By Justin Whitaker
Hendricks County Flyer
SPEEDWAY — Ed Carpenter channeled his inner David as he slayed the Goliath teams of Andretti Autosport and Team Penske Saturday for the pole position of the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Carpenter, the single car owner and driver of Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, outran the other eight drivers in the Fast Nine Shootout and won the pole with a four-lap average of 228.762 mph.
“This is a good start,” Carpenter said. “I want to make sure we keep focused because I hope this is part one of a really magical month. We’re here for race day but this is awesome.”
Carpenter was fifth quickest before the fast nine was reset for the shootout. Team Penske’s Will Power was fastest before the reshuffle and was the last driver with a shot to knock Carpenter off the pole. But his four-lap average of 228.087 mph was only good enough for sixth.
All three cars of Team Penske and all five cars of Andretti Autosport will start behind the single-car operation of Carpenter’s.
It was the adjustments made by all of the teams from the first run to the shootout that Carpenter believes helped him win P1.
“The Penske cars were even more aggressive, took more downforce off and I think that was a mistake,” he said. “That’s what we were hoping for going into it that someone was going to overstep. We didn’t want to be too conservative but we were hoping someone was going to go too far. Luckily we had the speed in the Fuzzy’s Vodka machine to go faster than the Andretti cars.”
It is the first time that the Indianapolis native and Butler graduate will lead the field to green for the 500. Carpenter has lived in Indy since he was 8-years-old and is the stepson of former IMS president Tony George. The hometown driver holds the race in the highest of esteem but keeps it in perspective as well.
“I love it here, I love racing here, I love going fast here,” Carpenter said. “It’s cool to see the speeds going higher again but this track and race means a lot to the other 32 drivers here too. I don’t think it’s just special to me.”
Joining Carpenter on the front of Row 1 is rookie Carlos Munoz, who will start second and his Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, who will start third.
All five of the Andretti Autosport cars will start in the top nine with EJ Viso starting fourth, defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay starting seventh and two-time 2013 winner James Hinchcliffe in ninth.
“Five out of the top nine is just an incredible achievement,” Andretti said. “That has to be some kind of a record. I don’t think there’s been five cars on one team let alone in the top nine.”
Team Penske’s highest qualifying driver was rookie AJ Allmendinger in fifth. Allmendinger is a former Champ Car winner and NASCAR driver who has experience racing around the 2.5-mile oval in a stock car. But this week was “The Dinger’s” first attempt trying to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and he had to do it twice.
“I had never done that before, gone out there in four laps and made it count, especially after the rain and being one of the early cars out for me was nerve-racking,” Allmendinger said. “I had hoped maybe some miracle would happen and we’d find that speed to get the pole but for me I was just playing with house money at that point.”
Allmendinger’s teammates Power will start sixth and three-time Indy 500 winner (2001, ’02, ’09) Helio Castroneves will start eighth.
Castroneves recognized that Team Penske made changes to attempt to win the pole between the segments.
“It was very hard,” Castroneves said. “We just wanted to make sure that at the least sometimes it pays off. In the past it paid off, today it did not. It was very hard to keep four laps together. But hey, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
The top ten cars are all powered by Chevrolet engines. Honda’s highest-starting car is Alex Tagliani’s No. 98 Barracuda Racing machine in 11th.
A quick rainstorm Saturday morning delayed qualifying roughly two and half hours and slightly changed the original schedule.
Qualifying went from 1:30- 6 p.m. for the first 24 spots of the 33 car field. The Fast Nine Shootout was originally scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and slated to go an hour and a half but because of the rain in the morning, the fastest nine drivers only got a single shot at the pole.
Each of the four Target Chip Ganassi Hondas qualified on the first day but struggled to find the elite level speed that other top teams had. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner (2007, ’10, ’12) Dario Franchitti qualified 17th, 2008 race winner Scott Dixon will start 16th, Charlie Kimball qualified 19th and 2012 Indy 500 pole sitter Ryan Briscoe will start 23rd in his first IndyCar race of 2013.
IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Takuma Sato will start 18th in his ABC Supply Co. AJ Foyt Enterprises Honda.
The drama typically reserved for Bump Day occurred at the end of qualifying for the first day. Englishman James Jakes was the second to last driver before the 6 p.m. deadline to make a run and he raced himself into the field with a four-lap average of 225.809 mph. Jakes bumped Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden out of the first 24 spots. Jakes will start 20th on race day.
That put Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro on the bubble as Michel Jourdain Jr. was the last driver to hit the track before the gun sounded to officially signal 6 p.m. But de Silvestro did not have too hot of seat as Jourdain ran one of the slowest times of the day.
Ten drivers are left to fill the remaining nine spots left in the field on Sunday for Bump Day. Those drivers are Newgarden, Jourdain, Graham Rahal, Sebastian Saavedra, Pippa Mann, Ana Beatriz, Tristan Vautier, Buddy Lazier, Conor Daly and Katherine Legge.