Everyone could see that Andretti Autosport were struggling to find their mojo in the practice sessions at Indianapolis over the last week, but most assumed they would come good in the end. But Pole Day arrived, and sure enough Andretti Autosport was the biggest misfire on pit lane.
The look on the faces of John Andretti and Mike Conway said it all, even though John was the only driver in the extended team to make it into the top 24 by the session end. The former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver was in a car being run in collaboration with Richard Petty Motorsports, making it even more amazing that he should get onto the Indy 500 grid while the team's main drivers - Conway, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, along with Raphael Matos of the AFS team that Andretti Autosport collaborate with - did not.
Most striking of all was the language and tone of the drivers when they spoke with reporters: they were looking into the abyss and not seeing anyway out.
"We haven't made any improvements. We were slow when we rolled off the truck, and we're still slow in qualifying," said Marco. "It's beyond me. I don't have an answer, and that's why I'm super-frustrated right now. I'm really nervous about qualifying ... This is going to be the longest weekend of my life, that's for sure. I just don't have any answers right now."
"We're struggling. We tried every bit of the setup, from one side of the spectrum to the other, and it just didn't have any speed with it. I'm not really sure what the problem is, but we'll just keep chipping away at it," said Hunter-Reay. "We just need to get in the race. We've struggled with the car all week, but we just need to get it in the race and go from there."
"Basically every lap I was just hanging on and trying to save the car," pitched in Matos. "I had a very, very bad vibration in the front of the car, as well. Maybe the tires were out of balance."
Danica - who had looked the strongest of the four - was bemused by the sudden collapse in the pace of the #7. "I felt that we had a fast car not only today, but all month, and thought we would hit a 226," she said. "I was happy. It was the best I've felt here in a long time. I felt really comfortable with the car, and it felt effortlessly fast and it wasn't really slow ... until this morning. All I can think of is something we missed or something happened with the track, maybe, and everyone is putting a new set of rubber on and it changed. We just have to buckle down at this point. I guess we are going to have to risk it a little more come tomorrow."
But Mike Conway's bid to return to the race that saw that dreadful final lap accident in 2010 that sidelined him for the rest of the season and nearly ended his racing career seemed doomed. He's been consistently off the pace and near the bottom of the timesheets all week, and has no idea how to climb out of the hole in which he finds himself.
"It's been quite elusive these last few days to try and find it," he said. "I know we're trying a few things, and we just have to go back to the drawing board and see where we can find it. We just need to try and figure it out. It's not nice to be out of the loop already. We just have to keep battling."