Andretti and Hunter-Reay bump into Indy field
"The weekend's not over," commented Ryan Hunter-Reay after his qualification attempt yesterday. The statement proved to be prophetic -- it wasn't over until it was literally over, at the last minute, and then only by 44/1000 of 1 mph. Even then, a small gust of wind would've changed the outcome. AutoRacing1's earlier prognostications -- that it would take a 220.5 or higher to qualify, and that everyone on the last three rows was vulnerable, proved to be highly accurate. Alex Tagliani's 220.553 proved just a tick too slow, bumping him from the middle of the 9th row.
AT 3:22 p.m., Ryan Hunter-Reay withdrew his car from the field, and bumped up his average by almost a full mph from the day before. The new speed was 220.413 was safer, but as the afternoon wore on, not safe enough.
A few minutes later, Mike Conway re-qualified his car, the third Dreyer and Reinbold Racing entry in the 500. It was 1.3 mph faster, and his 221.417 average proved to be just barely good enough. This is a good thing because in the end there weren't any parts on the car for a second attempt. After the run, the team stripped Mike Conway's car to put suspension bits on Andretti's car -- Andretti alluded to his teammates "sacrificing track time" -- trying to duplicate the Conway's time. Dreyer and Reinbold team members told AutoRacing1 that each of the four cars was very different from one another due to the personalities of the drivers as well as the differences in the cars. Both Andretti and Duno had difficult times as each seemed to lose its way during the weekend.
Happy hour started a bit early when EJ Viso went out and put in a 221.441 average, taking himself off of the bubble and putting Tomas Scheckter on the bubble. Tomas then in turn took himself out of the race in order to put himself safely into the race at 221.496.
The stage was now set for a dual between John Andretti -- who was put back in the field when each car withdrew, only to be bumped again -- and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The contrast between the two pits was stark. The Andretti pits was a flurry of frantic activity, each time laying the wings back a bit more than the previous time, with the volume of voices rising as time passed. "I told Larry Curry in his next life he’s going to be a psychiatrist. He got me thinking the right way. He coaches really well. You would think after 30-plus years of racing, I wouldn’t need a coach. But Indianapolis can break down the best of drivers. It didn’t break me down. Window World, those people were great. They called me up and said that I wanted to be in the race worse than they did. And that cheered me up. When I took the white flag and I made it through Turn 1 flat, I thought I wouldn’t get through it. Turn 1 had been killing me all day. It was the wind and I had been struggling with it all day. I’m glad the race isn’t tomorrow. I am physically, mentally, just totally exhausted.”
Conversely, the Hunter-Reay pits were the cool, methodical personality of its owner, Tony George. When Hunter-Reay was bumped by Andretti with seconds to go in the day, the team calmly fired up the car, and Hunter-Reay took to the track. Like Andretti, the rear wing was tilted flatter than it had been during the week, and the qualification attempt bumped Tagliani, if only by the blink of an eye. "Anybody will tell you that on an oval that that's no secret. But at Indy it's such a special place just the way the wind affects the car and how -- that's where the driver can come in, where the wind affects the car, the conditions affect it. You know, you get a little bit too hot and the car starts moving around a little bit more than the day before with the same corner and same wind direction. Those are the special things about Indy. It's, you know, yeah, like you said, last year we were P6 after the race, Rookie of the Year. I was looking forward to this race for -- coming back here for 365 days of the year and finally back here and, man, it's just been a gut-wrencher the whole time. But as they say, that's Indy. I mean, it's ups and downs and heartache and the best times and the worst times right here. That's why it is what it is. It's the greatest race in the world, and it's a huge honor for me to make it in this way."
