News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 22, 2011

Tagliani's fast week capped with pole win

Tom Reck
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Rain held off long enough at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to fill 24 of the slots in the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday.

Alex Tagliani led the way in qualifying twice and will lead the way from the pole position on the front row.

Qualifying began at 11 a.m. and the 24 slots were filled shortly after 1 p.m. Bumping began immediately and was to continue until 4 p.m. with a Fast Nine Shootout to follow.

But rain began to fall about 3:40 p.m., ending qualifying for the first 24 slots. All those not in the field will have to wait until noon today to try and qualify for the final nine positions.

If rain falls early and continues, curtailing qualifying today, the final nine spots apparently will be filled Monday.

Tagliani had been fast in practice all week and was fast in a short session on Saturday. He made his first qualifying run early in cloudy, warm conditions and was consistent in averaging 226.954 miles per hour to gain the pole.

He had laps of 226.936, 227.135, 226.882 and 226.861.

“It was not easy. That was the worst conditions of the week,” said Tagliani, who will start his third 500. He said there was wind in the second turn and in turns three and four.

He was last in the Shootout and had to do better than Scott Dixon, who was first with a reading of 227.340. Tagliani did it with an average of 227.472.

Tagliani won five poles in Champ Car and won one race. “I have had a love for ovals all my career,” he said.

That passion paid off for him on Saturday.

I I I

Tagliani is driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Joining him on the front row are former winner Dixon and Oriol Servia.

Dario Franchitti was in the third spot in the original qualifying and was set for third or better with three laps of 227 or better but did not finish, reportedly due to running out of fuel.

He will start ninth.

Helio Castroneves was not successful in his bid to become the first driver to win three poles in a row and did not make the Fast Nine. His average was 225.216 and he will start 16th.

Team Penske teammate Will Power qualified seventh fastest and will start fifth while Penske’s third driver, Ryan Briscoe had three attempts but failed to make it.

He had one of two mishaps on Saturday.

Ho-Pin Tung hit the wall on the last lap of his qualifying attempt and was taken to Methodist Hospital. He incurred a minor concussion and will not be able to attempt qualifying.

Simona DeSilvestro got the biggest cheers of the day when she qualified on her third attempt. She incurred burns to both hands in an accident on Thursday and had not been cleared to drive until Saturday morning.

She was in the 34th slot — on the bubble — after qualifying.

“I hope it rains all afternoon,” she said.

“I was really scared. I was not sure I wanted to get in a car again. The team has been very supportive,” said last year’s rookie of the year of the accident.

“They gave me a comfortable car. It is the one I raced last year. I was looking forward to being in our new car,” she said.

John Andretti made the field on his second attempt and will start 13th. He is the only driver connected with Andretti Autosport to make the race.

“Obviously, I don’t think that God wants any particular person in the race at any point in time — but I sure do appreciate Him holding off on the rain,” he said.

Regular Andretti drivers Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick and Ryan Hunter-Reay will be some of the drivers qualifying for the final nine spots today. Others are Graham Rahal, Briscoe, Paul Tracy and Davey Hamilton.