Tagliani quickest in first qualifying
|By Matt Beer||Saturday, May 21st 2011, 19:48 GMT|
Alex 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