10 May 2009

Pole Day

I haven't been to qualifications at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in years (probably around 15 years or so) - lots of Carb Days and plenty of 500s, but I was always busy on qualification days, most likely with baseball games.

This year, we managed to snag free tickets to Qualifications courtesy of running the Mini-Marathon (there's a perk to my ankle feeling mangled), so we packed some coolers, made some sandwiches and headed to IMS.

For $5 (what a bargain), we were able to park on Georgetown Road, directly across from the Paddock. So, by, 12:30, we had seats in the infield, right by the Vision Racing pits. With temperatures in the low 60's and winds up near 30 mph, I was glad I brought a long sleeve shirt. My other early concern involved Tony Kanaan, who was slow for most of the early-going, before he grabbed Hideki Mutoh's tub, put his 11T car wings on it and gradually found some speed. Still, Ryan Briscoe set the early pace when we headed to the Coke Zero stage to watch the George Clinton concert.

While I wasn't crazy about heading over (it was smack dab in the middle of qualifications, after all), IMS does a good job using their concerts to draw a diverse crowd. I'm sure there were a few people there who would not have attended Pole Day otherwise. Some highlights from the show:
  • One of the guitarists (they are about 10 of them) yelling, "Hello Daytona 500" as the P-Funk All-Stars warmed up and promptly getting booed
  • Turning back to the Pagoda, looking for Kanaan's qualifying speed (he was 8th at the time) and realizing he had failed his inspection
  • Watching Castoneves go out and grab pole position
  • Playing the "I am Indy" drinking game
At about 4:30, the group we were with decided to pack it in (I think they were there primarily for the beer and P-Funk All-Stars; me, I was there for racing). Coincidentally, the sun came out and the wind died down around the same time.

Also, with our group gone, we were able to use the 4 suite passes we were given earlier at the concert. I'd never been in the Infield Suites, but I should thank the Average Joe's and Indianapolis Star folks for having their suites. During Happy Hour runs, I was able to watch lap telemetry on the television screens, which helped me map the field of 11.

When Briscoe's last attempt to regain the Pole Position failed, Castroneves became the major story of the day; his last 3 weeks - from acquittal on tax evasion charges to obtaining his third career 500 pole - has been truly remarkable.

Almost as remarkable, and overlooked, were the qualifying efforts of Mario Moraes and Alex Lloyd. Last year, Moraes was a candidate to wreck at almost every track, especially on ovals. This year, he qualified seventh, ahead of three Andretti-Green cars (Marco Andretti is eighth, while Danica Patrick is 10th).

Lloyd hasn't raced an IndyCar since the 2008 Indianapolis 500. Yet in his second go-round with Chip Ganassi and a co-sponsor (last year it was Rahal Letterman, this year it is Sam Schmidt Motorsports), Lloyd got in at the gun, placing 11th in the field. Lloyd and Schmidt are pretty easy guys to root for in the remainder of the month.

The day's activities completed, we headed to Dawson's in Speedway for some excellent dinner and fun people-watching (among those we saw: Tony George and Sunday qualifier Davey Hamilton). The dinner was capped off with a stop at Long's Donuts on the way home, which definitely came in handy as we took tape off of our freshly-painted walls Sunday morning.

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