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Thursday, Feb. 22
The Indiana Daily Student

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Drama, weather headline Indianapolis 500 qualifications

Indianapolis 500, Pole Day Qualifications

Alex Tagliani wanted to end the Penske and Ganassi domination of INDYCAR and the
Indianapolis 500.

Tagliani, who drives for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, took a significant step toward that Saturday, posting a four-lap average speed of 227.472 miles per hour to claim the pole position for the 95th Indianapolis 500 next Sunday.

The first Canadian to start the race from the coveted position inside the front row, Tagliani bested Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon’s average of 227.340 miles per hour and claimed a $100,000 prize for his Pole Day-ending run in the “Fast Nine” shootout, the final qualifying round.

“I’m happy for this team and for Sam and for all the guys,” Tagliani said. “I think more than the money and all of that, I think it’s the timing is great for what we’ve done this week.”

Car owner Schmidt, a former driver who was paralyzed in 2000 during an INDYCAR event at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla., admitted winning the pole was one of the high points of his career.

“I’ve definitely had some roller coasters in my life,” Schmidt said. “Just where does that rate? It’s for sure near the top. This is one huge step forward.”

Spanish driver Oriol Servia will join Tagliani and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Dixon on the outside of row one.

Rain threatens Patrick

Mother Nature found a way to make her presence felt throughout the weekend, and INDYCAR’s most popular driver felt it most of all.

On a rainy Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Danica Patrick waited in line to qualify until heavy rain threatened to eliminate her from the 100th-anniversary
Indianapolis 500.

“It kind of seemed like I just kept going up against things,” Patrick said.

After waiting an hour through the rain delay, Patrick, driving the No. 7 GoDaddy car, posted a speed of 224.861, classifying her in the 26th starting position.

While waiting for the rain to subside, Patrick said she began to question whether or not she would even get a chance to qualify.

“The rain came back with only me to go, and it kind of just seemed like maybe it was just not meant to be this year, but that’s just the roller coaster that you ride here,” Patrick said. “It makes you value the good days more and makes you want to try like hell to never have these days again.”

Patrick said her emotions ranged between happy to qualify and mad because she believed she had a much faster car.

“I am mad,” Patrick said. “I really thought we had a fast car, fast enough to be in the top-9 even. For it to go the way it did, I’m relieved to be in the race but I’m frustrated.”
Rain had halted qualifying both days.

Andretti emotion

It turns out Patrick wasn’t the one on her team left on the outside looking in.

Andretti Autosport, which entered Patrick, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway and John Andretti into this year’s race, managed to qualify just three of its entries, and one made the field at a teammate’s expense.

With just a minute remaining in the Bump Day qualifying session Sunday, Marco Andretti hit the track in a last-ditch effort to make the 33-car lineup. The 24-year-old Andretti turned a four-lap average of 224.074 miles per hour to qualify 28th, but he bumped his teammate Hunter-Reay from the field.

Team owner Michael Andretti felt for Hunter-Reay, saying this has been his worst Indianapolis 500 as an owner.

Conway, who broke his leg in a last-lap crash in last year’s race, failed to make the field as well.

Tough Pole Day for titans

It was a surprisingly difficult day for the perennial powerhouses at Indianapolis.

Team Penske, the winningest organization in Indianapolis 500 history, had just one
representative in the Fast Nine shootout in Will Power, and one of the team’s entries, Ryan Briscoe, didn’t even make the field on the first day of qualifications, earning the 27th spot Sunday. Three-time race winner and Penske driver Helio Castroneves managed just 16th on Pole Day.

Penske’s woes were shared by fellow IndyCar power, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, whose two cars both ran out of fuel on their Fast Nine runs.

Defending race winner Dario Franchitti’s final run figured to again put him on the front row from where he won last year’s running, but his No. 10 Target machine ran out of fuel on his final lap.

Franchitti did not address the media after his qualifying run, instead climbing from his car and walking straight to his mobile home without removing his helmet. However, the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner later offered a musing via his Ganassi organization.

“We were pretty close on setup with the Target car, but not good enough for the pole today,” Franchitti said in the statement. “We were definitely good enough for third place. We obviously ran out of fuel at the end of the third lap and that was it.

“It’s disappointing for us, but I’m happy for Sam Schmidt, Allen McDonald, Alex Tagliani and their whole team.”

Dixon briefly held pole before Tagliani bumped him; the New Zealander’s No. 9 car ran out of fuel as Dixon was pulling back onto pit lane.

Simona beats the burns

Fifteen other cars qualified for the race Saturday.

Among them was second-year Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro, who just two days prior had been involved in an accident that flipped her car upside down, shattered it upon impact with the wall in the short chute heading into turn four, and burst into flames that burned de Silvestro’s hands.

It was unclear at that point whether de Silvestro would be cleared to qualify Saturday.

Yet the HVM Racing driver received the OK from the track’s medical center Pole Day morning and turned a four-lap average speed of 224.392 miles per hour near the day’s end, slotting her in the 24th starting spot.

“A day ago, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get back in the car,” de Silvestro said. “I was really freaked out about it. But I think I made the right decision to get back in, and the doctors have taken really good care of me.  

“After the crash, I was like, ‘I don’t need this. This is too crazy. It’s way too dangerous.’ You know, after a while you’re back to being a race car driver and thinking, ‘Nah, I can do this.’ And you suck it up.”

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