Indy 500: Ho-Pin Tung hits wall on Pole Day
21 May 2011
Dragon Racing's Ho-Pin Tung crashed on his qualifying run, an hour into the session. He lost control on the exit of his final run of four through turn 1 and took a hard hit, slamming into the outside wall at the south end of the Speedway. He was able to exit the car on his own.
IndyCar said that, "Ho-Pin Tung is awake and alert and was transported to Methodist Hospital for further evaluation." Team boss Jay Penske later told press that Tung was undergoing a CAT scan and would not be back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway paddock later in the day after all, as initially hoped.
The rear end of the #8 car was badly damaged in the impact which then slid down the track and spewed fluids into the air. The Dragon team does not have T-cars registered for either of their drivers, so even if Tung is discharged from hospital and cleared to resume racing, he might not be able to take further part in qualification and would have to miss out on getting into his first Indy 500.
A question mark still hangs over the #20 Dragon Racing car helmed by Scott Speed. After overnight rumours of a bust-up between Speed and the team, Speed appeared at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this morning and took part in the Saturday morning warm-up practice session as normal.
However, Speed's car was then removed from pit lane and the team said that they had no intention of having Speed try to qualify the car on Pole Day and would instead sit today out and try to get it through on Bump Day. Considering Speed was dead last in the timesheets on Friday, it's probably no bad idea for them not to push ahead with fruitless attempts on Saturday.
It does leave the option open for Speed to depart and have his car taken over by another driver - or even Ho-Pin Tung if he is fit to drive, as the Chinese driver has impressed the team with his pace and consistency which had been well ahead of Speed's. However, Jay Penske denied that this was being considered and stressed that Speed would be in the #20 on Sunday as planned.
In other news down the pit lane, the Andretti Autosport team were having an extremely dispiriting Pole Day, well down the time sheets. Moreover, when talking to trackside interviews, both Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay used almost identical language to express their frustration that their car simply wasn't good enough, hadn't improved at all through the week of preparations, and that they were out of ideas about what to do. Marco had a 223.389mph first run and Ryan was 222.951mph, where qualification can be assumed to need at least a lap speed in the region of 224mph to stand a chance of getting through.
Their team mate Mike Conway was even worse off at 222.247mph, and looking increasingly set not to make it into the race.
Just over two hours into the five-hour session, the top spots were held by Alex Tagliani (226.954mph), Dan Wheldon (226.300), Townsend Bell (226.277) and Will Power (226.089). However, many of the presumed front runners were yet to go out - including both Ganassi drivers (Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti) and last year's pole sitter Helio Castroneves.
Ryan Briscoe had gone out for his first run early on, but had been forced to take to his spare T-car after damaging his main car in a Saturday morning practice session spin against the wall. For a Penske effort, the lap speed of 223.435mph was rather disappointing and suggests the car needs further fine-tuning to ensure there's no shock upset for the #6T.
Justin Wilson's first run had led to an average of 224.511mph, which the British driver was hoping would be enough to see him safely into the top 24 positions and allow him not to make another run this afternoon, as the teams increasingly expected the weather to close in later today and limit qualification attempts today to just one, and potentially wash-out the pole shootout from 4.30pm local time.
Simona de Silvestro had yet to make a qualifying attempt, but had participated in the morning practice sessions and managed to cope well despite her injured hands.