Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet has the pole for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis. Sunday qualifying was run under overcast but dry skies, with a very brisk breeze. The weather was warm – 75 degrees F at the start of practice with 80 percent humidity. By qualifying, the temperature had raised to 79 degrees, humidity dropped to 72 percent and wind picked up to 8mph.
Dixon, third out of all drivers, set a four-lap average of 226.769 mph, with his first lap a 227.041 mph. Then he had the anxiety of waiting two hours.Wife, Emma, got to wave the Green Flag for qualifying.
This is Dixon’s second Indy 500 pole – the first one was 2006 which he won. It is the fourth consecutive pole position for Chevrolet.
Team owner, Chip Ganassi said ” This is a real testament to the team. The driver really comes into play during the race. Obviously you need a great driver here, but qualifying is just all about the team. Preparation and the Target team just did a great job here today. I couldn’t be more happy with them, Scott Dixon, Mike Hull, the engineers, everybody. I’m blessed to have great guys like that to work with. My hat’s off to Roger Penske and his team.”
Dixon said “Huge credit to Chevrolet. We first ran in one configuration today, and then changed to the new mandates, with only a 30 minute practice. If you think of oval racing regarding safety, it’s the most dangerous form of racing. It’s always in the back of your mind, but the car was great. The three crashes were very different scenarios, but you only have so many tools in the tool box. With the speed down, the safety is going to be better.
“The Race for the pole is prestigious, but it’s not winning the Indianapolis 500. There’s no reason to moan about the decisions, because there was nothing you could do about it. You’ve got Chevy and Honda with two very different cars, so having rules for them is very difficult.
“The pressure came more before you ran than on the track. Knowing you’ve got one run and done, that’s pressure.”
Will Power/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was second, at 226.350 mph, followed by his teammate, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Aveya Team Penske Chevrolet at 226.145 mph.
Fourth and fifth were Dixon’s Ganassi teammate, Tony Kanaan at 225.503 mph and a third Penske driver, Helio Castroneves/No.3 at 225.502 mph.
The top Honda was Justin Wilson in sixth place, with a lap average of 225.279 mph. Chevrolet had eight of the top ten qualifiers.
Gabby Chaves/No.98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda was the top Rookie, placing twenty-ninth at 222.916 mph.
Fill-in driver, Tristan Vautier/No.19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda qualified the car twenty-first for James Davison, who was racing in Canada. However, because of the driver change, he will start in the back.
Ed Carpenter/No.20T Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Racing Chevrolet qualified twelfth. His crew quickly threw together his backup car in two and a half hours, after Carpenter’s big crash in the first morning practice.
“When I was upside down out of Turn 2 this morning, I didn’t know we were going to have the delays that we had. If things would’ve stayed on schedule, we would’ve been qualifying for a spot on the last row, but the way things worked out, it gave the team the time it needed to get a car ready for me.
“There’s definitely more there. It felt good. We were off a little bit on the gears, so just a gear change and we would’ve been well into the 225 mph range. I don’t think we expected to win the pole with the morning we had, so I’m just thankful for the whole CFH Racing team. All three crews pitched in and got the Fuzzy’s Vodka backup car ready. It was good teamwork and a great effort to get me out there and I’m very thankful.”
The infamous last row consists of Jack Hawksworth/No.41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda, Rookie Stefano Coletti/No.4 KV Raving Technology Chevrolet, and Bryan Clauson/No.88 Jonathan Byrds/Cancer Treatment Centers Chevrolet.
Buddy Lazier/No.91 Wynn Iowa Vision Research Lazier Racing Chevrolet was odd driver out, with a disappointing lap average of 220.232 mph. With his elimination, Honda has 17 drivers and Chevrolet has 16.
Power said “I’m happy with the front row, but I’ve been here before. I definitely would like to get pole.It came down to reacting as quickly as you can to the situation. You know, it was quite easy, flat, obviously, because you’re going so much slower and you have more grip, believe it or not.
“I sat with engineers this morning after the changes, to see what we could do to trim out the car. Just looking for weird ways to make it fast through the air. Maybe we weren’t extreme enough, but I felt we did as much as we could.
In response to queries about the Sunday format changes, Power said “It was a hard decision, but I think they made the right decision. This was the first year we could trim out the car and go faster, so the first time in years we’ve had accidents. We had that a lot years ago. I don’t think it’s Chevy either. The floor is built for a road course and we’re running on an oval. I thought it was great we could trim the car and it was going well, and people back in the day people used to crash every day. Take the risk and trim out the corner.
Regarding the power/grip matter, Power said “Preaching to the choir. More power and less grip. You don’t want your grandma driving around here. It’s just guiding the car, not driving the car.”
Pagenaud also discussed speed. “It was weird, we talked about before, we’re flying we’re talking, what, five miles an hour, right, and it feels like you’re going really slow, obviously, until you hit the wall.
“I’m just super proud of being part of Team Penske. In the other configuration we had a way to get the pole. It is what it is. We only got one attempt, and the wind was difficult. We’re running very similar cars,” so regarding the slower pace of Helio and Juan (Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Team Penske Chevrolet-fifteenth) – it was wind. “I guess the weather was difficult, as well, with the gusts of wind. Sometimes you get the wind perfect, sometimes you get a headwind, and that is just the way it is.”
Pagenaud had the last word. “Now it’s more about the show and putting on a good show for the fans. We’ve been waiting for a year and we want to race.”
Photos by Pablo Matamoros.