IndyCar – Indy 500 Qualifying: Long Day and Long Shots

indycar-2013-indy-500-qualifying-ed-carpenter-poleA week of practice led us to believe that the Chevys were going to be fastest but the Hondas could stay in touch and star up front. However, when wheels were turned in anger, it was all Chevy, all day. Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t the Penskes or Andrettis who had been dominating practice who won the pole but Ed Carpenter who will start P1 for the Greatest Spectacle in Motorsport.

Pole Day at the 500 was a very disrupted affair. Rain fell on Saturday morning which forced the planned 11:00 AM EDT start to be pushed back two-and-a-half hours. The opening qualifying session would remain at four-and-a-half hours long before the Fast Nine shootout.

indycar-2013-indy-500-qualifying-andretti-autosportIt was quite clear that the track was getting faster as the day went on. Some of that had to do with the track rubbering back in after the rain but that also had to do with the changing conditions as the track heated up once the sun came back out. Of the early runners, only the Penske and Andretti cars were able to hold onto Top Nine spots to transfer to the Fast Nine segment of qualifying.

The Fast Nine was an all Chevy shootout which saw speeds actually climb as the track started cooling off as the day ran beyond the traditional 6:00 PM EDT closing of the track. It seemed to peak around the middle of the session as the drivers started breaking into the 229 MPH range on their first lap.

While Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti and Will Power were all able to top 229 on their first laps, it was Carpenter’s car that kept the most speed in it while other cars started falling off the pace more severely. Carpenter’s four-lap average of 228.762 MPH was over four-tenths of a MPH faster than the next closest car of rookie Carlos Munoz.

indycar-2013-indy-500-qualifying-ed-carpenterCarpenter’s pole makes him the first Indiana native to start the Indianapolis 500 on pole since Pat O’Connor in 1957. This is made more impressive by the fact that his single-car effort outpaced the five Andretti cars and three Penske cars that were also in the Fast Nine.

Carlos Munoz came from absolutely nowhere to qualify 2nd as a rookie. At one point, he even said that driving an IndyCar around the Speedway wasn’t that different from driving an Indy Lights car. For the sake of comparison, this year’s Indy 500 pole speed is 41.245 MPH faster than last year’s Indy Lights Freedom 100 pole speed. Munoz’s teammate Marco Andretti will start on the outside of row one.

Row two sees EJ Viso, rookie AJ Allmendinger and Will Power starting fourth through sixth. Power was fastest in the opening part of qualifying but was too trimmed out to keep the speed up during his four lap run for the pole.

The third row sees appearances from series champ Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe. If you’re looking for the fastest Honda driver, that would, unsurprisingly, be Alex Tagliani who timed into the race in 11th.

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indycar-2013-indy-500-qualifying-katherine-leggeBump Day was shaping up to be a reasonably exciting affair with ten cars entered for the remaining nine spots after Katherine Legge secured the third Schmidt-Hamilton car on Saturday. However, only nine cars ended up running during the day. It was that 10th car that provided all the day’s drama.

While nine cars were able to make drama-free qualifying runs, the #17 Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan machine of Michel Jourdain didn’t even set a qualifying time. Jourdain was uncomfortable in the car and didn’t even make an attempt to make the field. His teammate, Graham Rahal, who ran 225 MPH without breaking a sweat said that Jourdain’s car was undrivable.

The real drama came from the RLL crew pouring over Jourdain’s car to tweak it to Jourdain’s liking. The car was bottoming out on the straights and Jourdain was lifting in the corners. There was nothing to give him the confidence to go eleven-tenths. He was left standing on the sidelines while the field was decided. There’s the usual heartbreak of being bumped from the field but this just seemed worse.

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indycar-2013-indy-500-qualifying-derrick-walkerWhile this weekend was a big one for Ed Carpenter Racing, it is a bit of a bitter-sweet moment for the team. Last week saw IndyCar officially announce that Derrick Walker, the team manager for Ed Carpenter Racing, will be joining the series’ front office as the President of Operations and Competition.

What the job officially entails hasn’t been disclosed. We know that chief steward Beaux Barfield and technical director Will Phillips will answer directly to Walker when he assumes his role after the 500.

If Walker’s post works as Robin Miller suggested to former IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard that a President of Competition would handle major racing decisions and be an educated competition advisor to the CEO so the CEO could make decisions that wouldn’t upset the paddock. If this stops another embarrassing coup attempt, that would make Walker’s tenure more than worth it.

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There’s finally been a development on the aero kit front. When the DW12 was first announced, it was supposed to be a survival cell with other manufacturers selling aero kits of wings and sidepods to tack onto the chassis to form the body work. Instead, the Dallara aero kits were made the spec aero kits to save the owners money.

indycar-2013-indy-500-qualifying-alex-taglianiWell, the aero kit debacle might be coming to an end. I say might because we will finally be seeing unique aero kits on the cars but not on every circuit. The plan IndyCar is going ahead with will see the aero kits appear at the three triple crown races and nowhere else. The remainder of the season will see the cars using the spec Dallara aero kit.

It’s been reported that Honda wanted a limited schedule for aero kits while Chevy wanted aero kits at every race. Naturally, team owner and manager viewpoints on the subject fell in line with their manufacturers position on aero kits.

Normally, I’d be in favour of an all-or-nothing when it comes to the aero kits but I can live with this compromise. I don’t like it but I can live with it. With the DW12’s standard aero package producing some of the best street course racing the series has seen, it wouldn’t make sense to risk upsetting that with the mass introduction of aero kits. At the end of the day, as long as the racing is still exciting, IndyCar has made the right decision.

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indycar-2013-indy-500-qualifying-front-rowNext week is the race that we’ve all been waiting for. It’s the 97th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Last year’s race saw scads of lead changes and passing throughout the field. It was an amazing race and truly deserving of the moniker of the greatest spectacle in motorsports.

This year, the Penske and Andretti cars appear to be the fastest. However, before the turbo boost was turned down from qualifying to race levels, the Chevys were fastest. When boost levels were changed, the Hondas came to life. If that happens again this year, it could be anyone’s race.

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