way. He’s obviously very close. It’s going to be very tough to get in the (top) nine. There are so many fast cars, but we’ll see. Hopefully, conditions don’t get better. They probably will because rubber will go down. It would be fantastic to have a shot at the nine.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It was a struggle. The car felt good but was missing speed. It is what it is. We needed a bit more speed in the fast part of the day. It hurts when you were fighting for the Fast Nine. The team has been working hard. We just have to find out why we were too slow. The race car trim for the race will give us a little more downforce. We’ll see what we’ve got.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Steak 'n Shake Honda): “I think Honda’s done a great job, so let’s just say that first and foremost. Second of all, I hope Sebastien’s OK. But Honda’s done a great job. I think there’s other areas of development that we haven’t developed but maybe we need to look at. Because from an aerodynamics standpoint, to us, we’re running less wing than the Andretti cars, and they’re quicker than us. So it doesn’t really make sense from that standpoint. When we trimmed it out, we struggled to get that max speed that other guys had but haven’t quite got the gearing right the entire time. We’ve been stuck in fifth when we believed it should have been able to pull sixth. We definitely have more downforce than most but I needed it. I was definitely starting to slide quite a bit, the rear was starting to slide and the front. We needed the downforce but we’ll be better tomorrow. The Steak 'n Shake boys will keep working hard on it.” 

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 16 Manitowoc Honda): “We missed the first practice this morning because the rain came out a bit and we had changed the car quite a bit so we were guessing a little bit.  We knew that to make the top nine without practice we had to risk a little bit on the setup and we did.  The speed was there on the first lap (230) but I started to lose the balance and was losing it basically everywhere.  We wanted to show how fast the Manitowoc car was and we did on the first lap.  We knew we were right there on the edge of making the top-nine, we tried it and it didn’t work out obviously.  We got a good run to prepare for tomorrow. Hopefully we are in the 10th spot which is what I did last year.  I’m happy with the car, we just need to fine turn it a little bit and we should be there in qualifying. I think we have a good race car.  Both Graham and I have been pretty happy and have had good running in traffic which is when it counts.”

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 17 AFS Chevrolet): “Man I’m just excited to be back. I need to thank mostly Gary Peterson with AFS. Eight years in a row supporting me at Indy, backing me up, it’s really family and being back with him and with an amazing organization like Juncos Racing is something that motivates us to see a very bright future. Of course, you know everything came together a little bit late. Everything is about preparation and that is something we did not have, so we were realistic. We went out there and gave it our best and this is what we got. Now we need to focus qualifying tomorrow and having a good race and I think we have a really good race car.” 

ED JONES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): “I thought it was good. I really want to be in that Fast Nine. I felt like yesterday we had a great car, so maybe we didn’t set the car quite right today. It was quite loose, so I had quite a few corrections, but I think I got everything out of the car I could in that run.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It kind of feels like 2013 right now because I wasn’t expecting that. I thought I could maybe run a 230, but to run four of them, I’m really proud of the team. I’m thankful to Chevrolet for giving me a bullet and making the best aero kit out here still.” (On how much he has left in the car for tomorrow): “I don’t know if we have much left. The two poles I won previous, I wasn’t the fastest car, but we had the best four laps. I think my little buddy Ryder (son) here got us in there. I asked him to draw six yesterday (in the qualifying draw), and he drew 60. I was like: 'You were close. You got the first number right.’ As today turned out, I think he drew us a favorable number. The track temps were coming down. It was pretty ideal for us. But we’re running in the cool tomorrow night, too, so we’ll see what happens.”

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “You definitely know (if you’re fast). We use a lot of tools in the car, whether it’s RPM, split times, but you always know through the feel of the car. You can feel in the RPM, how hard am I pulling through the corners. You know with RPM lights if you have it down the straight. You know by feel if you have it through the corners.” (On feedback from Ed Carpenter’s run): “Our guys were listening to his radio. I was watching his run from the outside on the big screen. I was getting a little bit of feedback. That’s what’s so great about working here with him. We’ve had this work both ways before; the cars are so similar. We know that when one guy goes out and gets this with it, you can probably expect the same thing. We both had a little bit of a tricky time on the last couple of laps there.”

