Saturday, May 19, 2012

IndyCar: Briscoe's the Best

Ryan Briscoe, closest pole winner ever
INDIANAPOLIS – A few years back it looked as if Ryan Briscoe was the odd man out at Penske Racing.  With sponsorship dollars drying up and Briscoe going through a period of crashing cars, Roger Penske came close to letting Briscoe go and just running two cars on the IndyCar circuit.  

But Penske eventually decided to stick with the Aussie and Saturday Briscoe returned the favor, winning the pole for the Indianapolis 500 and adding to the Penske’s record of 17 Indy pole positions, more than any other team.  Briscoe becomes the first Australian ever to sit on the pole for the 500.  Penske drivers have now won every IndyCar pole in 2012.

Andretti Autosport drivers claimed the next three positions in a remarkable turnaround from last year, when the team struggled to qualify.  James Hinchcliffe gave Briscoe a scare with a warm-up lap of more than 227 mph, the fastest lap of the Top 9 Shootout.  Maybe a little too fast, too soon.  Driving the bright green Go Daddy car driven by in the past by Danica Patrick and carrying a pair of red driving gloves belonging to his hero, the late Greg Moore, Hinchcliffe was unable to match the warm-up lap and ended up just .0023 behind Briscoe after four laps -- the smallest margin ever between first and second.  

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who failed to qualify last year and had to buy his way into the field, will start on the outside of the front row.  Marco Andretti is on the inside of the second row.  Will Power and Helio Castroneves also will start on the second row as Andretti and Penske cars dominated pole day.  Ana Beatriz put a fourth Andretti car in the field in 13th position.  A fifth Andretti car affiliated with AFS for Sebastian Saavedra qualified 24th.

It was also a big day Chevrolet, sweeping the two front rows and capturing eight of the Top Nine positions.  Rookie Josef Newgarden was the lone Honda-powered car to slow the Chevy juggernaut, qualifying 7th.  The two Honda-powered cars of Chip Ganassi Racing failed make the Top 9 Shootout, a major comedown for Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. 

And it was a good day for KV Racing Technology; Tony Kanaan, E.J. Viso and Rubens Barrichello qualifying 8-9-10.  Kanaan started off the qualifying with an impressive four laps at more than 225 mph, only to discover the car was underweight, the team forgetting to replace the weight on an in-car camera that had been removed. 

After a week of practice devoid of major incidents, Saturday saw three major crashes claim the cars of Oriol Servia, Bryan Clauson and Ed Carpenter during qualifying attempts.  The new Dallara chassis proved itself as no one was hurt, but the accidents leave little margin for error on Sunday, if the race is to start with 33 cars.

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