Dan Peters Sports Editor
Oak Park Journal

© Suburban Journals of Chicago photo by Mark Rotor

Poll Winner, Castroneves is Back Home Again at the Indy 500 as Ryan Hunter-Reay Holds on to the Bubble
By Mark Rotor & Dan Peters

May 18th, 2009

Indianapolis Motor Speedway "May Madness"

Indy racing excitement abounds at the qualification for the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500 beginning on May 9th continuing on "Bubble Day" May 17th and calumniating with the race on May 24th. The elite drivers this year also includes the return of the 2007 Indy winner Dario Franchitti from NASCAR, driving for Target Chip Ganassi team and the two time Indy champion Helio Castroneves returns after recently being acquitted on tax evasion charges. He rejoined Penske Racing after missing the first race of the IRL season in St. Petersberg.

Week #1 Saturday May 9th Pole Day Belongs to Castroneves

After a harrowing legal battle off the race track, Helio is truly back home at the Indy Speedway picking-up were he left-off with his IRL racing career taking the pole position for this years Indy 500 race starting in the #3 car for Penske Racing. Castroneves will start from the first row, inside position for the 3rd time in his superstar career.

His four-lap average speed of 224.864 mph was good enough to hold-off Penske Teammate Ryan Briscoe's late attempt to unseat Castroneves in the six-hour qualification session. Briscoe who qualified earlier in the day, withdrew his second-best qualifying time, only to come-up short averaging 224.083 mph. Briscoe will start from the middle of row #1.

Helio Thanks His Fans For Pulling Him Through

"Just to be here right now is awesome.," Said Poll winner Helio Castroneves. "I have to say that without this crowd here, without the support of the fans, there was no way I could have gotten through what I did."

When Helio was asked about withdrawing qualified run and re-qualifying: "Yes, it was a gamble, a big gamble. But we took a chance, and it paid off. But now that we're on the pole, that's where the rest of them want to be, so it will be nerve wracking for an hour and a half." "It was magic the way the sun came out. Now I hope it is magic for me."

Ryan Briscoe in Penske #6 Car During Qualification Practice
© Suburban Journals of Chicago photo by Mark Rotor

Ryan Briscoe Makes it a Penske Dominated Front Row

Briscoe was philosophical about taking his shot at bumping Helio from the pole: "I thought I was going to have a shot at the pole then and just couldn't get it done. We tried. You can't say we didn't try. We knew we had speed. I didn't go as fast as I was expecting. I felt confident that I was going to be able to at least defend my position. And I really thought I had a shot at getting the pole, but it didn't work out.

I knew I had a fast car, and I knew I was going to have a shot at it. So far, the Team Penske cars are looking pretty good. We've been solid all month. We tried to go out and get (the pole) back, but we couldn't get it done at the end of the day. It was just an unbelievable qualifying run by Helio and Team Penske. He must be on top of the world at the moment. But I tell you, for me, second place at the Indy 500, second front row in a row, it's a great feeling, and I'm just so happy to be here. I know I've got a good car going into this race in a couple of weeks, and I just hope we can have a solid run, be at the front all day long and have a shot a winning this 500.

Franchitti Ready to Defend 2007 Indy Victory

Dario Franchitti, 2007 Indianapolis 500 winner qualified averaging 224.010 mph qualifying in the 3rd place in the 1st row outside position starting in #10 Target Chip Ganassi car. Franchitti returned to the Indy Motor Speedway was the first time since his victory in 2007.

"I'm a little sorry we didn't get the pole.," Said Franchitti. "We are still on the front row. We made the best of what we had in the Target car. Everybody here wants to beat Penske, but you're fighting against AGR. And you have Newman/Haas/Lanigan. There are more and more teams coming out. The competition level is getting tougher and tougher. It's great for the fans."

"We knew we didn't have the pole speed. It was a pretty nerve-wracking. We were really concerned somebody would knock us off the front row. We went out and did seven practice runs. And on each of those runs, you are pushing it to the limit. It was a long day. It was fantastic being back and driving the car around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It puts a smile on my face every time."

Regarding Franchitti's 3rd place starting position: "This will be the third time I started outside row one, and it's worked out pretty well every time. So, yeah, I'm quite happy, thank you very much."

Back to the Brickyard for Dario Franchitti 1st Time Since 2007 Victory
© Suburban Journals of Chicago photo by Mark Rotor

Week #2 - Sunday May 17th Bubble Day Qualifications:

Uncomfortable probably grossly understates the emotions of the bottom five qualification racing teams in jeopardy and those who haven't at the end of "Bubble Day" With only one hour remaining these teams desperately attempt to grasp one of the last positions within the 33 car field for the Indy 500, qualify or go home.

Scheckter on the Bubble with 30 Minutes Remaining To Qualify

With less than 30 minutes left on the final day of qualification, Tomas Scheckter found himself on the bubble in the 33rd position. With John Andretti in the Richard Petty ("The King") owned Window World legendary #43 about to challenge the #19 car of Scheckter for a position in the field the pressure was on. Scheckter previously with a 4 lap average of 220.212 MPH rolled the dice by withdrawing his time to attempt to place his car in a more secure position by re-qualifying.

