WHAT WE LEARNED: Indy time trials deliver on centennial hype

Alex Lloyd celebrates his successful Bump Day qualifying run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 22, 2011. (Photo: Dana Garrett/IndyCar.com)

Could there have been a crazier weekend of time trials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than what we were treated to this Saturday and Sunday?

The centenary 500-Mile Race takes place in less than one week's time but folks are already buzzing, after a Cinderella pole win by Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Alex Tagliani was followed up by what Michael Andretti called "the worst day I've had as an owner."

Not even a lengthy rain delay on Sunday could dull the excitement - particularly since the rain threatened to send Danica Patrick home without a spot in the Indy 500, which gave everyone plenty to talk about during the downtime.

When the 6pm gun sounded at the Brickyard, the consensus was that this weekend's time trials were the most exciting in years - perhaps since before the Split Era began. The fact that it was broadcast on VERSUS only slightly dampened the enthusiasm.

So the stage is set and so is the field for the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500. Here's hoping that the Greatest Spectacle in Racing features as much spectacle as the events leading up to it.

#FTW

  • Alex Tagliani and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Tagliani's FAZZT Race Team made a splash last year with its surprising speed at Indy, and it appears that Schmidt's resources have only made them better. P1 is certainly a long way from the Last Row Party that Tags starred in only two years ago.
  • Alex Lloyd. On his third and final Bump Day qualifying attempt, Lloyd - the 4th place finisher last year - squeaked his Dale Coyne Racing entry into the Indianapolis 500 with a gutsy performance delivered with less than 10 minutes left on the clock.
  • Paul Tracy. The Thrill from West Hill has a knack for the clutch performance, but yesterday's chart-topping performance was rendered all the more impressive by the fact that, by the fourth lap of his run, he was being pelted by rain drops. Apparently you can dirt-track it at Indianapolis... although we don't recommend it.
  • Simona de Silvestro. Who can doubt Simona's nerve and skill now? Only a day after a frightening practice crash that tore off her roll hoop and ended with her trapped in her cockpit and surrounded by flames (again), De Silvestro came back to the Brickyard the next day and qualified solidly for the race in her T-car with 2nd and 3rd degree burns on her hands, all the while making jokes about her "Mickey Mouse gloves" (her bandages) and reeking of confidence and savoir-faire. Move aside, Chuck Norris and Dos Equis guy.

#FTL

  • Dragon Racing. Could there have been a team with a worse May than Dragon Racing? First, their highly-touted Chinese rookie, Ho-Pin Tung, crashed on Pole Day on his final qualifying lap after posting speeds that would have placed him solidly in the race. Their other car, driven by Scott Speed, was so slow and unpredictable that it prompted a heated confrontation in Gasoline Alley, followed by a last-ditch call to Patrick Carpentier to shake the car down - resulting in a wreck in almost the same spot as Tung's and ending the team's month early.
  • Andretti Autosport. Observers were mystified when Michael Andretti could barely remember Mike Conway's name or sponsors in interviews when Conway won the Grand Prix of Long Beach this year. It was a jarring hint of disorganization that seemed out of character for what used to be one of INDYCAR's top powerhouses. What transpired during Indy time trials is certainly far more disconcerting, as the team's cars were appallingly slow all week. John Andretti's one-off program was the only AA team to make it in on Pole Day. Conway's team was in the bottom three practice speeds all week and never came close to making the race. Danica Patrick's team failed tech on Bump Day morning, and when rain threatened to cancel time trials with 33 cars qualified she actually was on the cusp of not making the race. And Marco Andretti's last-ditch effort to bump back into the field resulted in bumping out his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay (for those interested in numerology, Andretti qualified 28th - Hunter-Reay's car number).
  • Team Penske. Last year's pole-winner, Helio Castroneves, qualified mid-pack for the race, while Ryan Briscoe is mired deep in the field after a practice crash forced him to a T-car that was more sled than speed-demon. Will Power's eventual 5th place effort was the lone bright spot, but for a team expecting to sweep the front row it was a surprisingly poor round of time trials. Of course we all know that Roger only cares about the race...
  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing. YOU DO NOT RUN OUT OF GAS ON YOUR QUALIFYING LAPS. That rule is so cardinal that it's not even written down because everyone kind of expects it to go without saying. But both Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon ran out of fuel during Fast Nine qualifying on Pole Day - Franchitti after his third lap, and Dixon at the end of his fourth - paving the way for Alex Tagliani's shock pole win and, likely, a whole truckful of whup-ass opened on the crews by a noticeably grumpy Chip Ganassi.
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