Archive for May 24, 2011

The 2011 Indy 500 Honda-power starting field

Speedway Sightings at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune, a Chicago Sun-Times Publication
May 24, 2011

This year’s Indy 500 field is not only the most competitive since the CART/Indy Racing Series split in 1996; it is also the closest-matched field by elapsed-time in Indy history. A mere 2.5399 seconds separate fastest qualifier Alex Tagliani and the 33rd driver on the grid, Ana Beatriz.

Today we will take a closer look at the four women who will drive in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.

The most experienced is Danica Patrick, having qualified for her seventh 500. Her record at Indy is mixed with her best showing being in 2009, when she finished third. She hasn’t led a lap at the Brickyard since her Rookie-of-the-Year race in 2005. In six Indy 500 races she has had 5 top-10 finishes and it appears her No. 7 Go-Daddy/Andretti Autosport entry has the speed for her to capture another top-10 spot.

Simona De Silvestro is starting her second Indy 500 (finishing 14th) in just two years of IndyCar racing. She is the highest ranking woman driver in the series at 11th and already has one top-five and two top-ten finishes in just four races this season. De Silvestro’s return to qualify 24th with a speed of 224.392 miles per hour in her backup car, the No. 78T Nuclear Clean Air Energy/HVM Racing entry after experiencing second-degree burns on her hands, from the worst crash at the Brickyard this May, has made her a crowd favorite.

Ana Beatriz also qualified for her second Indy 500 (she finished 21st in the 2010 race) in just her second season in the series. She returns to the 500 driving the No. 24 Team Ipiranga/Dreyer & Reinbold car, starting 33rd. She is an IndyCar series regular joining the series after being a two-time winner on ovals in Indy Lights driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. She is the first female driver to earn an Indy Lights victory.

Rookie Pippa Mann, driving the No. 36 Conquest Racing car will be driving in her first 500 after having competed in the Indy Lights in 2009-10. She finished fifth in series for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2010. She is only the second woman to win in series with victory from the pole in 2010 and has proven her ability to get up to speed by capturing three pole positions in 2010.

This year’s Indy 500 field is not only the most competitive since the CART/Indy Racing Series split in 1996; it is also the closest-matched field by elapsed-time in Indy history. A mere 2.5399 seconds separate fastest qualifier Alex Tagliani and the 33rd driver on the grid, Ana Beatriz.

In our next trackside report we will examine the 2011 Indianapolis 500 Rookie Class.

Simona De Sylvestro

Simona De Sylvestro

Although most of the drivers who qualified for the 95th running of the Indianapolis were scattered across the country on press junkets and there was no scheduled activity here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that didn’t render the Brickyard quiet Monday afternoon.

In a stunning development, the seat in the No. 41 AJ Foyt Racing entry, already qualified in the 19th position by IndyCar veteran Bruno Junqueira for the upcoming Indianapolis 500 was put in play by a series of negotiations between Andretti Autosport and AJ Foyt Racing. Late in the day, Junqueira confirmed that he had been removed as the car’s driver.

The No. 41 Foyt car was entered by the team during the Month of May as a secondary car to the team’s primary entry, the No. 14 ABC Supply car driven by IndyCar season regular; Vitor Meira. Many had believed that Foyt was providing the majority of the funding out of his own pocket.

The next move brokered by Foyt Racing and Andretti Autosport was to put Andretti driver Ryan Hunter-Reay behind the wheel of the No. 41 car. The driver switch will move the car to the back of the 33-car field.

Junqueira was in Milwaukee on an IndyCar press tour for the Indianapolis 500, when reports started to surface about his losing his Indy 500 ride for the second time in three years. He lost his ride with Conquest Racing in 2009, when owner Eric Bachelart put Alex Tagliani in the car following the completion of qualifying.

Foyt addressed the transaction openly late in the day in a written statement, “We’ve been competitors for many years but still it’s the kind of relationship when someone is really down and out, you can’t turn your back on them—at least I can’t,” said Foyt, whose full-time driver Vitor Meira will start 11th in the No. 14 ABC Supply car. “This is going back to the way racing used to be, where if people were in a lot of trouble, you tried to help each other out. I know it’s a tough deal for Bruno but he understood the situation. I appreciate that more than anyone knows.”

Michael Andretti, team owner of Andretti Autosport commented “I can’t thank A.J. and his team enough for giving us an opportunity to put Ryan, DHL, Sun Drop and our other valued sponsors in the Indy 500. “Obviously, this is a unique circumstance for our team, but the thought of A.J. Foyt joining forces with the Andretti’s for the Indy 500 could result in something special. It’s a credit to A.J. for being willing to help us with one of our full-season IndyCar entries at a time when we need it.”

Junqueira was philosophical about the driver switch, saying “I have to thank A.J., Larry and the team for giving me this opportunity to drive at Indy this year because otherwise I would have been riding my bike in Miami. I always respected A.J. before, but after working with him, I respect him even more. He has a lot of knowledge and I learned a lot from him. I had a great time working with him and Vitor, and I hope my work helped them this month. I also hope the team has a great race.”

Foyt and Hunter-Reay had already forged a similar relationship under duress in June of 2009, following the closing of Tony George’s Vision Racing Team. Foyt hired Hunter-Reay to replace regular driver Vitor Meira who had been sidelined for the season after his accident at Indy that year. Meira returned to Foyt for the 2010 season and Hunter-Reay landed a ride with the Andretti Autosport.

The second development of the day was the revelation that Michael Andretti had made a management change at Andretti Autosport removing Tom Anderson, his team’s poor Indy 500 qualification effort for both this year and 2010 the cause.

Anderson was hired as the senior vice president of racing operations at Andretti Autosport in December 2009 as Michael Andretti and his partners, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, split their racing-related businesses with Andretti taking over the racing operation solely.

Anderson, a respected and seasoned veteran with 40+ years of racing experience, with stints as co-owner and managing director of Fernandez Racing from 2001 to 2009 and managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing from 1990 to 2000. He helped lead the Target Ganassi teams to four-consecutive CART championships between 1996 and 1999. The team also claimed an Indianapolis 500 victory in 2000.