INDY 500 - Pole Day Story - Carpenter Nails Indy Qualifying, Hammers Competition
ED CARPENTER WINS 102nd INDIANAPOLIS 500 POLE
Four Lap Average Almost a Mile Per Hour Faster Than Second-Place Starter Simon Pagenaud
INDIANAPOLIS -RIS- (May 20, 2018) The entire weekend, weather threatened to influence the story. But the atmospheric thunderstorms never materialized.
The thunderstorm that did materialize came from the tailpipes of Ed Carpenter’s #20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. The popular local driver earned his third career Indianapolis 500 pole position today (previously 2013 and 2014) with a blistering four lap average of 229.618 mph - almost a full mile per hour faster than second-position winner (or as he dubbed himself, “first loser”), Simon Pagenaud.
Scott Dixon’s four-lap average last year was 232.164 with the old, engine-specific aero kit.
The 37-year old Butler University grad clearly has special relationship with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While his finishing record here has been disappointing, his best finish being fifth ten years ago, his starting record since 2010 has included five top ten starts.
“I heard the roar from inside the car,” Carpenter said of the cheer that went up after his 230+ mph first qualifying lap.
“The balance was perfect for all four laps,” Carpenter explained. “We didn’t do any qual sims until Thursday. We felt pretty good Friday night. We messed with the balance a little bit, but we made a few adjustments, and it came right to us.”
The cars that qualified in 10th through 33rd position yesterday were the first to qualify today. Each car was given one attempt to re-qualify, and it resulted in some shuffling in the layout of the Indy 500 grid.
When the dust settled, Conor Daly will start the race next Sunday as “Tail End Charlie”, but the biggest surprise is that 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi will start beside Daly, in the middle of the last row. Rossi had qualified tenth-fast yesterday. He drops to 32nd.
Rossi’s first lap was a mid-227, but it was followed by a mid-226, then a dramatically worse 224, and closed with a shocking mid-221 - the slowest qualifying lap run today.
As the day progressed, the track came in, but warmed up quickly. The winds started fairly calm, but shifted to northerly, causing the drivers running later in the qualification window to make necessary adjustments.
Marco Andretti, who has been fast all week, delivered a solid qualifying run, winding up in 12th.
“I thought it was alright,” he said of his run. “I had to chase (the car) end to end on the track. I just want to be in Row 4, because we can get it done from there.”
He was successful in that goal today.
Andretti’s two Row 4 mates were the best story of the cars not making the Fast Nine.
AJ Foyt Racing’s two ABC Supply Chevys, the #14 piloted by Tony Kanaan, and the #4 driven by rookie and Indy Lights veteran and winner of last year’s Freedom 100, Matheus Leist, will start side by side in a rock solid performance for their four-time Indy winning team owner.
“Today, the pole was going to be 10th,” Kanaan said after his run. “And we’re sitting on the pole. We’re a small team, and AJ and Larry (Foyt) are working really hard to give us what we need.”
Kanaan said the Foyt program, which hasn’t won Indy since 1999, bought two new cars for the 2013 Indy champ and his fellow Brazilian teammate, and has renewed itself in the off-season to be better prepared for Indy.
Of the 24 pre-Fast Nine qualifiers, 11 were unable to improve on their Saturday provisional qualifying speeds.
As the Fast Nine qualifying got underway, all eyes were on the first qualifier, Danica Patrick. The seven-time Indy starter, who has six top-10 finishes, is making her final appearance in competition, having had a career in both IndyCar and NASCAR.
Always a fan favorite, Patrick immediately showed she was here for real with a four-lap average of 228.090 - about a half mile per hour better than the next fastest qualifier.
2008 Indy winner Scott Dixon - one of Honda’s two hopes in the Chevy-dominated Fast Nine - encountered handling issues in the changing track conditions, likely hamstrung by not having participated in the mid-day practice session.
The third person up in the Fast Nine was expected to do well, and he didn’t disappoint. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden set a blistering average of 228.405 mph, and held the provisional pole until Will Power - fourth-quick yesterday - bumped his teammate from the pole with an impressive 228.607.
With another amazing performance by Team Penske, Simon Pagenaud sought to replicate Team Penske’s historic 1988 all-Penske front row, and held it temporarily with a provisional pole speed of 228.761.
That’s when Indianapolis’ favorite son turned the venerable 2.5-mile oval on its ear with a shocking 230.088 first lap. It was the first 230 mile per hour qualification lap with the new Dallara spec aero kit. Carpenter’s #20 seemed to be on rails, with following laps of 229.8, 229.5, and 229.0.
The only threat would be from the last qualifier - three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, the fourth bullet in the Team Penske revolver.
But Castroneves, who’s been removed from full-time IndyCar duties to drive in Penske’s IMSA sportscar program, struggled with the #3 Pennzoil entry.
“The car was loose in every corner,” Castroneves said, admitting the team just missed on set-up. “We played with the downforce situation.”
“I was praying for rain,” Castroneves laughed.
While Team Penske had all four of its cars in the Top-8, Ed Carpenter had all three if his cars (his own, Spencer Pigot’s, and Danica Patrick’s) in the Top-7 - a major achievement for a team with a budget a fraction of Penske’s.
Chevy was the clear winner of the engine wars. It powers nine of the 11 fastest cars in the field.
The 2018 field’s qualifying average was 226.664 mph. (Last year’s field average was 228.400.)
The difference between pole average speed and 33rd starter’s average speed was 5.189 miles per hour. Not a record, but a very close field range. (Last year’s gap 1st-33rd was 11.083 mph, proving that the new chassis aero kit appears to have leveled the playing field between teams.)
It is one of the tightest Indy 500 fields by qualifying times - 3.6255 seconds - seventh-closest in Indy 500 history.
The Indy Lights program has it’s first practice tomorrow, followed by the final IndyCar practice until Carb Day next Friday.
INDIANAPOLIS 500 QUALIFYING RESULTS
|13||19||Zach Claman De Melo||#||H||226.999|
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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.