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 22 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s tough when you’re the second car out. The track is really green. The track is just going to get better and better. It’s what it is. The Fitzgerald Glider Kit Chevy has been good. We’ve been getting really good speed. With the green track and the weather conditions, we decided to be a little conservative and be a guinea pig for the other guys. But it’s OK. I feel we have a really good race car. I felt being so early we wouldn’t be in the top nine, so we’re just being smart today and get a decent position for tomorrow and get a good starting spot. Our car has been really, really good. I’ve been really happy with it. We’ve got a lot of potential for the race.”

SAGE KARAM (No. 24 DRR Mecum Auctions Chevrolet): “It was a good run for us. I don’t think we thought we’d run a lap close to 229mph. That was good and I’ll take that. Now we have to do it all over again tomorrow. Hopefully, we can find some speed overnight. The car was pretty easy to drive. I was flat out the whole time. Maybe we can trim out a little tomorrow. I’m excited though and looking forward to tomorrow.” 

TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): “Very emotional. Very happy. It has been a great day, and it was absolutely a team effort.” (You have made the Fast Nine. Can you repeat this tomorrow?): “Absolutely. I really enjoyed the lap.” (You were not all that close to the wall. Is there more left?): “You could say that. We saw Fernando, Alex and Marco’s run, and that helped so much. I so enjoyed those laps, and I don’t usually enjoy it, to be honest. Usually, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, qualifying is so tough, and you are so nervous because you have to balance the car to absolutely neutral. But today the car worked so well, I know exactly what happened when the right rear tire was moving. So I got a little bit loose in the end, but I was able to manage it. It was fantastic. It was a great car.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda): “The car was pretty on the nose in (Turn) 2. I think we were actually losing time out of 2, because it was just really struggling in the rear there. I’m not sure that’s a safe enough time because the track is pretty favorable for the rest of the people that are about to go right now. But that’s all we had in the UFD car. I know I can race it from anywhere here. I’d just sleep a little better if we were in the top nine. Right now, I just really hope Sebastien (Bourdais) is OK.” (On the strength of Honda): “Yeah, for sure, just to know we have a shot. I think if my car is anything like it was a couple days ago in race trim, we’re going to be pretty good.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We were just sliding around too much, overall. When you do that, you lose speed, and it takes away from the overall average. It’s a disappointing run considering the speed we had this past week. It wasn’t the run we had in mind. We were too low on grip to really have a shot at it. We were loose way in. There was nothing I could do but hang on and ride it out. We have to keep in mind that we started 19th and won (in 2014).”

FERNANDO ALONSO (No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda): “The narrative is often that it’s the four most nerve-racking laps for a driver in motorsports. You’ve driven all over the world. Is that true now that you’ve done it?): “Yeah, probably. It’s definitely a very unique place. We are here two weeks. You’re not going to repeat two laps the same because always the conditions, they keep changing. And that’s amazing from a driver point of view to have that feeling with the circuit that you have to drive the car always; always it will be tricky. In (Turn) 1 or 3 or 4, always you will fight the challenge.” (If you knew a couple of weeks ago you would have a shot at the pole for the Indy 500, I assume you’d be happy with that?): “Definitely, very happy. Obviously, now, we just finished the run. I’m really hopeful we’ll be in the Fast Nine, and tomorrow I think we will be much quicker than today. But anyway, it has been a fantastic week of running, a fantastic week of different experiences, running alone, high boost, low boost; every lap feels different. Today we only had one attempt because of the weather, so that creates stress in everybody. I think we deal with that today. But as I said, I think there will be more speed to come, hopefully, tomorrow.” (From your test until now, how much have you learned about this place?): “The first lap May 3rd here; I mean, everything was strange for me. The car – how it turns in the corner, how it rotates in the corner was a little bit strange. But now I feel confident with the team. We are a six-car team, so we have a lot of information that we share. All the teammates, they have been a big help for me in terms of setup with the car and also running in traffic. We’ve been running a lot together, and that’s really a huge help for me.”

