SPEEDWAY | Given his family background, many in Indy car racing believe Ed Carpenter will run the Indianapolis Motor Speedway someday.
Saturday, he staked a different claim, winning the pole for the 97th Indianapolis 500 with a dramatic early evening qualifying run in the nine-man knockout portion of the session.
With a perfectly balanced Dallara chassis complemented by Chevrolet power, Carpenter averaged 228.762 mph for four laps of the famed track, more than enough to keep the pole after challengers by the four drivers who were faster than him earlier in the day.
Three-time winner Helio Castroneves, rookie Carlos Munoz, defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power, fastest in the provisional session, all fell short after Carpenter turned his four laps.
That put Carpenter on the pole for the fabled race. That he grew up around racing, and the Speedway in particular, as the stepson of Tony Hulman George, scion of the family that owns the track and the IndyCar series, gave the achievement that much more resonance to the 20,000 or so on hand at the end of the rain-delayed qualifying.
Power, thought to have the last, best chance after running at 228.844 earlier in the day, ran a quick first lap of 229.119. Few cheered as they had for Carpenter’s opening lap of 229.347 minutes earlier.
When Power’s tires lost grip earlier than Carpenter’s, it was clear the lead horse of Penske Racing couldn’t catch up on the last three laps, the same as teammates Castroneves and A.J. Allmendinger, and the five-car stable of Andretti Autosport. Carpenter, owner of his one-man team, was on the pole.
“This is bigger than our (two) wins,” said Carpenter, whose most recent victory was in last year’s 500-mile race in Fontana, Calif.
“It’s a landmark for us, but we can’t focus just on it. I love to race a lot more than qualify. I want to send a message to my team that this won’t mean much if we don’t do well on race day.”
Munoz, an Andretti driver, ended up second, in the middle of the front row, with a 228.342 mph average, with Marco Andretti (228.261) on the outside.
That left all three Penskes behind the front row, with Allmendinger and Power in Row 2 and Castroneves in Row 3.
“We took everything (downforce) off and went for it,” Power said. “Starting the last lap I really did not want to do it. The last two corners I didn’t know whether this thing was going to stick.”
It did, barely, and the same was true of Hunter-Reay’s run.
“I had a big moment in Turn 3, had to lift, and that killed the lap,” Hunter-Reay said. That lift put him seventh in the field.
The Penske downforce strategy, emulated to some extent by the Andretti Five, was mulled and discarded by Carpenter. His engineers left the car essentially the same, and with the cool early evening air helping that set-up, Carpenter ran four smooth laps, with nary a wiggle.
“We chose to stay where we were,” Carpenter said. “Penske was more aggressive. That was a mistake. I was hoping someone would make a mistake.”
Alex Tagliani, in 11th, had the fastest Honda-powered car, at 227.386 mph.
Several drivers in the early session withdrew their first speeds, then went slower the second time around. That group included Simona De Silvestro, but she qualified 24th, last among the first day successes.
With 10 cars, including Katherine Legge, signed to a deal by Sam Schmidt’s team on Saturday, still to qualify, there’s a possibility De Silvestro will be going home when the field of 33 the May 26 race is finalized at 6 p.m. today.