Theater in the Oval: New Indy qualifying format adds pizzazz

The Indianapolis 500 time trials are new and improved this year. I rode to the Speedway on my motorcycle yesterday morning, paid $10, and sat in Stand E (Turn One) to watch as 24 drivers qualified for this year’s race. The final 11 will fill out the field today. That’s different from the four-day march to Moscow, stretching over two weekends, of previous time immemorial. The second weekend was always such a snooze.

Franchitti, Castroneves, and Power

The Fast 9 from the early round were eligible for a pole-qualifying shootout session late in the afternoon. But first, Helio Castroneves, sitting second on the board after his four-lap attempt of 226.388 mph, threw out his posting and returned to the track around 2.30 p.m. in the effort to take Segment One’s big prize: the coveted end pit box for the race. With the difference between them of just .004 mph, Castroneves had probably figured he had a great shot. And he just did better Alex Tagliani’s average of 226.392.

Then at 4 p.m., each of the Fast 9 went out in the order of their earlier results and tried for the pole. They had until 6 p.m. to get back in line for subsequent attempts and bump one another down the list. Castroneves wheeled his Number 3 to an astonishing 227.927 mph and locked up the pole, although teammate Will Power made it interesting at 227.578. Dario Franchitti filled out the front row with 226.990.

After his 2.30 p.m. run to secure the best spot on Pit Lane, Castroneves breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s not easy,” he said. “Anytime you go to the limit, it’s very, very hard.”

Yet he made it look easy.

Best T-Shirts of the Day

1) Is it May yet?

2) I’m out of bed and dressed. What more do you want?

Biggest Falls from Grace: Danica Patrick could only achieve 224.217, which has her in the eighth row with a Belgian rookie named Bertrand Baguette. (Dicing with him at the start of the race could result in croutons.) In her post-qualifying interview, Patrick lamented that she’d “never been bad here.” With an ill-handling car, the first two laps were “scary,” and the last two weren’t taken flat out. She spoke of the problems trimming out the car, concluding, “It’s not my fault.”

“Boo!” exclaimed a surprising number of fans.

Moments later, Mario Maraes spun in Turn Two, clipping the wall.

“It’s not his fault,” one wag yelled.

The next driver to crash was Tony Kanaan. Coming out of One, his car snapped around and slid backwards, tire smoke billowing, through the Short Chute. Then the banking of Two caused the car to rotate, and it slammed broadside into the outside wall. Kanaan got out uninjured. At the beginning of the long cleanup period that followed, the track announcers took a break, and in a nice, subtle touch, broadcast control cued up AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

PK, left, and Bob

The latest news is that Kanaan crashed his backup car in exactly the same spot during this morning’s practice. The team is scrambling to put together one car from the two he’s wrecked and get him in the line to qualify before the afternoon ends. Poor Kanaan must be a mess.

Fast Women: Rookies Ana Beatriz (Brazil) and Simona de Silvestro (Switzerland) qualified two eyelashes and one eyelash faster than Patrick. From covering Parker Kligerman’s stock car adventure season last year for Automobile Magazine, I met driving coach Bob Perona and knew he was working with de Silvestro, too. Perona had told me then that she would blow Patrick’s doors off. After the successful qualification, I rang him to offer congratulations. He was inside the track’s media center. He seemed pleased to hear from me and said, “We have a good car.”

Local fans provide info: In front of me sat a couple of enthusiastic local fans from suburban Cloverdale. Dave, a forklift driver in a warehouse, wore a Foyt cap, and his enormous bulk was wrapped in an Andretti T-shirt. He said he’s been off work because of ligament damage in his right knee. The surgeon is reluctant to operate because of a history of lower-leg blood clots. Dave was a fount of knowledge, reciting details of incidents from the past 35 years of his attendance, and throughout Indy 500 history, from Phil Giebler’s big crash a couple of years ago, to the disputed 1981 race between Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti. Dave was accompanied by daughter Erin, a Cloverdale Elementary third-grader who likes Dan Wheldon and dislikes Danica. She said her favorite subject is spelling, but evidently she’s also counting. I said her dad is very lucky to have a daughter who’ll spend the entire day at the Speedway with him.

Recommended eats: On the way back, I enjoyed a fine meal of Texas cheese steak and hash browns at the Pendleton, Indiana, Waffle House. With unsweetened iced tea, it came to $7.89. Try as she might, the waitress couldn’t induce me to add bacon to the cheese steak nor onions to the hash browns. I considered the chocolate cream pie that was being sliced into pieces, but they hadn’t thawed it yet, and I didn’t want to break a tooth.

Does Waffle House do vegetables?

Home just after midnight: more than 500 miles on the bike.

One thought on “Theater in the Oval: New Indy qualifying format adds pizzazz

  1. Wow, Easy Rider! Long day, and it was hot.
    I’m with the third grader who is sick of Danica’s attitude. Sportsmanship still counts.
    How much does it cost to put one of Tony’s cars back together?

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