By Jeff Olson
Try, try again. Eventually, if your name is Andretti and you’re driving the King’s car, you’re bound to find magic at Indianapolis.
John Andretti, who had tried and failed just minutes before to get into the field for the 93rd Indianapolis 500, tried one last time Sunday and made it with three minutes to spare with a four-lap average of 221.316 mph. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had been bumped by Andretti’s effort, then went back out and bumped Alex Tagliani from the field.
“When I came here, I thought, ‘I wonder if we can make the top 11,’” said Andretti, driving the No. 43 Dreyer and Reinbold entry backed by NASCAR legend Richard Petty. “After the first day of practice, I thought, ‘I wonder if we can make the top 20.’ Today Iwas just wondering if we could make the field at all.”
Hunter-Reay, the 2008 race’s rookie of the year who had struggled this month to find speed in the No. 21T Vision Racing Dallara-Honda, found just enough – 220.597 mph for four laps – to get the 33rd starting position back.
“That was the hairiest day I’ve ever had,” Hunter-Reay said. “I’ve never been so happy to be in last place in all my life.”
Tagliani, the 36-year-old veteran who was attempting to race in the 500 for the first time, appeared to be safe until Andretti’s run bumped Hunter-Reay. That put Tagliani on the bubble; if Hunter-Reay was able to top Tagliani’s average of 220.553 mph from Saturday’s qualifying session, Tagliani would be bumped from the 26th position.
“It’s difficult to accept the fact that you need to go home with a car that is capable to be in the field,” Tagliani said. “It’s hard to comprehend. I just want to turn the page and just get back in the car at Milwaukee. Until the next time I jump in the car, it’s going to be pretty tough. I know the way I am, and this race was important for me, and it’s really difficult right now.”
Hunter-Reay’s effort gave the race its tightest field in history; just 3.0967 seconds separate pole winner Helio Castroneves from the final starter.
Tomas Scheckter’s decision to take the No.19 Dale Coyne entry back on track proved wise. As the next car on the bubble in the final moments, Scheckter went back out and dramatically improved his speed from Saturday, recording the fastest four-lap average of Sunday’s session and nailing down the 26th starting position.
“Qualifying around here is the toughest,” Scheckter said. “We thought we were safe, but then people started going quick. I said, ‘Guys, let’s get the qualifying setup back on the car and get it back to the pad.’”
Until Scheckter’s late run, Mike Conway held the honor of fastest qualifying run of the day – 221.417 mph in the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold car. The effort also cemented his 27th starting position and made up for a crash the previous Sunday that led to a night in Methodist Hospital.
“I just had to get in the right frame of mind,” Conway said. “You still have to go out there and do it each time. I really pushed it on that first lap. We put up a good number, and then I was just trying to keep it consistent.”
Following Andretti in the 28th position will be E.J. Viso in 29th, Bruno Junqueira in 30th, Milka Duno in 31st, Nelson Philippe in 32nd and Hunter-Reay in the final position.
Following Friday’s Carb Day final practice session, the race is scheduled to begin Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.Complete Indianapolis 500 starting line-up:
Pos Driver Team Speed
1. Helio Castroneves Penske 224.864mph
2. Ryan Briscoe Penske 224.083mph
3. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 224.010mph
4. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan 223.954mph
5. Scott Dixon Ganassi 223.867mph
6. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green 223.612mph
7. Mario Moraes KV 223.331mph
8. Marco Andretti Andretti Green 223.114mph
9. Will Power Penske 223.028mph
10. Danica Patrick Andretti Green 222.882mph
11. Alex Lloyd Schmidt/Ganassi 222.622mph
12. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon 223.429mph
13. Paul Tracy KV 223.111mph
14. Vitor Meira Foyt 223.054mph
15. Justin Wilson Coyne 222.903mph
16. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green 222.805mph
17. Ed Carpenter Vision 222.780mph
18. Dan Wheldon Panther 222.777mph
19. AJ Foyt IV Foyt 222.586mph
20. Scott Sharp Panther 222.162mph
21. Sarah Fisher Fisher 222.082mph
22. Davey Hamilton Dreyer & Reinbold 221.956mph
23. Robert Doornbos Newman/Haas/Lanigan 221.692mph
24. Townsend Bell KV 221.195mph
25. Oriol Servia Rahal Letterman 220.984mph
26. Tomas Scheckter Coyne 221.496mph
27. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold 221.417mph
28. John Andretti Dreyer & Reinbold/Petty 221.316mph
29. EJ Viso HVM 221.164mph
30. Bruno Junqueira Conquest 221.115mph
31. Milka Duno Dreyer & Reinbold 221.106mph
32. Nelson Philippe HVM 220.754mph
33. Ryan Hunter-Reay Vision 220.597mph