If Scheckter was unable to re-qualify, with in the remaining minutes he would be out of the Indy 500 with little time to retry. The risk payed off for Scheckter once again qualifying at 221.496 MPH more than 1 mile per hour faster moving his starting potions from the last row (row 11) outside to the 9th row middle positon.is that if Scheckter failed to place a top 33 time Scheckter could be out of the Indy 500 with little time to make a another attempt.

"Yeah. Mentally, I always say qualifying around here is the toughest, and it's so mentally strange.," Said a relieved Thomas Scheckter. "You really prepare yourself on a qualifying day to come here and really just focus on low downforce in that field. After yesterday, you know, we thought we were safely in. We still thought, ‘Oh, no, you'll be fine.’ And then people started going quick, and we did a race run and then after a race run we were speaking about doing something else, and I said, ‘Guys, let's get this car back on the pad, and let's put the qualifying setup on.’ And Bill Pappas said, Yeah, let's go do that.’ We had to change some stuff on the car, and I went to the motor home, it was a bit of a mad rush, as well, because just getting everything together. To get back out on the track we did two runs, we took some downforce out of it and did a great run there."

John Andretti and Richard Petty Enterprises Preservers

With expectations of qualifying on the first weekend (top 22) John Andretti and Reienbold racing was facing the possibility of failing to qualify with the prestigious sponsorship of Richard Petty Enterprises with minutes remaining on bump day. Andretti's #43 machine initially qualified only to be displaced other races as they filled out the field of 33 on Saturday. The weight of the racing world was on John Andretti shoulders as his team attempted to match the adjustments made to the already qualified Mike Conway's #24 car. If the team failed, the the Richard Petty Sponsored #43 would not be joining "The Show".

The #19 car of Thomas Scheckter Solidly in the Show in 26th Position
© Suburban Journals of Chicago photo by Dan Peters

Qualifying Relief for John Andretti

After two previous desperate attempts to qualify, John Andretti with less than two minutes left in qualification bumped his way into the field on his 3rd attempt with 221.316 MPH average placing the #43 Window World Car in 29th place. Ryan Hunter-Reay #21 Car became victim in the #33 position bumped from the field.

" I tell you, a couple years ago, I made the Daytona 500, and we shouldn’t have or we weren’t expected to. When I came here, I expected to – I was like, “Oh, I wonder if we can make the top 11.," Said a relived John Andretti. "After the first day and first couple days of practice, Oh, I hope we can make the top 22.” I never expected to be hoping just to make the field. But my race team, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, they just did a wonderful job, you know. They put the car underneath me, you know, that just made it good to drive and the time came. So all the credit goes to them. I can go out there and hold it wide open, but it’s got to do what it’s supposed to do, and it did there at the end."

When asked if Andretti now had a appreciation for the "Bump Day" "Gun Slingers" he responded: "This is my first time through, for sure. Last year I gained a little bit of appreciation for it because Marty Roth was going through it. All I could think about was what my dad told me one time when he called me up to tell me he had a little bit of news to tell me. It wasn't good news for him. He said, "I know what you're thinking." I said, "What's that?" He said, "You're just glad it's not you." That's honestly what I was thinking. ."That's what I was thinking when Marty was doing it."

"Teammates Made The Difference"

"I think all my teammates were thinking the same. I know Davey Hamilton was, you know, because I told him he was I told him, "I know what you're thinking right now." But they're so supportive, the whole team. They gave up track time to help make sure that I got in the race. I mean, (Mike) Conway's car is in bits back there right now because half of it is on mine. That's what made a difference."

A Concerned J.Andretti Needs Speed from the Richard Petty #43 Car
© Suburban Journals of Chicago photo by Yolanda Rotor

$50,000 Reasons for Hunter-Reay to Surf the Bubble

With a minutes and 22 seconds before the end of qualification gun, the recently bumped Ryan Hunter-Reay needed to beat the 220.497 of Alex Tagleoni in the #21 car or he would fail to make the 94th running of the Indy 500.

Ryan Hunter-Reay obliged his team along with his William Rast sponsors by running a 220.597 MPH average laps speed to miraculously displace Tagleoni the last man be bounced from the bubble, to take the 33rd position and make the 2009 show. For Hunter-Reay's clutch driving performance his team earned the $50,000 award for making the field.

“All I could watch is him (John Andretti) knocking back his rear wing all day. We've got to do this again. We knocked it back really low, and the speed just wasn't coming. But we did enough at the right time of the day to make it in, and here we are. That's what Indy is about. Unfortunately, I've done this now in my career where I've made the final minutes of the day to qualify for the Indy 500. So it's pretty cool.

It's All About the Grip & The Down Force

When asked what was the main handling issue on the qualification run Ryan commented: "Overall lack of grip. The car just kind of skates on the track, right? That ends up being fast when you reduce a lot of drag. We had an inherent handling problem going into it, and then this guy over here (J.Andretti) forced us to knock back as low as we did, and I mean the stickers, the new Firestones could only cover it up for a lap. On that second lap, I was heading that right front for the wall every time out of (Turn) 1. It was a controlled slide every time."

