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Tagliani quickest in first qualifying

Alex Tagliani, Schmidt, Indy 2011Alex Tagliani was fastest in the first section of Indianapolis 500 qualifying - and may end up with a sensational pole position for underdog squad Sam Schmidt Motorsports if rain currently falling forces the cancellation of the 'Fast Nine' pole shoot-out.

Under this year's format, the first five hours of Pole Day qualifying sets positions 10 to 24 on the grid, and decides the identity of the nine drivers who will go through to fight for pole in the final session.

Tagliani was one of the first drivers to run today and his 226.954mph average proved unbeatable all afternoon.

Ganassi's Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti got closest and currently share the provisional front row with Tagliani, but usual big rival Penske has had a very tough day.

Will Power was the top Penske runner but was only seventh, while Helio Castroneves' underwhelming first run was not sufficient to get him into the top group. He was preparing for another attempt to try and move up from his 16th place when the rain arrived with 23 minutes to go of the first part of qualifying.

Ryan Briscoe fared worse still - struggling to get any speed out of his back-up car after his practice crash this morning, he did not make the top 24 today and will have to rely on tomorrow's Bump Day session.

While the big names floundered, smaller teams and one-off entrants starred. 2005 Indy winner Dan Wheldon was fourth for Bryan Herta Autosport, which is running with engineering assistance from Schmidt's team, while Townsend Bell was fifth in another Schmidt car.

Sarah Fisher Racing also had its finest day in IndyCar so far, as new driver Ed Carpenter went sixth quickest.

Newman/Haas' Oriol Servia and Panther's one-off recruit Buddy Rice were the final driver to make it to the pole shoot-out - should it go ahead.

Takuma Sato (KV), Vitor Meira (Foyt), JR Hildebrand (Panther) and James Hinchcliffe (Newman/Haas) were fastest among those who missed out.

After her horrific Thursday practice crash, Simona de Silvestro did a remarkable job to qualify 24th in HVM's less-developed back-up car, despite driving with burns to her hands following the accident.

In addition to Briscoe, other big names who will have to qualify on Bump Day include all four of Andretti Autosport's regular drivers, with John Andretti the only one of the team's entries to make it into the top 24 today - and even then only with a last-ditch second attempt just before the rain.

Paul Tracy is also facing a Bump Day run for the second year in a row, the Dreyer & Reinbold driver's initial speed being edged outside the top 24 as a host of other drivers went for second attempts.

Graham Rahal is another leading driver still to qualify. He was thwarted today by a fuel system issue on his Ganassi car.

Ho-Pin Tung was the only driver to crash during a qualifying run, spinning into the Turn 1 wall in his Schmidt/Dragon car. His Dragon Racing team-mate Scott Speed, who has been off the pace in practice, chose not to make a qualifying attempt today.

Pos  Driver               Team                     Speed
 1.  Alex Tagliani        Sam Schmidt              226.954mph
 2.  Scott Dixon          Ganassi                  226.701mph
 3.  Dario Franchitti     Ganassi                  226.379mph
 4.  Dan Wheldon          Herta                    226.300mph
 5.  Townsend Bell        Sam Schmidt              226.277mph
 6.  Ed Carpenter         Sarah Fisher             226.171mph
 7.  Will Power           Penske                   226.089mph
 8.  Oriol Servia         Newman/Haas              225.775mph
 9.  Buddy Rice           Panther                  225.746mph
10.  Takuma Sato          KV                       225.736mph
11.  Vitor Meira          Foyt                     225.590mph
12.  JR Hildebrand        Panther                  225.579mph
13.  James Hinchcliffe    Newman/Haas              225.572mph
14.  Bertrand Baguette    Rahal Letterman Lanigan  225.285mph
15.  Davey Hamilton       Dreyer & Reinbold        225.250mph
16.  Helio Castroneves    Penske                   225.216mph
17.  John Andretti        Petty/Andretti           224.981mph
18.  EJ Viso              KV                       224.732mph
19.  Bruno Junqueira      Foyt                     224.691mph
20.  Justin Wilson        Dreyer & Reinbold        224.511mph
21.  Jay Howard           Rahal/Schmidt            224.483mph
22.  Tomas Scheckter      KV/SH                    224.433mph
23.  Tony Kanaan          KV                       224.417mph
24.  Simona de Silvestro  HVM                      224.392mph

Yet to qualify:

     Paul Tracy           Dreyer & Reinbold        224.353mph
     Charlie Kimball      Ganassi                  224.262mph
     Ana Beatriz          Dreyer & Reinbold        224.258mph
     Ryan Briscoe         Penske                   224.134mph
     Marco Andretti       Andretti                 224.074mph
     Danica Patrick       Andretti                 223.831mph
     Graham Rahal         Ganassi                  223.822mph
     Alex Lloyd           Dale Coyne               223.564mph
     Pippa Mann           Conquest                 223.070mph
     Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti                 222.951mph
     Raphael Matos        AFS                      222.786mph
     Mike Conway          Andretti                 222.247mph
     James Jakes          Dale Coyne               221.846mph
     Sebastian Saavedra   Conquest                 221.526mph
     Ho-Pin Tung          Schmidt/Dragon

Positions 10 to 24 now set
Top nine drivers through to pole session

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