Tagliani earns pole for Indy 500
INDIANAPOLIS -- Alex Tagliani broke up the monopoly in the top-heavy IndyCar series and became the first Canadian to earn the pole for the Indianapolis 500.
On a day each of the series' three top teams -- Andretti Autopsort, Target Chip Ganassi and Team Penske -- made big mistakes, it was a 37-year-old Canadian who got it right twice with a four-lap average of 227.472 mph on the day's final run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday.
One of Ganassi's drivers, Scott Dixon, will start next to Tagliani on the front row. Defending champ Dario Franchitti could have joined them had he not run out of fuel on the final qualifying lap. Spain's Oriol Servia will start third.
"I'm getting tired of the Penske and Ganassi domination, here especially at the 500," Tagliani said after the morning run that gave Sam Schmidt Motorsports the provisional Indy pole. "I think a lot of people are craving for it, and if we can do it, it would be nice."
He did it twice Saturday -- once in the morning and again in the evening.
Meanwhile, Michael Andretti's team finally overcame its May curse.
The rain held off Sunday to give Danica Patrick a second chance, and James Jakes waved off his qualifying attempt, giving Marco Andretti one more shot to make the Indianapolis 500.
Patrick and Marco Andretti took advantage of the good fortune and qualified for the centennial anniversary race at the Brickyard.
Patrick posted a four-lap average of 224.861 mph after it looked like she might not even get to qualify on Bump Day. Andretti delivered an even more clutch performance in the final run of the day, going 224.628 to bump his way back onto the 33-car grid.
"It was either going to be into the wall or into the show," the 24-year-old son of the team owner said. "It was a bummer that we were in this position."
Perhaps it should have been expected -- given the family history at Indianapolis.
Marco Andretti's grandfather, Mario, won the 1969 Indy 500 but never reached Victory Lane again. Michael, led more laps at Indy than any other non-winner, and Marco wound up as the 500 runner-up when Sam Hornish Jr. passed him in the closing yards of the 2006 race.
But as much consternation as the Andrettis have endured at this 2.5-mile oval, this might have been their worst month ever at Indy.
Andretti Autosport's five-car stable struggled to reach the top of the speed charts all week, then wound up in deep trouble Saturday. It took 10 qualifying attempts to get a single car, John Andretti's No. 43, into the May 29 race.
When the team returned to the track Sunday, the team's two biggest names -- Marco and Danica -- and the last two winners from Long Beach -- Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay -- still had not qualified.
"It kind of seemed like everything was not going our way, and it kept going against us," Patrick said.
The worst part was Sunday.
Patrick should have been the second driver out but was forced to the back of the qualifying line when the No. 7 car failed technical inspection. Michael Andretti said the team had changed a part in the rear of the car between Saturday and Sunday.
Graham Rahal capitalized on the miscue by beating a downpour that forced the track to close. He came in at 224.380.
"We got an early draw, so we got lucky," Rahal said. "Obviously, Danica failed tech, so we moved up even more."
When the track reopened, it took 30 minutes to fill the field and start bumping -- with Patrick still waiting behind four other cars to make her first qualifying attempt of the day.
Just ahead of Patrick was Canada's Paul Tracy, who produced the fastest average of the day at 224.939 with rain falling on his final lap. That brought out another yellow flag, and for the next 13 minutes, Patrick sat stoically in her cockpit underneath an umbrella, alternating between glares and closing her eyes.
When she finally climbed out of the cockpit, Patrick took a golf cart to the garage and rode her bicycle around Gasoline Alley.
"I know exactly how she feels," said Tracy, who failed to make last year's starting field. "I'm sure she's stressed. The whole team is stressed."
But the predicted rainstorm, which called for wind gusts to 60 mph and possible hail, stayed south of the track, and at 4:45 p.m., Patrick finally made it on and put down two laps over 225 mph.
"I feel like getting a drink, that's how I feel right now," she said, drawing laughter. "I am mad because I really thought we had a fast car. I'm relieved because I'm in the race. I'm frustrated with some of the process that happened and the things that happened. I'm somewhere between angry and happy."
For Michael Andretti, the emotional roller-coaster continued.
Conway tried twice unsuccessfully to bump his team owner's son out of the lineup.
Marco Andretti hung on to the No. 33 spot as eight drivers took shots at bumping him, and when England's Alex Lloyd finally did, only nine minutes were left in qualifying.
Jakes, who had been consistently running more than 1 mph slower than the 33rd car, pulled out of pit lane and ran two laps before waving off.
That gave Marco one last crack. He ran four consecutive laps over 224 mph, knocking Hunter-Reay out of the lineup on a brutal weekend for the Andrettis.
"I knew it was going to come to that," Michael Andretti said. "It was probably my worst day as an owner."
Other prominent second-day qualifiers included Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe, an Australian, who will start next to Patrick in the 27th spot. Three years ago at Indy, the two collided in pit lane, prompting Patrick to stomp toward Briscoe's pit stall.
Both of Chip Ganassi's other drivers, Rahal and rookie Charlie Kimball, also made the race. Kimball will start from the middle of Row 10 and is the first openly diabetic driver to qualify for the race.
Patrick and Simona De Silvestro will be joined by two other women in the field -- rookie Pippa Mann, of England, and Ana Beatriz, of Brazil. Mann and Beatriz will both be on the last row.
Five former winners, including defending champ Dario Franchitti, and five rookies also made the field.
Those left out include the two Andretti drivers; rookie Ho-Pin Tung, who was trying to become the first Chinese starter at Indy and former Formula One driver Scott Speed, who was trying to become the first American to start all three major races at The Brickyard.