INDIANAPOLIS — To call Saturday’s Pole Day for the 97th Indianapolis 500 improbable would have been a complete understatement.
Consider that of the nine drivers that made the Fast Nine round of qualifications to determine the pole position for next Sunday’s race it included all five drivers from Andretti Autosport and all three drivers for Team Penske.
And who rounded out the Fast Nine?
Ed Carpenter, the local boy whose mother is married to former Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George, who considers the “World’s Greatest Race Course” as part of his heritage. It’s also the same driver that represents the boy next door, who can climb from the midget, sprint and Silver Crown ranks and make it at the Indianapolis 500. The same man who won the last 500-mile race contested on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule — last year’s season-finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Carpenter, the owner/driver of Ed Carpenter Racing, was the proverbial “Little Guy” going up against the best teams in the sport owned by the legendary Michael Andretti and Roger Penske.
And in the end, it was the “Little Guy” that will lead the field to the green flag to start the 97th Indianapolis 500 as Carpenter won the 2013 Indianapolis 500 pole with a four-lap average of 228.762 miles per hour in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
Every driver that made the Fast Nine were powered by Chevrolets as no Honda-powered drivers made the final shootout for the pole. The highest Honda driver was Alex Tagliani of Canada, who qualified 11th at 227.386 mph.
Carpenter’s pole also came on an unusual day when INDYCAR officials changed the qualification procedures after rain delayed the started of qualifications by 2-1/2 hours. So the first round of qualifications lasted until 6 p.m. and Will Power ended that session as the fastest with a four-lap average of 228.844 mph. Carpenter was 227.952 mph, which got him into the Fast Nine.
IndyCar officials then allowed the “Fast Nine” to start at 6:30 p.m. — 30 minutes after the traditional end of all qualifications at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Instead of 90 minutes, though, each of the nine drivers would get one attempt at a four-lap speed run.
Carpenter was the first driver to qualify in the Fast Nine and it was obvious he would be fast when his first lap was 229.347 mph. His remaining laps of 228.976 mph, 228.774 mph, 227.955 mph gave him his four-lap average of 228.762 mph and knocked Marco Andretti off the pole after that driver had a four-lap average of 228.261 mph.
The fans that came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Saturday’s Marathon Day of activities that began with an 8 a.m. practice roared their approval but it’s doubtful many of them thought it would last. After all, the big names that followed included three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, rookie sensation Carlos Munoz, defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and the driver everybody thought would ultimately win the pole, Team Penske ace Will Power.
One-by-one they took their shot and none could knock Carpenter off. When Power was the last driver to make an attempt his first lap was 229.119 mph but his second lap of 228.379 mph made it obvious Carpenter could outlast the more powerful competition. Power’s third lap dropped to 227.619 mph and his final lap of 227.246 mph put him sixth on the grid.
When Power’s time was announced and Carpenter had won the pole the crowd erupted and Power’s Fuzzy’s Vodka team launched into a raucous celebration on pit lane.
The “Little Guy” had knocked off the big teams for the Indy 500 Pole.
“After the first round I wasn’t sure we’d be able to do a 229 and we did two of them, and that was the key in the shootout,” Carpenter said. “It was a lot of fun. I knew we had a shot at it, but the field is so tight and Chevy brought such a great engine and I wouldn’t have been surprised if we were outside the top 10, too.
“It’s an honor to win this pole because it is a really competitive field. This is a good start. I want to make sure we keep the team focused. I hope this is part one of a really magical month, and we’re here for race day. This is awesome and it’s bigger than our wins and it’s huge for the team, huge for Fuzzy’s Vodka. It’s definitely a landmark day, but I don’t want to get overly focused on this because we have a lot of work to do yet.”
Carpenter also used a different strategy on his qualification attempt in the Fast Nine than what he used in his first attempt. He decided to save his tires on his warm-up lap so that he could have the speed on his actual qualification laps.
“Well, in the first one I definitely took too hard of a warm up lap and started to use up the tires a little bit,” Carpenter said. “It really came down to strategy on how much downforce we ran in the shootout. We don’t run this time of day on the track. Normally we’re off the track by 6:00, and when we finished the first round of qualifying we felt like we were too light on downforce and we were planning on putting some more on for the shootout, and then we were sitting there and started thinking about what the track is like at 6:00 every day when we finish, and doing the math on what time I would be going out around 6:45, so that’s 45 minutes after we normally get done, and the track temp is going to be coming down. We chose to stay where we were in the first round. We really hardly changed the car at all.
“And then the Penske cars appeared to get even more aggressive and take more downforce off, and I think that was a mistake. That’s what we were hoping for going into it, that someone was going to overstep it. We didn’t want to be too conservative but we were hoping that someone was going to go too far. Luckily we had the speed in the Fuzzy’s Vodka machine to be quicker than the Andretti cars, but it was an awesome shootout. It was fun. Chevy Shootout I think it’s called this year, right?”
