One of the more unusual Bump Days finished Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with drama right up until the end. And, as expected, weather played a major theatrical role.
Rain truncated the six-hour final qualifying session, first stopping for two hours ten minutes after a savage hit-and-run rain storm with high winds; light rain two minutes after the session resumed, and then again about an hour later.
The drama reminded me of the famous quote by BETTE DAVIS in “All About Eve.” To paraphrase – ‘Fasten your belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.’
One of the highs (for team owner DALE COYNE) was a low for team owner MICHAEL ANDRETTI. With five minutes to go, ALEX LLOYD/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing made the field on his third attempt, fast enough to give him P30, putting MARCO ANDRETTI/No.26 Team Venom Andretti Autosport on the bubble…where he had been on and off during the afternoon. Lloyd was last year’s Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, while Andretti held that honor in 2006.
But the drama didn’t stop there. With a minute to go, JAMES JAKES/No.18 Aircorn Stairlifts Dale Coyne Racing waved off his final attempt. Andretti was in line and got on track just before the gun went off. Andretti’s run moved him up to P27, effectively bumping his teammate, RHR off of the grid. RHR was left in line for one last run when the gun went off … all dressed up but no place to go.
Matos and Jakes each made three tries Sunday afternoon – and were bumped, failed and waved off, in that order.
The 2011 grid is the closest-matched field ever for the Indy 500. Only 2.5399 seconds separate the top 24 drivers who qualified on Saturday, breaking last year’s record of 3.0622 seconds. This confirms what many of the drivers and teams have been saving all month.
Short version – those who didn’t make the field are two of the four Andretti Autosport drivers-MIKE CONWAY/No.27 Hire Heros USA/7Eleven/Dr Pepper, and RYAN HUNTER-REAY/No.28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus; RAPHAEL MATOS/No.17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers AFS Racing-2009 Indy 500 ROY; Rookie JAMES JAKES/No.18 Acorn Stairlifts Dale Coyne Racing; and SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA/No.34 Conquest Racing.
Conway won this year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Indycar race, his first race after crashing out big time in last year’s Indy 500. RHR has four Indycar victories, and was the 2007 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year.
All four female drivers made the race, with the highest placed being SIMONA DE SILVESTRO/No.78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy HVM Racing, who made the field Saturday despite driving with two painfully burned hands after her horrendous crash Thursday during practice. She will start twenty-fourth, the last of the Saturday field. The other three women qualified Sunday: DANICA PATRICK/No.7 Team GoDaddy Andretti Autosport (P28); Rookie PIPPA MANN/No.36 Conquest Racing (P32) and ANA BEATRIZ/No.24 Team Ipiranga/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (P33.) Last year Beatriz was the fastest female, starting twenty-first. This year she is the slowest. Thanks to MARSHALL PRUETT of SPEED.com for that note.
Mann was one of three Bump Day drivers who went faster than De Silvestro’s Saturday time. The others were PAUL TRACY/No.23 WIX Gilters/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, who will start twenty-fifth, and Lloyd.
A fifth female moved up from driver/team owner to strictly ownership. SARAH FISHER partnered with Dollar General; and their driver, ED CARPENTER/No.8, was fastest early on in the week’s practice sessions, and easily qualified Saturday in P8.
The top Rookie was J.R. HILDEBRAND/No.4 National Guard Panther Racing, who qualified twelfth on Saturday. The other Rookies in the field are JAMES HINCHCLIFFE/No.06 Sprott Newman/Haas Racing (P13); JAY HOWARD/No.88 Service Central Schmidt-RLL Racing (P21); CHARLIE KIMBALL/No.83 Levemir and NovoLog FlexPen Chip Ganassi Racing (P31).
JAY PENSKE’s Dragon Racing failed to have any drivers in the race. Rookie HO-PIN TUNG of China/No.8 Schmidt Dragon Racing was concussed Saturday when he crashed during his qualifying run, and hurt the car enough, so that even if Tung had received medical clearance to drive, he had no car. The team’s other car, with Indy 500 Rookie SCOTT SPEED and/or PATRICK CARPENTIER/No.20 Dragon Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka, also crashed out – Sunday morning when Carpentier totaled the car early on in the practice session. The team had no backup cars for either entry – the only team with just primary cars.
Drivers can make unlimited attempts at Qualifying runs, but only three completed runs (four laps). Often the driver or team will wave off the attempt before the checkered flag and that attempt won’t count.
Andretti Autosport had half his team make the field – Patrick and Marco Andretti, son of team owner. Dad Andretti said it was his worst day as a team owner, and he felt terrible that his other two drivers didn’t make the field. Those drivers felt badly also. Conway said he “was pretty gutted” and teammate Patrick “spent some time with me, putting me back together.
Dragon Racing entered two cars, the only team to enter only a primary car with no backup car. After PATRICK CARPENTIER’s Sunday morning crash, the team had just about no options. Both cars were crashed, one driver not cleared to race and the other one probably on his way back to Canada. The garage was pretty empty and devoid of crew mid-afternoon Sunday. The crew said they were done, and it was “above their pay grade” when asked why Carpentier was last-minute asked to qualify the car instead of SCOTT SPEED, who had been the originally entered.
After all was said and done, the skies cleared somewhat and the sun shone for the last hour. The afternoon temperatures ranged from 75-79 degrees F. Relative humidity was 67- 74 percent. Winds ranged from four mph to near hurricane force, and there were brief bolts of lightning and crashes of thunder.