The saddest part of the day, of course, is the story of Tagliani. As it turned out, his car was fast enough to have stayed in the race. Several times his car was in line for a run, only to have it pulled out when his position looked safe from an Andretti run. “The car was plenty fast to protect our position.... Right now I’m wondering why we didn’t go out and just run to protect our position time when we knew we could go out and just do the lap we needed to do to even probably get the fastest lap of the day. You don’t do these things when you’re not sure you can re-do your lap, but when we knew faster lap than we did yesterday especially with the day being nicer, I’m wondering. But it’s done now." Tagliani continued, "When we put the car out for qualifying, I was running laps at 221.7. The car was plenty fast . It was safe to drive. The worst thing is we didn’t go out to protect ourselves. We kept putting it in line. So when you go home and you’re slow, there’s nothing you can do. But when you go home under these conditions …
Indy 500 Lineup
INDYCAR SERIES POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES:
Brian Barnhart (Indy Racing League president of competition and racing operations): (About the 2009 field being the closest field by time): "That is pretty cool. I didn't know that, and I'm certainly glad to hear it. It speaks volume about our formula and the depth of field that we have. I feel so bad for Tags (Alex Tagliani) and the Conquest Racing team. They work their tails off all year, and I'll tell you, leaning in the cockpit and telling them they weren't going to get to go because we're out of time and they're a lame duck and he's either in or out and it's not under his control was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It was just a devastating look in his eyes. I know how hard he and the team had worked. From a field standpoint, it's what makes Indianapolis special. It's the 33 best drivers and teams under the conditions of what we had. Tightest field speaks volumes about how tight the competition is." (About the format finally running as planned): "We got all four days in with bumping, and the depth of field reflected on it. I know it's pressure packed for the drivers and teams, but the feedback from the fans is how much they like it. These guys understand that that's the job. Whatever the format is, it's their job to go out and drive the car as fast as the conditions allow. When you look at how clean the days were, they obviously all did it. The fact they get three attempts a day and guys were voluntarily pulling out (of line). Pretty gutsy moves, and they all seemed to pay off."
TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 19 MONA-VIE Racing, 26th, fastest qualifier of the day): "I've been at this track the last seven years. I haven't eaten anything today. We did a race run, I just came mentally prepared today, but we thought we'd be safe and how things change. Next thing you know you have to get the qualifying setup back on. The guys are running back to the garage. I try to just be in my motorhome, lights off, and just focus. They gave me a good car, and we were able to do it safely, so I'm just happy for everybody. We had a great race run, which I am so happy about, too, which is the most important thing, but, to go in there and go really quick, I'm happy. The car felt all right. The last lap wasn't perfect. Just a big thank you to everybody at Mona Vie, Dale Coyne Racing, Bob Pappas' crew. We're in the middle here doing a race run when we had to get the car back at 4:30, and just take all the downforce out of it and bring it back. We did two runs and then stuck it in line, and we went a mile and a half quicker than we qualified before, so we got to be happy with that."
MIKE CONWAY (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, 27th): "Yesterday I didn't know what time I had to do; today I was sure of what time I had to do. We knew we would be quicker because it was cooler. I just had to get in the right frame of mind. You still have to go out there and do it each time. I really pushed it on that first lap. We put up a good number, and then I was just trying to keep it consistent. I am getting more comfortable with the car every run. The car feels good underneath me. It was still a bit windy through Turn 1. I had to keep it flat and consistent. Hopefully we've done enough to be safely in the field."
JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Window World, 28th) "I'm exhausted. I don't want to do this anymore, to be honest. Just coming down pit road, you would have thought that I won the race. I couldn't hear the crowd, but I could see them standing and waving. The fans have always been behind me at Indianapolis. The team did such a great job. We tried something different in practice today. We got advice, and it was one of those things that we couldn't get to work. We went back (garage) and took (teammate) Mike Conway's shocks and springs and put them on my car. It made the car really nice to drive. It was a nice run. I give all the credit to my teammates. As a group we were doing a good job, but we were struggling. Now we've gotten better as a team. We were fighting hard, each one of us. I'm the old man, and I had to fight the hardest, and it's not supposed to be that way. I've always looked at these guys on the bubble on Bump Day and absolutely felt for them. I was with Marty Roth last year and the jubilation was unbelievable. I can't imagine how embarrassed I would have been to call Richard Petty and have him ask, 'Where do you start?' And I don't (start). It's been a very, very tough day. I'm going to say that one is for my dad (Aldo Andretti). My dad is such a strong supporter - I know this was a challenge that he would appreciate. I told Larry Curry in his next life he's going to be a psychiatrist. He got me thinking the right way. He coaches really well. You would think after 30-plus years of racing, I wouldn't need a coach. But Indianapolis can break down the best of drivers. It didn't break me down. Window World, those people were great. They called me up and said that I wanted to be in the race worse than they did. And that cheered me up. When I took the white flag and I made it through Turn 1 flat, I thought I wouldn't get through it. Turn 1 had been killing me all day. It was the wind and I had been struggling with it all day. I'm glad the race isn't tomorrow. I am physically, mentally, just totally exhausted."
