Monday, May 20, 2013

Pole Day/Bump Day Notes

-I was able to spend the entire weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for qualifying, which meant seeing some absolutely tremendous driving and on-track action. Even with the rain delaying matters on Saturday, you couldn't have asked for a much better time. I'll go through and list some of the notes I made on the qualifying weekend that was:

-We have to start with our polesitter, Ed Carpenter. It looked like the first couple of rows would be an all-Penske/Andretti affair, but by staying the course on setup from the morning practice, Carpenter was able to reel off two laps in excess of 229 mph and make it happen. It's a great story, but Ed should again be in contention to win the 500. After Pole Day concluded, he was saying all the right things about ensuring starting P1 didn't ruin the team's focus on that goal. As one of the prime oval drivers in the series over the past few years, Ed definitely has a realistic change at the Borg-Warner next Sunday.

-So what of the rather obvious discrepancy in qualifying speeds between the Chevy and Honda teams? While it's definitely a feather in the hat for Chevy to dominate qualifying in such a definitive manner, things could be completely different once teams get their race setups complete. Stability, sustained speed, and plenty of opportunities to pass mean we could very well see a Honda win, just as much as a Chevy. That said, those first 3-4 rows certainly look formidable right now, don't they?

-Perhaps my favorite row of the race has to be Row 6. That's Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, and Takuma Sato starting next to one another. That could be a very interesting first few laps, couldn't it?

-I'm still scratching my head over the Pole Day decision to send Townsend Bell back out for a second attempt after he had already comfortably qualified. That led to a failed attempt, and Bell having to use his third and final attempt to bump himself back in, albeit at the cost of a position from his earlier attempt. I didn't see it coming, and I'm still not sure I get the logic.

-There are so many great stories to cover, but how about Simona de Silvestro back as a Pole Day qualifier? That had to feel really, really good after last year's Lotus crisis. Simona's usually been mid-pack at Indy, but she seemed a bit more comfortable this year when I saw her. I'll be interested to see what her race pace is.

-It was pretty clear on Bump Day that Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden would be solidly in the field. Both teams probably didn't sleep super-well after Pole Day, but honestly, not much was lost in terms of qualifying position for either driver. The 500 is a long race, so whether I qualify 23rd or 25th, I'm probably ok, so long as I get my setup right.

-My goodness, what a long afternoon for Bump Day! It was pretty clear early on Michel Jourdain's car simply didn't have anywhere near the speed needed to challenge even Katherine Legge at just about 223mph. That's the way it goes, sometimes. It did at least afford plenty of practice time, and there was no shortage of craziness as everyone worked on race setup. Watching from the pits, it was a nice preview of the some of the speed we'll see on race day. When you're just yards away from these cars, it reminds you of the speed of Indy. It's an intense feeling.

-Seeing Michel Jourdain in the garages around 3 pm yesterday, he looked pretty dejected. The team simply could not figure out what the deal with his car was, and even Graham Rahal jumping in didn't help. The last row of Daly, Lazier, and Legge looked pretty solid, especially with the baking heat coming down on the track. As it turns out, they were, and Jourdain is left on the outside looking in. What a brutal unfolding of events for a pretty good guy. That's the harsh side of Indy, but also one of the reasons it matters like it does.

-Really, if a car is that far off the mark, as we saw with Jourdain's #17 car, it doesn't matter if Rick Mears jumps in it. A bad engine, tub, or other serious issue can wreck anyone's chances, no matter how strong their driver or program is. Is it something they should have identified earlier in the week, or was there another available option? That's something we probably won't ever fully know.

-I was really impressed with how few incidents we had through the end of Bump Day. With the exception of Conor Daly's moment and Will Power brushing the wall, it was a very clean month. When you consider drivers such as Pippa Mann and Buddy Lazier having no previous DW12 seat experience before this month, and Katherine Legge getting only a few laps in the car this month before qualifying, it becomes even more impressive.

-Speaking of Buddy Lazier, I heard a few folks in person and online disparaging the relatively ragtag appearance of their crew and car at certain points over the weekend. To me, seeing a one-off team grabbing personnel from a few old IndyCar teams to make it happen was absolutely phenomenal. The Lazier entry wasn't the prettiest on track, and they didn't have the polish of Penske, but they had more than enough to make the show--and probably more if they needed it. Appearances don't matter--only results. There's always time to make things pretty after you're in the field. Congratulations to Lazier Partners Racing on getting it done--and picking up that Advance Autoparts sponsorship, to boot.

-The IMS crowd loves Ed Carpenter, loves Tony Kanaan, and loves Marco Andretti. They really like James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Pippa Mann, Simona de Silvestro, and a few others. Helio Castroneves is a rock star.

-Every time I saw Mario Andretti this weekend, even when he was clearly occupied with other duties, he did everything he could to interact with fans, sign autographs, and take pictures as needed. I know it's been said time and again, but it bears repeating: he's an amazing ambassador for this sport.

-So after all that, do I change my pick from Marco Andretti or Ed  Carpenter to win the 500? No, I think I'll hold right there. There are plenty of contenders this year for addition to the Borg-Warner trophy, but I think those two are both in a really good spot to get it done.

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