Ed Carpenter clearly has quite a love affair going with Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Despite being the owner-driver of a low-budget race team that on paper shouldn’t be anything like a match for powerhouse teams such as Penske, Andretti and Ganassi, he clinched pole here 12 months ago – and did it all over again on Sunday for the 2014 Indianapolis 500.
Full times and results from Indy 500 Pole Day
The 33-year-old was the only driver in the Fast 9 to beat the time set by Juan Pablo Montoya for tenth position in the earlier session. Carpenter was just able to go faster than James Hinchcliffe, who bounced back from his concussion just eight days ago to put the #27 Andretti Autosport on the front row. Championship leader Will Power secured the outside berth for Penske on the starting grid for next Sunday’s race.
“It was a harder run than last year,” Carpenter admitted. “It’s awesome to do this two years in a row; I was surprised last year and didn’t expect to do it this year with such deep competition. Now it’s all about the race, and we want to close the deal.”
After a full week of occasionally rain-hit practice and with Saturday’s initial qualifying session having pre-divided the field into two groups – one of drivers competing in the Fast 9 pole shootout, and another consisting of the remaining 24 drivers – final qualifying for the 2014 Indy 500 came down to one last run on the 2.5-mile speedway on Sunday. They would each get one warm-up lap and four flying laps to et their overall average, but there would be no do-overs or second attempts today. It was time to put up, or shut up.
First it was time to set the positions for fourth row on down. Working in reverse order to how they had finished on Saturday, Buddy Lazier was the first man out when the track went green at 11am. He set an initial four-lap average of 227.920mph to serve as a benchmark for those who came after him, an improvement by nearly two seconds on his time the day before suggesting that the warmer conditions were helping to boost the speeds on Pole Day.
Martin Plowman, Alex Tagliani, Carlos Huertas and Oriol Servia who all succeeded in both improving their Saturday times and following the form book by being faster than the preceding drivers. The first driver to lose positions relative to those who had gone before was James Davison who dropped three places back, as did Jacques Villeneuve who followed him. Pippa Mann also failed to maintain her provisional Saturday placement, but she was followed by 2013 Indy 500 race winner Tony Kanaan who set the fastest time of the session so far.
KV-AFS Racing’s Sebastian Saavedra had a bit of a disaster on his run, the first man not to improve his Saturday time. He fell all the way to the back row along with Sage Karam who also had a very disappointing time of it. Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe all dropped positions relative to those who had gone before, suggesting that perhaps the conditions had possibly turned against the later runners.
That hypothesis was quickly disputed by Mikhail Aleshin, who after topping the morning warm-up session now delivered the first qualifying effort above 230mph to go into provisional tenth – only to be displaced by Scott Dixon, Justin Wilson and Juan Pablo Montoya, the latter achieving a four-lap average of 231.007mph that lasted all the way to the end of the session.
Jack Hawksworth couldn’t quite match that sort of pace but still slotted into a provisional 12th place ahead of Wilson with the final two drivers still to go: Ryan Hunter-Reay’s effort of 229.739mph was a disappointment and dropped him down to provisional 18th, but his team mate Kurt Busch was more successful as he posted a lap of 230.782mh to just pip Hawksworth for that 12th place, meaning that the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver would be joining Montoya and Dixon on the fourth row of the grid next Sunday – not bad company to have for his first Indy 500 start.
That completed the incident-free first qualifying session and locked these drivers into their starting grid positions for the race. All that remained was the Fast 9 Shootout for the front three rows, with qualifying getting underway after an hour’s intermission with JR Hildebrand setting a marker of 228.726mph which was significantly down not only on Montoya’s time for P10 but also on the 230.027mph lap he posted on Saturday to clinch a place in the pole shootout.
Next man up was Newgarden, and a poor final lap dropped his four-lap average down to 229.893mph, again down on his Saturday effort, suggesting that the afternoon sunshine on Pole Day was stripping some of the grip of its earlier grip. The next three men up, Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti and Will Power, all managed to improve their times for the day before, if still not quite able to exceed Montoya’s earlier time for P10.
James Hinchcliffe moved into provisional pole with a qualifying run averaging 230.839mph despite a loose fourth lap, while Helio Castroneves was only able to claim a possible third place despite having a superfast first lap. Nor was Carlos Munoz able to find the same sort of pace as he had in Saturday qualifying, meaning that he wasn’t able to secure himself a second consecutive front row start for the Indy 500 and instead had to settle for seventh place on the grid.
That left just one driver who could displace Hinchcliffe from the pole – last year’s pole winner, Ed Carpenter. His first lap was an impressive 231.442mph – not quite a match for Hinch’s – but he was better able to maintain the speed over the ensuing laps and when he crossed the yard of bricks for the final time, the scoring pylon showed that he’d clocked an average speed of 231.067mph – just six hundredths faster than Montoya’s P10 time, but more than enough to claim pole position in the Indy 500 for the second year in a row.