E.J. VISO (No. 13 PDVSA HVM Racing, 29th): "It was a strong run, and I'm proud of the improvements the team has made this week. We didn't intend to leave things until the last minute, but it's all right. It's such a long race that qualifying isn't that important. I'm just happy to be in the show. To tell the truth, I never expected to be qualifying on the last day, but that's what happened, and here I am." (About qualifying strategy): "It's always difficult to make your plans regarding the weather, especially in Indianapolis because it changes so much. But it's what it is, and it's the same for everyone." (About experience): "I was here last year, and now I know a little better what to expect. Last year when I came here, I knew nothing. I had never watched an oval race ever in my life. My first oval race was at Homestead, and I didn't like it. I had a very steep learning curve last year. This year I'm a more complete driver. I know how to approach the ovals, and my feedback to the engineers is a lot better, more precise. Last year they were a little vague."
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (No. 36 ALL SPORT/BIG RED, 30th): "The car is very good. I did like four laps up to speed in the first session, and the car was good. So I said, 'Let's take a little downforce out.' The car was better, and I thought, 'I think we can qualify.' I have to thank the ALL SPORT Conquest Racing team. They prepared me a good car, and I know my way around this place and know how to go fast. I think that's a good combination. The deal with the ALL SPORT sponsorship just happened Friday night. They had to hire people and put the car together, so I have to thank the work of the mechanics. They did a very good job. They gave me a fast car. I'm very excited. It's one of the most exciting moments of my life and my career. I think I broke a record of less laps in practice to put a car in the field. I didn't know how the car was going to be. I knew I was capable of going really fast here." (How does this compare to sitting on the pole here in 2002?): "It's just as exciting. I was very persistent. I walked around here for two weeks. And at the last minute, I got a ride. I just have to thank God, my team, and the people who helped me get a ride. I'm very, very thrilled."
MILKA DUNO (No. 23 CITGO/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, 31st): (On what she did differently today than yesterday): "We corrected a few things. We corrected a few things on the line with Davey Hamilton, my teammate, outside this morning. But also, they made the car better. Consistently, not to be fast and consistent. You can make a fast lap, but if you are not consistent, if the car doesn't help you to make the same speed all the time, you do nothing in qualifying. You have to keep a fast time for four laps together. I think, especially, they made a good job with the car. It was so great. The car was so good in practice, and you see we were faster in the practice this morning. But I think it was also the car. A little bit here, a little bit in the other place, correct a little bit of the line." (On the feeling of the car): "The car was much better today. Remember that yesterday when I tried to qualify the first time, I lost the front completely in Turn 1 or 2 or somewhere. I don't want to remember which one it was. I don't want to see that. We were loose in the front and the corners. Today we practiced and made different changes by the engineer and consistent and even fast because it has a better balance."
NELSON PHILIPPE (No. 00 i drive green HVM Racing, 32nd): "I bumped myself. Has that ever been done before? Probably, yeah; a 100-year history, right? Come celebrate the Centennial Era at the Indianapolis 500. Yeah, it feels good to be in. We had a great run. The conditions are definitely better. I felt better. The car felt better. It's just a combination of many things. But overall, I'm just really excited that we managed to gain 2.7 miles per hour. It's a big gain. This morning I went 220 for the first time all month. That was nice to break that barrier. We were still pretty conservative for this run. I felt really comfortable with the car. We could have easily gone with a bit less downforce." (Did you feel like it was a big gamble to re-qualify before getting bumped or did you feel really comfortable?): "No, definitely not a big gamble because we had a really mediocre time yesterday. I was pretty vocal about it to the team. I said, 'The time's not going to stand, so let's go out.' We felt 100 percent confident we were going to beat the time. I didn't think I was going to beat the time by 2.7 miles per hour." (On how he felt after yesterday): "I left the track yesterday and said to the guys: 'You know, I don't want to just be in the show. I want to be qualifying close to 221,' and we did. I know there's a party for the last row, but I don't really want to be on the last row. I'd start there if I had to, but we wanted to be in a better position than that"
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 21T Vision Racing, 33rd): "I was ready to go the whole time. That was a timing issue because I think (Alex) Tagliani was pretty quick there. It was lucky we went out last. We're running downforce as low as you wouldn't believe. It was so trimmed out. These guys worked really hard. I'm really happy for them. Now, hopefully we can go make up all those spots in the race. I mean, it was just all day long it was like this. Since we woke up, it was: 'What are we going to do? What are we going to do? Let's pull the car out. Let's put it in.' The whole day it was qualifying simulations. That was the hairiest day I've ever had, I think. I've never been so happy to be last place." (You said you were fighting a lot of grip and your goal out there was a controlled slide.): "We've had an inherent problem with this thing since we got here. There was just too much push. The exit of Turn 1, as the tires wore off; new tires will mask that push. But then once you get to the third and fourth lap, it was like a controlled slide at the front of the car up to the wall to see if I could keep it off the wall. If you watched with a somewhat educated eye on the run, you could tell that we were definitely light, and we were really, really struggling with the front of the car. We're really lucky right now." (How do you feel about working on race setup with the problems you've had the last couple weeks?): "I don't know. I'm just worried about the front of the car in traffic. We went and ran in traffic a little bit the other day, and I could only get so close up to cars and the front would wash out. We need to make it better. I'm not sure what's going on right now."
