INDIANAPOLIS – Ed Carpenter turned a tough draw into a winning hand Saturday.
Now he has to do it all over again.
The only full-time owner-driver in the IndyCar Series took advantage of a cooling early evening track for a four-lap average of 230.468 mph on the first day of Indianapolis 500 qualifying, Takuma Sato was second at 230.382, and Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy winner, third at 230.333.
Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso finished seventh at 230.034.
All of the times will be erased for Sunday’s nine-car pole shootout when Carpenter chases his third pole in five years on his home track.
“I thanked my 7-year-old son for drawing last night,” he explained at the end of a long and frightening day. “I told him, ‘Let’s get five’ and then someone else got five. So I said, ‘Let’s try for six’ and he got 60. I told him ‘Well, you got one of the numbers right,’ trying to stay positive. So he was the first one I thanked when I got out of the car.”
Carpenter’s initial misfortune wound up being a stroke of good luck on a day nothing came easy.
When drivers arrived at the 2 1/2-mile oval, they had to contend with the chilliest temperatures of the week.
Then came a rain delay that pushed the start of qualifying from late morning to the hottest part of the afternoon and forced the first drivers in qualifying line to make their only allowed attempt on a hot surface that lacked the grip needed to contend for the pole speeds.
That was followed by Sebastien Bourdais’ astonishingly hard, head-on crash. The French driver had just completed his second straight lap over 231 mph when his car wiggled going through the second turn, slid up the track and slammed into the wall. It flipped before coming to a stop in the back straightaway.
Doctors at Indiana University Methodist Hospital said the 38-year-old driver has multiple fractures in his pelvis and a fractured right hip. Safety workers arrived on the scene in about 10 seconds but needed about 10 minutes to get Bourdais out of the car and onto a backboard.
Even the 36-year-old Carpenter, the stepson of Tony George whose family owns the track, was stunned.
“It takes your breath away,” he said. “That was one of the biggest qualifying crashes I’ve seen around here. Hopefully, he’s OK.”
Seventy minutes later, Carpenter cast aside any lingering doubts, hopped in the No. 20 car and bumped Sato from No. 1 to No. 2 with another late-day daring run.
Four drivers later, Carpenter’s teammate, JR Hildebrand, knocked Bourdais’ teammate out of the shootout with his own strong run. Hildebrand wound up fourth at 230.205.
“We’re always surprised by the Carpenter cars,” Dixon said. “They run a different configuration and it’s quite interesting to watch. It’s fantastic around this place.”
Will Power has won poles at all three odd-numbered IndyCar races this season. Helio Castroneves earned the No. 1 spot in the two even-numbered races.
That streaked ended Saturday but not quite the way Team Penske envisioned.
Power was the only Penske driver to make the shootout after the IndyCar Grand Prix winner finished sixth at 230.072. Castroneves, who had an early draw, was 14th at 229.390.
Penske’s other three drivers – Josef Newgarden, Juan Pablo Montoya and current points leader Simon Pagenaud – were 17th, 18th and 20th. They will have a chance to improve their starting spots when the starting grid for the May 28 race is set Sunday.
“The whole week, the car had pretty good balance but for some reason, we’re not that fast,” said Castroneves, a three-time 500 winner and a four-time Indy pole winner. “We trimmed out as much as we could. It is what it is.”
New tag team
The IndyCar Series was overtaken by a new tag-team Saturday – Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.
Together the two Honda-powered teams claimed six of the top nine spots.
Ganassi got Dixon and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy champ, into the shootout. A third Ganassi driver, Charlie Kimball, got bumped out of the shootout in the final half hour.
Andretti had four of his six drivers – Sato, Spain’s Alonso, defending champion Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti – advance to Sunday’s shootout.
“It was real was stressful, definitely,” Alonso said. “With the weather this morning, it added some stress to the whole thing because you only have one shot and one attempt, and that creates stress. But the car felt good. I could improve a little bit, but I keep learning.”
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