"How low can I get the car in the middle of the corner for the front to just start washing out on me to where I can keep it off the wall and keep my foot in it? It was not nice."

"But we made it. I mean, this team really had a lot of trying times over the past couple weeks, and we just kept with it. We're here, we're fifth in the points."

Last Man Standing On The Bubble - Ryan Hunter-Reay's #21 Car
© Suburban Journals of Chicago photo by Dan Peters

Tagliani Fall Short But Makes It to Show Thanks to Junqueira

Tagliani, driving the team's No. 34 entry, qualified on May 16, but was "on the bubble" late in the day on Bump Day (May 17). Ryan Hunter-Reay bumped him from the field as the gun sounded to end the day. This seem to be the end of Tagleoni quest to run in the 500 but things changed.

In a press conference held by Conquest Racing it was announced that Alex Tagliani, the team's primary driver for Conquest Racing, will drive the No. 36 entry in the Indianapolis 500 in place of Bruno Junqueira, who qualified the car 30th earlier in on the final day.

The replaced Bruno Junqueira commented: I want to thank the team and ALL SPORT/BIG RED for giving me the opportunity to qualify their car today," Junqueira said. "I was able to go fast right from the start despite not having a lot of practice, and that was very rewarding for myself. I really enjoyed working with Conquest Racing. They gave me a really good car, and hopefully I can work with them again in the future."

"It's a shame that Alex got bumped out of the field at the end. I knew coming into this that Alex is Conquest's primary driver and that if something happened to the first car that I would likely give him my place, and I completely understand it."

Alex Tagliani is Grateful For the Second Chance

"I want to first of all say thank you to Bruno for being so understanding and to the team for taking this decision," said Tagliani, who will be making his first Indianapolis 500 start. "We have been building this long-term relationship for a while now, and I'm more than thrilled to be able to pursue that by taking part in my first Indy 500.

"Obviously it would have been much sweeter if we would have had both cars in the show, because Bruno and I had fast and identical cars. It's pretty much a fluke that I didn't make the field. We just got caught out. You never want to second-guess yourself, but if we had to redo things we probably would do it differently. But now that is in the past. At the end of the day, I'm just really happy right now to be realizing my dream of running in the Indy 500. The team has worked so hard all month and they deserve to be here."

The Final 33 Car Field For the 2009 Indianapolis 500

Row #1 -------------------
1. (3) Helio Castroneves, 224.864 MPH
2. (6) Ryan Briscoe, 224.083 MPH
3. (10) Dario Franchitti, 224.010 MPH
Row #2 -------------------
4. (02) Graham Rahal, 223.954 MPH
5. (9) Scott Dixon, 223.867 MPH
6. (11T) Tony Kanaan, 223.612 MPH
Row #3 -------------------
7. (5) Mario Moraes, 223.331 MPH
8. (26) Marco Andretti, 223.114 MPH
9. (12) Will Power, 223.028 MPH
Row #4 -------------------
10. (7) Danica Patrick, 222.882 MPH
11. (99) Alex Lloyd, 222.622 MPH
12. (2) Raphael Matos, 223.429 MPH
Row #5 -------------------
13. (15) Paul Tracy, 223.111 MPH
14. (14) Vitor Meira, 223.054 MPH
15. (18) Justin Wilson, 222.903 MPH
Row #6 -------------------
16. (27) Hideki Mutoh, 222.805 MPH
17. (20) Ed Carpenter, 222.780 MPH
18. (4) Dan Wheldon, 222.777 MPH
Row #7 -------------------
19. (41) A.J. Foyt IV, 222.586 MPH
20. (16) Scott Sharp, 222.162 MPH
21. (67) Sarah Fisher, 222.082 MPH
Row #8 -------------------
22. (44) Davey Hamilton, 221.956 MPH
23. (06T) Robert Doornbos, 221.692 MPH
24. (8) Townsend Bell, 221.195 MPH
Row #9 -------------------
25. (17) Oriol Servia, 220.984 MPH
26. (19) Tomas Scheckter, 221.496 MPH
27. (24) Mike Conway, 221.417 MPH
Row #10 ------------------
28. (43) John Andretti, 221.316 MPH
29. (13) E.J. Viso, 221.164 MPH
30. (23) Milka Duno, 221.106 MPH
Row #11 ------------------
31. (00) Nelson Philippe, 220.754 MPH
32. (21T) Ryan Hunter-Reay, 220.597 MPH
33. (36) Alex Tagliani, 221.115 (Replaced Brono Junqueira)


AGR Teammates Danica Patrick & Tony Kanaan During Practice
© Suburban Journals of Chicago photo by Mark Rotor

2009 Indianapolis 500 Race Sunday May 24th,

- Race TV Coverage:

- 12:00PM CT on ABC Network

- Post Race TV Coverage 3:30PM CT VERSUS Network


© Suburban Journals of Chicago photo by Yolanda Rotor

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