BUDDY LAZIER (No. 44 Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Lodge Chevrolet): “Hats off to (Chief Engineer) Mitch Davis and all my guys. They’ve done a great job getting us to this point. We’ve had one day of practice. The program came together late. It is hard with 30, 40 laps to go qualify. Thanks to these guys making the car happy. We’re gaining 3 or 4 mph every time we go out. We just need a few more sessions. Every session we are gaining quietly a bit. We only had forty or so laps before qualifying today so we’re improving every session.  I think that’s about all you could ask.  In fact, it’s pretty tough with just one day of practice to go out and qualify wide open and trimmed out.  There’s a lot more speed we need to get out of our Chevrolet, but for now, it was the fastest I’ve run this month and that’s all we could ask for. We’ll just keep chipping away at it, I bet we will have a really good car on race day.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda): “First off, I hope Sebastien is OK. Seeing that and then jumping into the car doesn’t do too well for any confidence. I’ve got to say thank you from everybody at Michael Shank Racing and Andretti Autosport; I’ve waited a long, long time to get here. So many times I’ve been close, and I’m actually part of the race now. I can’t thank them enough because they’re making my dream become a reality. Today was good for me. I was super stuck to the track. It was smooth, too smooth. I don’t think track conditions … either way, there wasn’t any advantage to go out when I did. Tomorrow gives us an opportunity to trim the car out. We’ll try to do a better job tomorrow.”

PIPPA MANN (No. 63 Susan G. Komen Honda): “We made a couple of changes, and we just missed the conditions a little bit with the car. We had been running really well this week – that was not the qualifying performance that we wanted in any shape or form. We will come back Sunday and try to do better… We didn’t expect to struggle as much as we did. I have to really thank the Dale Coyne Racing Team to put me back in a car.”

JAY HOWARD (No. 77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda): “Not quite the speed we thought we had, so that is a little disappointing, but I’m here. I’m here. I’m happy. The race is a whole different thing. What is super special about this place is that you can win from anywhere. So far, this month has been unbelievable. It has been amazing, so we will keep enjoying this ride all the way through until Race Day. I’m over the moon to be here. The journey to get here has been phenomenal. Let’s see what the rest of the day brings.” (Was the track green?): “I was surprised. I was on my toes. I had to drive really, really aggressively – more than since I have been here. I will be interested to see what my teammates do.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Honda): “The No. 83 Tresiba Honda felt really good. I’m proud of the Novo Nordisk guys for giving me a car that could perform on a one-shot type of run like this, especially after the storm and sitting around stewing all day. My Honda engine engineer has done a really good job all week tuning the car in. We have no problem running two gears because we’ve worked the shifts a lot. Overall I’m pretty happy with my run. I don’t think the car had anything left to give and now we just need to turn our focus to tomorrow’s qualifying run. In the meantime, we’ll be thinking about Sebastien and hoping he’s OK.”  

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet): (On his situation with a new team and having more experience helping him this year): “I think so, I’ve got more experience. I’ve got a team that’s kind of built around me. It gives you a little bit more confidence. We’re just doing our work, and I think we’ll have a pretty strong race car.” (On the work that goes into a new team.): “It’s a very long and big undertaking. It’s a huge process. It’s not as simple as just buying some cars that are ready to go and you’ve got yourself a team. You got two brand-new cars. The guys have to build them from scratch. Every little thing, every little detail, they’re applying from the very first step. There are very small details, and it just takes a while to get those going. But once we’ve done all that, I think we’ve had so far a pretty good program.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda, 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner): “I feel like we could’ve been in the Fast Nine last year. It’s all right. I think we’ll get into the Fast Nine. Hopefully, there’s some things we can improve on for tomorrow.” (On the possibility of running in the Fast Nine): “I hope so. I think we had the car to do it last year, and it’s been aching at me for a while. A lot of people don’t understand why. We missed a lot last year, so we really, really want to be up front this year.” (How much more comfortable are you than last year?): “I’m getting there. I’m still working to get better.”


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Written 05-21-2017, 07:42 pm
Updated 05-21-2017, 07:54 pm
Written by M. Beer
Photography IMS

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