This weekend should be quite a thrash at Indianapolis as everyone who failed last weekend to make the field for this year’s 92nd Indy 500 tries to take one of the remaining twenty-two places in the starting line-up. Chip Ganassi’s drivers and team put on a great show last Saturday to beat Team Penske and Andretti-Green Racing to this year’s Indy 500 pole. Scott Dixon (below) and Dan Wheldon qualified one-two with a pair of mid and late-afternoon second attempts which pushed Ryan Briscoe to the outside of the front row ahead of team-mate Helio Castroneves who will start the race from the inside of row two.
This was Dixon’s eleventh IRL pole but his first at Indy and the first time a Ganassi car has been on the pole at Indy since Bruno Junqueira (below) turned the trick in 2002. The team’s one-two sweep also was a bit of redemption for Ganassi’s team after enduring an unhappy pole day last year.
A disappointed Andretti-Green team couldn’t hit the right combination for qualifying but the team’s four cars will still start fifth (Danica Patrick – below), sixth (Tony Kanaan), seventh (Marco Andretti), and ninth (Hideki Mutoh). With last Sunday’s rainout only the first day’s eleven qualifiers are set for the 92nd Indy 500. The other three are Panther Racing’s Vitor Meira in ninth, Vision’s Ed Carpenter in tenth with Luczo-Dragon’s Tomas Scheckter completing the first day’s qualifiers. Only eight other drivers made full, four-lap qualifying runs on the rain-shortened opening weekend at Indianapolis and despite the unification of Indy car racing it will be a struggle to fill the field with thirty-three reputable cars and drivers.
Meanwhile, Ganassi’s team appears in good shape to make a serious run at winning its first Indy 500 in eight years, since Juan Montoya dominated the race back in 2000. Dixon was second last year, of course, and Wheldon finished fourth in ’06, his first year with Ganassi’s team. Ganassi’s managing director Mike Hull (below with Scott Dixon) compares the working partnership enjoyed by Dixon and Wheldon to the team’s great days ten years ago with Alex Zanardi and Jimmy Vasser.
“Zanardi and Vasser were meant for each other at that point in time, and I think Dixon and Wheldon are meant for each other at this point in time,” Hull remarked. “They aren’t anything alike, except for one common thread – they both want to be better today than they were yesterday. They haven’t lost sight of where they came from and they don’t feed off each other. They learn from each other. Their diversity in approach is probably a benefit. That’s certainly helped us in the past, like with Zanardi and Vasser.
“The more unselfish you can be as a team-mate, or for that matter, a team member, the more your eyes are open each day to learning. And that’s what Scott and Dan have in common. If they can continue down that path, no matter what they do with their lives, they can look back and say they achieved a lot, and that’s where they are as two people racing for us today. Their driving styles are a bit different, but they’ve learned to compare their styles to understand how to help each other.”
Hull says Dixon and Wheldon (above) have learned to drive their cars loose with the tail out in qualifying.
“In order to achieve a really fast lap at Indianapolis it takes a lot of experience,” Hull observes. “You can give somebody the setup that Chip Ganassi Racing had on Saturday afternoon and the driver may be able to drive the race car, but can he drive the car across the short chutes the right way to get the speed that he needs? Scott and Dan have got to the point in their careers where they can do that and they’re doing it together and that compounds your ability to get to the next level.”
As Dixon, Wheldon and the other top eleven qualifiers prepared this week for May 25th’s 500-mile race, the rest of the field – all the former Champ Car teams included – have been preoccupied with simply finding the speed necessary to make the race. Don’t expect any of them to come close to challenging the established IRL teams at Indianapolis this year.