Pole Showdown Looming At Indy
May 9, 2007 | 8:46 A.M. EST
Saturday's opening round of qualifying, which sets the first 11 positions for the Indianapolis 500 on May 27, will provide the first opportunity for teams who feel they have a legitimate chance at claiming the Borg Warner Trophy on Memorial Day weekend to prove it to the competition.
And believe it or not, it will be more than a two-car battle for the top spot — and the bragging rights that come along with winning the AAMCO pole award for the race.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing has to be considered as the favorite to set the fast lap on Saturday, especially since Dan Wheldon has been fast throughout the 2007 IndyCar Series season and Tuesday's first practice session at the 2.5-mile speedway — while teammate Scott Dixon has not been far behind throughout the year. Dig a little deeper on the entry list, and there are a least six other cars that can be considered contenders — as well as a couple of additional darkhorse possibilities — for the first starting spot in the annual 500-mile race.
Chief amongst those who will pose a challenge to Wheldon and Co. is the Penske Racing duo of Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. Combined, the pair have recorded two poles for the race (Hornish in 2006 and Castroneves in 2003), and three victories in the last six seasons (Hornish is the defending race winner while Castroneves won back-to-back 500s starting in 2001).
Simply put, they know how to get around the speedway.
Right behind them is Andretti Green Racing’s quintuple car attack. Sure, the team currently bolsters only two drivers who have been capable of competing week-in and week-out this season — Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti — but do not discount their three other drivers: Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick and team co-owner Michael Andretti.
The reason? They are heading into the weekend on the same page.
During Tuesday afternoon, Kanaan took time away from his own session and tried out the cars of Patrick and Andretti — the two team drivers who have struggled mightily this season — to try and test a few different setups. While Kanaan was fast in both cars, his young teammates were even faster later in the afternoon.
"We were trying some different things today, and the best way to judge is to have one driver driving all the cars," said Kanaan, who started the 2005 Indianapolis 500 from pole position. "I was chosen to drive the cars because I’m the closest in size to Marco and Danica. We had a couple of things we wanted to try, and I think we accomplished them."
With the Brazilians’s feedback, the individual teams can use the practice time from now until Saturday to experiment and search for extra speed for all of the team cars. Come Saturday, look for multiple AGR cars to challenge for the top spot should one of the teammates find the perfect setup before then.
While most oddmakers would not bet on anybody but those listed above to take the pole, keep an eye on the drivers who came out quickly during the first test session: Vision Racing’s Tomas Scheckter (third quick, 224.783 mph), Luczo Dragon Racing’s Ryan Briscoe (seventh quick, 223.676 mph) and Panther Racing’s Vitor Meira (12th quick, 223.022 mph).
With three more full days of practice remaining between now and the pole qualifying session (weather permitting), expect the battle to be exciting and competitive come Saturday.
When’s the last time you heard something like that in American open wheel racing?