Saturday Indy Qualifying - Carpenter Fastest, Bourdais Accident
INDIANAPOLIS -RIS- (May 20, 2017) From a monsoon to a catastrophic high-speed crash to 31 qualifiers, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has provided yet another full day of drama ... albeit just to set the Fast Nine for tomorrow’s final setting of the 101st Indianapolis 500 field, and little else.
Torrential rains ended after mid-day, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway safety vehicles took to the track to dry the 2.5-mile oval in time for a 4:00 qualifying start. Each qualifier would receive only one opportunity to qualify for Sunday’s requalifying, and to establish the Fast Nine shootout contenders.
Two-time Indy polesitter Ed Carpenter took advantage of the late qualifying draw to be the 28th car to present, and blistered the track with a four-lap average of 230.468, aided by the added turbo boost the Honda and Chevrolet engines are allowed to run this weekend.
“I think the weather factored in,” the veteran team owner/driver said after his run. “The conditions were really good for us.”
Of his run, Carpenter added, “It was exciting - a little surprising.
“I thought we had speed most of the week,” Carpenter said, but felt the car’s drop off in speed Friday might have hurt their chances this weekend.
The #20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy - trimmed out with virtually no winglets, reflecting an aerodynamic choice similar to the one they made last year with Josef Newgarden’s ride - seemed on rails, with an enormously consistent run, giving struggling Chevrolet bragging rights for the day.
Chevy has only three cars in the top nine - Carpenter, his teammate JR Hildebrand (4th fast) and Team Penske’s Will Power (6th fast) - as Honda straight line speeds spoke of the car’s better aerodynamics.
“With the aero kit, it’s a level playing field here,” said Scott Dixon, third-fastest driver today, second-fast of the Hondas, behind Andretti’s Takuma Sato. Dixon admitted the Honda aero kit just isn’t as efficient at the series’ other tracks.
Maybe it speaks of the value that winning Indy has for a brand’s motivation to succeed?
The day’s serious incident occurred as Sebastien Bourdais - fastest practicer of the week - laid out two scorching laps in the mid-231s before bobbling in Turn Two, and heading straight into the Turn Two SAFER barrier.
As Bourdais’ #18 Sonny’s BBQ Dallara/Honda came to a rest, Bourdais could be seen reaching for the visor of his helmet. He was removed from the car, awake and alert, and moved to Methodist Hospital for evaluation.
As of 8:00 local time, Bourdais was diagnosed with multiple fractures to his pelvis and right hip. He will undergo surgery this evening.
“Sebastien is in good hands here at IU Methodist Hospital with the staff, and now we just wait for him to recover,” said Bourdais’ team owner, Dale Coyne.
As Bourdais recovers, expect to see Coyne begin to find another driver for his #18 this week.
Thirty-two cars attempted to qualify today. Bourdais’ accident removed his car from tomorrow’s requalifying. Zach Veach’s #40, wrecked in this week’s practice, failed to present for qualifications. Both cars will start from the back of the field, guaranteed of a starting place.
There remains much to understand about the means by which the Verizon IndyCar Series has cobbled together qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. What had been the tradition for decades of each qualifier putting together one, and only one, b@lls-out, hell bent for leather, sphincter-tightening four-lap run to make it into the Indy 500 field eroded to one weekend, and now - essentially - one day only, when only 33 cars are entered for the race.
“Today doesn’t matter a whole lot.” - Scott Dixon
“It’s a process. It doesn’t mean anything yet.” - Ed Carpenter
Why only 33 cars? Supply, mostly. When Honda and Chevrolet signed on to supply powerplants for Indy, they were assured at least one other manufacturer would come on board. But no viable manufacturers emerged, leaving Honda and Chevy - which usually supply only 21 or so cars during the season - to provide 12 more engines.
The fans are left scratching their heads, particularly those who remember years when 40 or more cars used to present to qualify. Bumping slower cars from the field provided terrific drama to the fans on the day traditionally dominated by the field’s slowest cars.
I remember watching Bump Day in pit lane next to Rick Mears in 2002. As the qualifying line ballet played out as the clock clicked down to 6:00, Mears’ smile grew. The Rocket never had to deal with difficult cars, having driven for the (nearly) always-prepared Roger Penske for the vast majority of his career. Mears clearly enjoyed the chess game the slowest Indy teams carefully played out before him - as did tens of thousands of fans around him.
But we’re told those days are over. It’s a shame.
It leaves us with today’s 33 cars (31, actually) competing for the fastest nine positions, all the effort for which is essentially erased tomorrow, as every car need REqualify, the fastest nine being guaranteed a starting spot no worse than ninth.
The final field order for the 2017 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race will be set tomorrow, with 22 cars requalifying for positions 10 to 31, and the Fast Nine shootout to follow.
TODAY’S QUALIFYING RESULTS AS THEY HAPPENED
|22||Juan Pablo Montoya||C||228.645||231.682||P1|
|40||Zach Veach||C||NO TIME|
TODAY’S FASTEST QUALIFIERS
|18||22||Juan Pablo Montoya||C||228.645|
|32||40||Zach Veach||C||NO TIME|
Tom has been a contributor to RIS since 1992. He was invited to join the staff as a full-time reporter/editor in 1995, and has covered IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR, Grand-Am, ALMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In addition to his RIS work, Tom has been a contributor for General Motors, Nissan, Toyota and the ACO.