Danica qualifies for Indianapolis 500
After a tense and emotional hour waiting for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track to be dried late Sunday afternoon — and with only 70 minutes remaining in time trials — IndyCar’s most famous driver, Danica Patrick, earned a starting position in racing’s most famous race, the Indianapolis 500.
Patrick turned in a four-lap qualifying speed of 224.861 mph to secure the 26th starting spot in the centennial running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29.
“We certainly built some drama for bump day,’’ a visibly relieved Patrick joked following her qualifying run.
In one of the most intense and dramatic Indy 500 qualifying weekends in recent memory, it was Patrick’s Andretti Autosport teammate, Mario Andretti’s grandson Marco Andretti, who provided the final climax. He rolled on track with only 51 seconds left in qualifying and bumped his teammate, Ryan Hunter-Reay, out of the starting field.
The drama was indicative of the weekend. Team errors and foul weather wreaked havoc on some of IndyCar’s biggest teams. Two of Andretti Autosports’ five cars (Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway) failed to make the field.
That’s remarkable considering the powerhouse team has won three IndyCar season championships and has taken the Indy 500 twice.
While Patrick’s spot in the field looked precarious because of the weather threatening to keep her from even taking the track, Marco Andretti nervously sat on the bubble for more than an hour and then was bumped out of the starting lineup by Alex Lloyd with six minutes remaining. So he had to post that clutch final-minute run.
“All we wanted was a chance,’’ said Andretti, who will start 28th. “I had all the faith in the world in my guys. It’s a bummer we are in this position, but I’m grateful to be in the greatest spectacle in racing.’’
Hunter-Reay was utterly rejected as he watched Andretti’s car roll down pit road.
“This is just heartbreaking. I mean, my teammate bumped me out,’’ Hunter-Reay said. “This isn’t good. I can’t even comprehend this right now.’’
The Target-Ganassi and Penske Racing teams — who have won four of the last five Indy 500s — had uncharacteristic troubles, too. Defending Indy winner Dario Franchitti, of Target-Ganassi, stunningly ran out of gas on his pole qualifying run and will start ninth. Penske’s two-time defending pole-sitter Helio Castroneves — a three-time 500 winner — will start a career-worst 16th at Indy.
But the biggest story of the weekend was, undeniably, the saga of the series’ biggest star Patrick, who came dangerously close to not even getting a shot at qualifying when IZOD IndyCar officials suspended time trial trails because of rain Sunday as Patrick sat helplessly in her car — the next driver in line to take the track.
Patrick was first out when time trials resumed with a little more than an hour remaining and left little more to chance, solidly putting her car 26th on the grid.
“I skipped my 30s and went straight to my 40s in age this weekend,’’ the 29-year old Patrick said after climbing out of her No. 7 GoDaddy.com car following qualifying.
“At this point in time, we didn’t care what the speed was as long as it was fast enough to get in. This is the Indy 500 . . . and you can win from anywhere, right?’’
Her quest to make the field became complicated early Sunday when her car initially failed technical inspection and was sent to the rear of the qualifying line. Team officials did not reveal the reason Patrick’s car failed technical inspection.
It took about 90 minutes to dry the track after the first downpour Sunday, calling into question whether Patrick would get another chance to qualify. Patrick did not speak with reporters after climbing out of her car and riding in a golf cart to the famed Gasoline Alley garage, where she was sequestered with her husband and team members.
While she waited the weather out, actor Charlie Sheen tweeted “Epic day at INDY!! Congrats to @PippaMann ..! My girl @DanicaPatrick needs another shot! Rain has to stop!!! One speed GO..! GoDaddy.com”
Conway, her Andretti Autosport teammate, didn’t share in the fairy-tale ending, getting bumped out of the field just before Patrick’s run and being unable to post a good enough speed in his one remaining try.
“As an owner, this is the worst (day) ever,’’ team owner Michael Andretti said. “I’ve had some pretty bad ones as a driver here, but this just breaks my heart. I don’t even know what to say (to Conway and Hunter-Reay).’’
For the second consecutive year, there will be four women in the field.
Joining Patrick are Brazilian Ana Beatriz and British driver Pippa Mann, who qualified before rain shut down the track Sunday afternoon. Simona de Silvestro qualified into the field Saturday driving with burns on her hands suffered from a fiery crash Thursday in practice.
Paul Tracy had the fastest speed Sunday, 224.939 mph, to earn the 25th starting position. Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe (224.639 mph) will start on the outside of Patrick.
Alex Tagliani won pole position during Saturday’s qualifying session.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.