INDIANAPOLIS – (Saturday, May 21, 2011) — Alex Tagliani earned the PEAK Performance Pole Award presented by AutoZone in a winner-take-all “Fast Nine” segment — in which seven different IZOD IndyCar Series teams were represented — on a wild Pole Day for the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.
Twenty-four starting positions were filled on the first day, and the remaining nine will be determined on Bump Day. That also portends to be another drama-filled day as at least 15 drivers are expected to make qualifying attempts to secure a spot in the May 29 race. Once 33 spots are filled, bumping begins. Each entrant receives three attempts.
Tagliani, the final driver to go out in the Fast Nine, is the first Canadian to earn the pole for the 500 Mile Race. He recorded a four-lap average of 227.472 mph to swipe the award from Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (227.340). Oriol Servia will join them on the front row.
“I’m probably going to be pinching myself until I go to bed,” said Tagliani, whose No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports topped the speed charts in practice throughout the week. “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 (Bell) and Dan (Wheldon) and it’s been nice to work as a big group this week.
“I wanted this one so bad.”
That’s understandable, especially after being bumped from the field in 2009. He did start the race, however, replacing Bruno Junqueira in the Conquest Racing car and went on to earn Rookie of the Year (advancing from 33rd to finish 11th).
“This is a reward for Sam as well,” Tagliani said about Schmidt, who is celebrating his 10th year as a team owner at Indianapolis. “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.”
Bell, IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Will Power, who started from the pole in the first four races, and 2005 Indy 500 winner Wheldon will share Row 2. Buddy Rice, the ’04 winner, will be on Row 3 with Ed Carpenter and reigning 500 Mile Race champion Dario Franchitti.
Franchitti looked to be on pace to grab the provisional pole with an average of 227.043 mph through three laps in the Fast Nine, but the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car ran out of fuel on the final lap. Dixon said his car also ran out of fuel — just after completing the 10-mile run. Four Indy 500 winners participated in the Fast Nine.
“We were pretty close on setup with the Target car, but not good enough for the pole today,” said Franchitti, a two-time race winner. “We were definitely good enough for third place. We obviously ran out of fuel at the end of the third lap and that was it. It’s disappointing for us, but I’m happy for Sam Schmidt, Allen McDonald (Franchitti’s former engineer), Alex Tagliani and their whole team.”
A brief shower cut short the first round of qualifying by 23 minutes and limited the scheduled 90 minutes of the Fast Nine to one attempt by each entrant. After Rice posted a four-lap average of 225.786 in the No. 44 Panther Racing car, Servia popped in at 227.168 in the No. 2 Telemundo entry to move to second, where he sat until begin supplanted by Dixon and Tagliani.
“I couldn’t believe we were in the top nine and then we decided to go all out at it and the Telemundo car was really fast,” said Servia, who didn’t compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010. “I’m just very proud of the whole crew. The work they put in over the winter, even with the uncertainty, when we didn’t know 100 percent what the program was going to be. To be on the front row is just unbelievable.”
It is the first time since 2004 that a Penske Racing car didn’t qualify on the front row. Castroneves, a three-time race winner, will be on the inside of Row 6 in the No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske car — his lowest in 11 starts.
Rookie Ho-Pin Tung sustained a minor concussion in the only incident during qualifying when he No. 8 Dragon Schmidt Racing car made hard contact in Turn 1 after taking the white flag on his qualifying attempt.
INDIANAPOLIS 500 POLE QUALIFYING NOTES:
•This is the first Indianapolis 500 pole for Alex Tagliani. His previous best start was fifth in 2010, with the FAZZT Race Team.
•Alex Tagliani is the first Canadian-born driver to win the Indianapolis 500 pole. The previous best starting spot for a Canadian driver was third, by Scott Goodyear in 1995. Tagliani is a native of Lachenaie, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal.
•This is the sixth career Indy car pole for Alex Tagliani. His last pole came in 2003 at Montreal, while competing in Champ Car.
•This is the second Indy car pole for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. The team’s other pole came in 2001 at Richmond, Va., with Jaques Lazier driving.
•This is the first time since 2005 that three different teams occupy the front row for the Indianapolis 500, with Sam Schmidt Motorsports (Alex Tagliani, pole), Target Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon, second) and Newman/Haas Racing (Oriol Servia, third). In 2005, the front row was comprised of Andretti Green Racing (Tony Kanaan, pole), Marlboro Team Penske (Sam Hornish Jr., second) and Delphi Fernandez Racing (Scott Sharp, third).
•Scott Dixon earned his second career front-row start for the Indianapolis 500. He won from the pole in 2008.
•This is the fourth consecutive year that a Target Chip Ganassi Racing car will start the Indianapolis 500 on the front row.
•Oriol Servia is starting third, his career best in the Indianapolis 500. His previous best was 25th, in 2008 and 2009, his only two prior starts.
•Newman/Haas Racing qualified a car on the front row of the Indianapolis 500 for the first time since 1993, when Mario Andretti started second.
•This is the first Indianapolis 500 since 2004 that a Team Penske car is not starting on the front row. Helio Castroneves started eighth and Sam Hornish Jr. 11th that year.
•Helio Castroneves is starting a career-low 16th in the Indianapolis 500. His previous low was 13th in 2002, when he earned his second victory. This will be Castroneves’ 11th Indianapolis 500 start.
•Townsend Bell is starting fourth, his career best in the Indianapolis 500. His previous best was 10th in 2010.
•Buddy Rice qualified seventh, his best Indianapolis 500 starting spot since he won the race from the pole in 2004.
•Ed Carpenter is starting eighth, tying his Indianapolis 500 career best set in 2010.
•Dario Franchitti is starting ninth, his lowest Indianapolis 500 starting position since 2006, when he qualified 17th. Franchitti started third in each of the last three years he has participated in the Indianapolis 500, in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
•Takuma Sato qualified 10th, an Indianapolis 500 career best. His previous best was 31st in 2010, his only previous start.
•JR Hildebrand is the highest-qualifying rookie, in 12th. It’s the best starting position by a rookie since 2009, when Raphael Matos also qualified 12th.