Monday, May 23, 2011

True Grit: Indy 500 Qualifications

After an eventful Pole Day and Bump Day that saw more twists and turns than trying to leave IMS after a race, I found myself pretty quietly walking back to my car in the Turn 3 infield. There was a lot to think about. What I will remember most about this weekend is the absolutely clutch, amazing performances we saw from drivers who put it all on the line to make this race. You want to talk about guts? Here's my countdown of the 7 gutsiest performances we saw all weekend:

7) Danica Patrick: It appeared for much of Bump Day that a failed tech inspection coupled with poor weather would doom her attempt to qualify at Indy. But the skies cleared, the track dried, and she ripped off the 2nd-fastest 4-lap average of Pole Day. When she finally got her shot, she made good on it.

6) Pippa Mann: Honestly, when I saw Pippa Saturday night and Sunday morning, she looked frazzled. I thought she had a bad case of the rookie yips. What she did instead was keep her cool and finish a remarkably consistent run of just under 224 mph--not bad for a team that seemed to have trouble putting together four solid laps in a row.

5) Paul Tracy: It was actually raining on Paul Tracy as he finished his qualifying run (as the checkered flag waved, the skies just opened up on the stands where I was sitting). He shook it off and became the best qualifier of Bump Day.

4) Marco Andretti: I'm sure Marco was hoping the circumstances would be different, but in an all-or-nothing run as the gun sounded on Bump Day, he finally showed speed good enough for fourth-quickest on the day. Along with Danica's effort, it was a bittersweet moment on a day where two Andretti drivers ended up on the outside looking in.

3) Alex Lloyd: I'm still not sure where Alex Lloyd found the speed for that last run; he admitted in an interview afterwards that the entire car was vibrating so bad he couldn't see on the last lap. He pulled every possible bit of speed out of a poor car in one of the greatest efforts I've seen at Indy. He truly earned his place in the Centennial Anniversary field.

I...had something in my eye right about this time. Shut up.
(Courtesy of IndyCar Media)
2) Alex Tagliani: The stands went insane on Tagliani's run in the shootout. When the final lap time was announced and we all realized he had won the Pole, most of us just absolutely lost it. Tagliani made up for disappointments the last two years, and became an instant crowd favorite in the process. He was cheered and happily greeted everywhere he went on Sunday, and it was well deserved. He could easily be considered #1 on this list, if not for...

1) Simona de Silvestro: 2nd-degree burns on bandaged hands. You could see the pain every time she took off her gloves. In the oldest tub in the field, Simona was down to her last attempt before she ripped off a 224+ average to make the field on Pole Day. The crowd absolutely adored her fight, her team's supreme effort, and absolutely the most amazing display of resolve and guts we've seen in some time at Indy. When she qualified, it was a pure celebration. A star was truly born, one that walked away from this weekend with so many more fans than when she started.

Really though, from Alex Tagliani to James Jakes, you have to give credit each driver on the 500 entry list. Whether they made it or not, they put it all on the line, and helped make this one of the most memorable Indy 500 qualification weekends in recent memory. Cheers to you all.

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