Carpenter’s pole was a win for the drivers who have made it to Indy through the traditional open-wheel, grass-roots ranks of USAC. It proves that a driver doesn’t have to be a road racer or a driver from another country to become a competitive driver in the Indianapolis 500.
“This was always where I wanted to be, and I think a lot of guys still dream of coming here, but a lot of guys dream to go to NASCAR, too,” Carpenter said. “There’s easier avenues from USAC to NASCAR right now, and I hoped that was something that would change. Bryan Clausen got a chance here last year and did a good job and he was out there for this year and a lot of people wanted us to put him in the second car. It just wasn’t the right car, but I would certainly like to see more guys from USAC and where I came from doing it here because it’s good preparation and it’s great racing and great drivers. But I don’t know what that answer is. I think I would have to start with more of them actually really wanting to do it and chasing it.”
Carpenter’s dream was always to win the Indianapolis 500. He gets his best shot at that next Sunday. But winning the Indy 500 Pole has been a dream come true to the driver who was originally from Marshall, Ill.
“A little bit, but I love the race a whole lot more than qualifying, and I really want to send a message and make sure I lead by example to the team and make sure we don’t forget why we’re really here,” Carpenter said. “This is fun and it’s huge for our team. I don’t want to think that it’s not. But the pole won’t mean much if we don’t go out and perform on race day.
“I love it here. I love racing here. I love going fast here. It’s cool to see the speeds climbing again. But this track and race means a lot to the other 32 guys that are going to start the race, too. I don’t think it’s just special to me.
“I’ve been in positions to qualify in the top 10, but this was my first year where we had a chance at pole and I thought and really believed we had a chance at pole,” Carpenter said. “We were aggressive all day long and a little too aggressive in the first round, but to answer the first part of your question, I remember watching Rick Mears qualify here in ’91 from the turn two suites and that’s my first memory of qualifications here.
“But I told the guys before our first segment today and before the shootout that I’d be much more mad if we went conservative and didn’t take a shot at it than if we took a big shot at it and missed. They made the right calls. I’m really proud of them.”
Ironically, Carpenter’s mother, father and sister were not at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to see this monumental family accomplishment. They had a good reason, though, why Tony and Laura George were not at the Speedway.
“Unfortunately my parents and sister are up in South Bend because Lauren graduates from Notre Dame tomorrow, which is awesome, so it’s a big weekend for our whole family,” Carpenter said.
It was also a big weekend for 21-year-old driver Carlos Munoz of Colombia, who will start in the middle of row one as the second-fastest qualifier at 228.342 mph for Andretti Autosport in his first-ever IndyCar race.
“I don’t have too many words to describe how happy I am, just a rookie to be in the front row, just a dream,” Munoz said. “I was like crossing my fingers that it rained that we can stay in the front row. I was happy with the car in the first qualifying, but we did a couple of changes and it worked out. We were really fast as Marco said, we didn’t expect Carpenter to go so fast, he just did really good laps out there. I can’t say anything; just front row is perfect for the race. I have my teammate just on the side of me; I have great people around me with a lot of experience. It’s a 500 mile race and I’m in the middle of the field with some little problems down there.”
Marco Andretti starts on the outside of row one with a four-lap average of 228.261 mph.
“I was genuinely happy for Ed as a friend,” Andretti said. “If it wasn’t going to be us or Carlos at that point. So obviously his history and his family, it’s an awesome achievement for him, so congratulations to him.
“We knew he was faster, but those laps were really stout. We didn’t see that kind of pace out of him earlier, but I think he went for a trim and he balanced the car, so it rewarded him, where the other guys — the Penskes had more of a drop-off. We were lucky that happened and it bumped me back to the front row. If we’re not going to be on pole it’s an incredible honor to be on the front row at Indianapolis, especially for a rookie.”
Andretti Autosport driver E.J. Viso was fourth at 228.150 mph followed by Team Penske’s A.J. Allmendinger’s 228.099 mph four-lap average. Power rounded out the second row at 228.087 mph.
Hunter-Reay was seventh at 227.904 mph for four laps, Castroneves followed with a four-lap average of 227.762 mph and James Hinchcliffe rounded out the top nine at 228.087 mph.
The first 24 positions were filled on the grid on Saturday with the final nine determined on Sunday’s Bump Day. Katherine Legge was named to a third car by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports so there are 34 drivers attempting to make the 33-car starting lineup which means if all drivers make an attempt there will actually be a bump on Bump Day.
None of team owner Chip Ganassi’s drivers made the Fast Nine. Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner, was the highest qualified driver at 16th with three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti starting alongside in the middle of Row 6. Charlie Kimball starts 19th for Ganassi and last year’s pole winner, Ryan Briscoe, had to bump his way in on Pole Day and will start 23rd. Simona De Silvestro was the last of the 24 drivers to get in on Pole Day.
All three of Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s drivers did not make the field including Graham Rahal, James Jakes and Michel Jourdain. They will have to try again on Bump Day.
Pole Day belonged to Carpenter and gave the Indy 500 the “All-American Boy” storyline that made it a special day.