Carpenter fastest at Indy 500 practice
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INDIANAPOLIS — Ed Carpenter sat patiently inside his Dallara-Chevrolet on pit road as driver after driver attempted to overtake him during the Indianapolis 500 time trials on a cool Saturday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Carpenter seemingly had nailed down the first spot in the Fast Nine — a position that would assure him a shot at capturing the pole on the final day of qualifying Sunday.
Then, as blue skies appeared and the 2½-mile oval heated up after a short rain delay, Carpenter seemingly was an easy target. Carlos Munoz, who inexplicably lost 3 mph on the final two turns of his first four-lap qualifying effort, nearly wrestled away the top spot with an average speed of 230.460 mph.
Carpenter, aiming to win back-to-back poles at the Brickyard, strung together four effortless laps to jump atop the speed chart with an average speed of 230.661. Only two other drivers — three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves (230.432) and James Hinchcliffe (230.407) — threatened him over the final hour of qualifying.
Will Power, the top-ranked driver in the IndyCar Series, posted the fifth-fastest time with a 230.323 effort. The other Fast Nine qualifiers are: Marco Andretti, Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and JR Hildebrand.
In the final minutes of qualifying, the Fast Nine changed quicker than the drivers could roll off pit road. For all the criticism concerning the time trial changes, IndyCar officials got exactly what they wanted — an exciting qualifying session that kept the fans engaged.
“We definitely improved from our first run,” said Hinchcliffe, who was cleared Thursday to drive after suffering a concussion in last weekend's road race here. “There was some doubt early in the week that I would compete after I went through the seven stages of depression.”
With the new qualifying rules, Carpenter's effort will be erased and the Fast Nine qualifiers will battle for the pole in a late-afternoon shootout on the final day of qualifying.
The entire field will reset Sunday, and the starting grid will be established with those drivers between 10 and 33 jockeying for position on the starting grid. The Fast Nine qualifiers will duel for the first three rows and the privilege of leading the 33-car field down the front stretch for the start of the 98th running of the series' most prestigious race.
Even though Juan Pablo Montoya slipped from the top nine late, Team Penske again outdueled the quartet of Fox Chapel native Chip Ganassi. Power and Castroneves will challenge for the pole while Ganassi drivers will try to generate more speed.
For a puzzled Ganassi, he spent much of the afternoon trying to resolve his cars' speed and handling issues. He watched the tote board with angst as his engineers scoured through data to find out what was holding back their Dallara-Chevrolet machines.
He couldn't find the answers. And his drivers discovered only frustration.
Tony Kanaan, the reigning Borg Warner Trophy winner, was visibly upset as he climbed out of his Target-sponsored No. 10 car. Yet, he leaned on his Brickyard history to jettison his anxieties. He started 12th in 2013 before capturing the checkered flag under caution and finished fourth after starting 22nd two years ago.
Kanaan posted a speed of 228.435 that left him 23rd. Defending series champion Scott Dixon was 15th (229.283), Ryan Briscoe 17th (228.825) and Charlie Kimball 19th (228.710).
“We thought my car was faster than Dixon's, but obviously we're not as fast as anyone,” said Kanaan, who started 33rd in 2010 but moved into second before settling for 11th. “The whole team is struggling. We thought we had a top-12 car coming into the day, but we'll need to get it faster.
“I never worry about qualifying, so I'm not concerned. I'm very confident in my race car. I believe wherever we start (in the race) we'll be moving forward. Right now, we can't win from where we're starting.
“It was a little stressful today,” Kanaan added. “If we win this thing, no one is going to remember where we qualified.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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