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 34 Rexall Edmonton Indy, failed to qualify): "The car was plenty fast to protect our position. I don't know the whole running around get in line, get out of line. It's just at the end when it happened. We got bumped; there was no time." (Did you think of staying in line to protect your position?): "Right now I'm wondering why we didn't go out and just run to protect our position time when we knew we could go out and just do the lap we needed to do to even probably get the fastest lap of the day. You don't do these things when you're not sure you can re-do your lap, but when we knew faster lap than we did yesterday especially with the day being nicer, I'm wondering. But it's done now. Kind of difficult to accept that fact that you need to go home with a car that is capable to be in the field. It's hard to comprehend. I just want to turn the page and just get back in the car at Milwaukee. Until the next time I jump in the car, it's going to be pretty tough. I know the way I am, and this race was important for me, and it's really difficult right now." (Did you think yesterday there was any way you could get bumped today?): "There's always a way. They proved it today. Yesterday was not a very good day for qualifying. It was windy, and the track was a lot slower. I mean, we saw guys doing very slow laps, and we did our lap and we were 26th,so we said OK. But we knew Sunday was going to be very fast, and it proved it today. When the track opened, we were not too concerned right away. We went out to do some race running. It went really well. When we put the car out for qualifying, I was running laps at 221.7. The car was plenty fast . It was safe to drive. The worst thing is we didn't go out to protect ourselves. We kept putting it in line. So when you go home and you're slow, there's nothing you can do. But when you go home under these conditions …"
STANTON BARRETT (No. 98 CURB/Agajanian/Team 3G Racing, failed to qualify): "I don't know. We just gave it our all. Team 3G worked really hard, and all these guys just put a huge effort forth. It's just a real bummer it didn't work out. I don't know. They called it off because we didn't have the speed the first lap, and I just think taking time to learn without a teammate and taking time to learn what a difference this year and last year. We definitely made a change with the car speed-wise, aero-wise. I think it's right in there. Too much scrub in the corners really killed our lap times, and unfortunately tough to go back and study what I can do better and what we can do as a team better. It's a real disappointment. We need to make this race for sponsors that we had in line. It's just one of those things. A lot of other guys didn't make it to. There were three others. It's not an easy deal." (On his thoughts of his time here this year): "Indy's a great place. I really enjoy driving here and driving the track. These cars are phenomenal to drive. I'm doing everything it takes to find the speed, whatever it is. I'm learning more of being an asset to setup stuff and what I felt. The last couple days we made headway on that. We've just tried things, and it just kind of hasn't worked out. But we learned a lot. You just have to keep plugging away and see what happens for the rest of the year. It's just a tough situation and a real bummer that we didn't qualify for the '500,' but it's a tough field this year and it's even a mile and a half faster than last year. The sport's going to get tougher. Everybody's going to grow and grow, and you'll see even more teams next year, and the competition's stepping up and the team's stepping up. That's what racing is about."
BUDDY LAZIER (No. 91 Hemelgarn Johnson, failed to qualify): "I'm just very disappointed, of course. We just didn't maximize the opportunity. We just didn't have it here today. We had it earlier, but we had a little miscommunication. I feel so bad for my guys because they worked so hard. I'll be back, we'll be back, but it just wasn't there today."
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