22 May 2011
Indy 500: Tagliani on pole as Dario dries
Everyone assumed that the Indy 500 pole would go to Penske or Ganassi. But Alex Tagliani had different ideas and delivered the prize to Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
Alex Tagliani had been fast all week (whenever weather permitted the practice sessions to go ahead), but still no one saw him coming. Everyone just assumed the Sam Schmidt Motorsports car would be brushed to one side once the big guns of Team Penske and Ganassi got serious.
In the end, Pole Day saw Penske and Ganassi get serious alright - only for them to fumble the ball, leaving Tagliani a very worthy if still surprising pole winner for the centennial Indianapolis 500.
"I think I'll be pinching myself until I go to bed," said Tagliani, understandably. "I wanted this one so bad!
"It's been an amazing team effort. We have a great group of people, and the additions with the other cars. I had good input from Townsend and Dan and it's been nice to work as a big group this week."
It was Sam Schmidt Motorsports' first Indianapolis 500 pole, in Schmidt's tenth year as a team owner and just months after he decided to move into IndyCar full time by buying out the FAZZT team of which Tagliani was a co-owner. "This is a reward for Sam as well," said Tagliani. "He got involved and helped to continue it. He's an amazing team leader and this is a great result for him. I hope there's more to come."
The polewinners' celebrations to one side, it was a moment of cold, hard reflection for the big guns who had failed to fire.
Ganassi's blunder had been the most public and the most embarrassing, when during the pole shootout they failed to give either of their two drivers - Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti - sufficient gas to get around the four laps of the Speedway that comprise a single qualification attempt. In Dixon's case the damage was limited, with Dixon losing pace on the final lap but still maintaining a high enough overall average to take second place on the grid alongside Tagliani.
It was far worse for Franchitti, who ran out of fuel much earlier in his qualifying attempt and consequently never set a time during the pole shootout, which means he will start from ninth place having previously been sitting in third place behind Tagliani and Dixon when showers caused the curtailment of the main qualifying activity for the top 24 positions.
Small wonder, then, that Dario was seen stalking back to his trailer with his helmet on, not wanting to speak to anyone. Finally word emerged via Twitter: "Well, that sucked!! Ran out of fuel ending the 3rd lap..... Didn't trim enough for a pole run but p3 was on... Again!!!" He did however add his congratulations to Tagliani and Sam Schmidt, as well as consoling with Dixon.
The usual format for the pole shootout had been amended by IndyCar officials on the fly after the showers cut short the main qualifying session by 23 minutes and threatened to cause the top nine pole shootout to be abandoned altogether. The track was dried with just enough time to fit it in - but limiting the drivers to just one qualification attempt each. It was this all-or-nothing late change that did for Dario.
Alongside Tagliani and Dixon on the front row next Sunday instead will be Oriol Servia for Newman/Haas Racing, showing that the team that many had believed was in terminal decline is back with a vengeance.
Simona de Silvestro
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