Ed Carpenter turned Pole Day into a family celebration.
The stepson of IndyCar founder Tony George became the first member of the Hulman family to win the biggest pre-race event in the series – the Indianapolis 500 pole.
Carpenter produced a stunning finish to a day that was rife with suspense but lacked surprise. His four-lap average of 228.762 mph was quick enough to break up what appeared to be a Team Penske-Andretti Autosport lock on the front three rows in the nine-car shootout for the pole.
Somehow, Carpenter, who owns his team, beat out the big-name guys.
”To be a single-car team in this Chevy shootout, I am going to call it fighting with the Penske and Andretti guys,” said Carpenter, whose pit crew carried him off pit road on their shoulders after an agonizing wait to see if his time would hold up.
The soft-spoken Carpenter grew up around the world-famous 2.5-mile Brickyard, dreaming of the moment he could stand in Victory Lane. Perhaps that will happen May 26.
For now, Carpenter will savor the highest-profile achievement of his career and during a month in which he has strengthened his area ties. His sponsor, golfer Fuzzy Zoeller’s Fuzzy’s Vodka, is based in Indiana and this week he added decals to his car from his alma mater, Butler University – the little school that made two straight NCAA championship game appearances.
He also took a little time out for his family and friends, who believe this could be his big year at Indy.
After producing the fastest lap in the opening practice session last Saturday, Carpenter gave away his tickets to watch the Eastern Conference semifinals between the hometown Pacers and New York Knicks so he could spend some time with his wife before another working Mother’s Day.
And during Friday night’s qualifying draw, Carpenter had one of his young children pull out the number.
Then Carpenter went out and beat all those big-name guys to the punch, setting off a celebration that isn’t likely to end any time soon.
”I felt like coming in that we had a chance to be on the pole,” Carpenter said. ”To sit on the pole for this race is really a dream come true, and I hope it is a start to what has already been a great month of May. The car has been great and I can’t thank my team enough. The sponsors, a lot of great people helped us get here. This is just the first part of what we are here to do.”
Carpenter was followed by three of Michael Andretti’s five drivers – rookie Carlos Munoz of Colombia, Marco Andretti and Venezuelan E.J. Viso took the next three spots. Munoz’s average of 228.342 was just a tick better than Marco Andretti’s 228.261.
”We knew he was a factor, but those laps were really stout,” said Andretti, who congratulated Carpenter on pit road. ”We didn’t see that kind of pace out of him earlier, but he went for a trim and balanced the car, so it rewarded him.”
Another Indy rookie, A.J. Allmendinger will start fifth, the highest qualifier for Roger Penske’s team.
Will Power went into the shootout as the favorite after going 228.844 but wound starting sixth, the outside of Row 2 after slowing to 227.246 mph on the final run of the day.
It was yet another frustrating moment for Power, who thought he might eclipse 230 after his early afternoon run. That came just 48 hours after Power seemed resigned to not even be in pole contention.
But racing has not always been good to Power. Despite winning 21 poles and 14 races from 2010-12, Power finished second in the points to Scotsman Dario Franchitti all three years.
Indy has followed the same trend line. In five previous starts on the 2.5-mile oval, Power has only started on the front row once – when he started second in 2010 when he was overshadowed by his pole-winning teammate, Helio Castroneves. Power has never finished better than fifth on race day even though he completed 799 of 800 laps in his first four starts. Last year, he went out in a crash after 78 laps.
The team’s dramatic improvement over the previous 48 hours had some thinking that Penske would extend his own record by winning an 18th pole.
Others expected Andretti to top the list.
Carpenter never bought into it.
”That’s an accomplishment in itself. For this team to put in the hard work to give me what I needed to put it on the pole is great. I think a whole lot of prayers went into this day.”
There weren’t many surprises.
Each of the nine drivers in the shootout were powered by the strong Chevrolet engines. That left the Honda teams, including all four drivers for Chip Ganassi’s heavyweight team – Australian Ryan Briscoe, New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, Scotland’s Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball – out of the front three rows. Franchitti, like Castroneves, is trying to become the fourth member of the four-time winners club and will start from the middle of the sixth row, 17th, after going 226.069.
Also out of pole contention was points leader Takuma Sato of Japan. He posted a four-lap average of 225.892 and will start 18th, the outside of Row 6.
Eight drivers qualified but were later bumped out of the top 24 starting spots. Jakes and Briscoe were the only ones to make it back in.
The list of drivers still trying to make the field includes 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier, British driver Pippa Mann, who hasn’t raced since suffering injuries in the tragic season-ending race at Las Vegas in 2011 and Brazil’s Ana Beatriz. Mann and Beatriz, who drive for Dale Coyne Racing, are trying to become the first female teammates to start the 500.
Two drivers, Conor Daly and Michel Jourdain Jr., weren’t quick enough to even qualify for the 33-car starting field and James Jakes’ first qualifying attempt was later disqualified after failing post-qualifying inspection. Jakes tried to re-qualify two more times, finally making it into the 24th spot late in the day.
The final nine starting spots will be filled during the second and final day of qualifications Sunday – a day Britain’s Katherine Legge is expected to complete her first laps since being hired by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to drive the No. 81 car. The late addition gives race organizers 34 driver-car combinations, meaning one driver won’t start May 26.
And now Carpenter will be leading them into the first turn.