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Pole Day Report Card

Zachary Houghton
| May 22, 2011


On a Tom Carnegie Pole Day that featured 17 separate “bumps” from the grid, an underdog team take the pole, and multiple favorites fall short of their goal, it seemed like we fans saw teams go through the highest highs and the lowest lows. If you missed, it, well, aside from our pity, here's a quick rundown of select team and driver report cards for the Indy 500 Pole Day:

Sam Schmidt Motorsports: A+
One of the greatest stories of the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indy 500, Sam Schmidt's team played David to the Penske/Ganassi Goliath. Townsend Bell showed his skills by anchoring Row 2, and Alex Tagliani's pole qualifying runs was the stuff of dramatic legend. This team could not possibly have done better for themselves thus far.

Simona de Silvestro: A
Simona will have to see if her speed holds up on Bump Day, but in watching Simona painfully struggle to remove her gloves from her burned hands after each qualifying attempt, the crowd at the Speedway knew they were seeing true grit. Whether she needs to re-qualify tomorrow, her place in the lore of the Indy 500 is sealed, and it comes with many new fans.

Newman/Haas Racing: A
Oriol Servia came tantalizingly close to the Pole, but he'll take that Row 1 spot happily. James Hinchcliffe was only .006 seconds behind JR Hildebrand, in what is shaping up to be a great battle for Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. One of the most storied teams of American open wheel did that legacy proud.

Bryan Herta Autosport: A
No one really knew what to expect this month from this team, even with an IZOD IndyCar Series/Indy 500 champ such as Wheldon behind the wheel. It had turned out to be a fast, winning combo for one of the smallest teams on the grid. They held their own in the Shootout, and now Wheldon will try for the Borg-Warner trophy from the outside of Row 2.

Sarah Fisher Racing: A-
It speaks to how impressive Sarah Fisher's outfit has been this month when Ed Carpenter starting 8th is a mild disappointment. Ed had a rough time of it in the Shootout and ending up losing two spots. This team had otherwise been lights-out, and the crowd has been enjoying every moment of it with these fan favorites.

Panther Racing: A-
Panther has Indy down to a science. JR Hildebrand will be highest-starting rookie, and previous 500 winner Buddy Rice showed he still belong with a Shootout-worthy performance.

Davey Hamilton: B+
A couple of days ago, Hamilton wasn't sure he had the speed to make this race. Instead, he reels off a qualifying run of 225.25, putting him solidly in the field and ahead of Helio Castroneves. The oldest qualifier at 48, Hamilton clearly can still get it done on the track.

KV Racing: B+
Takuma Sato barely missed a spot in the front 3 rows, and EJ Viso should be safely in the field. Tony Kanaan isn't quite solid yet, but there's very likely more speed in that car. This has been a quietly positive, incident-free month for the KV drivers, which is exactly what this program needed. Don't forget Tomas Scheckter, who was bumped but came back with a relatively firm time to land provisionally in Row 8.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: B+
Both Bertrand Baguette and Jay Howard put together nice runs on a day when some teams couldn't put in a single driver. Baguette was perhaps expected to qualify a bit higher than 14th, but all in all this team doesn't have much to gripe about.

John Andretti: B
John couldn't find speed early, but this crowd favorite finally found speed with rain quick approaching the Speedway. It was a late-day clutch performance for the veteran, who was the lone bright sport on a horrid day for the Andretti crew.

AJ Foyt Racing: B
Foyt said he felt his cars were better this year than in 2010's 500, and he was right. Neither Vitor Meira or Bruno Junqueira should have anything to worry about on Bump Day. Vitor Meira's spot in the middle of Row 4 is easily his best starting position at Indy with Foyt.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: C+
Justin Wilson and Davey Hamilton both qualified, but despite flirting with making it, Ana Beatriz couldn't quite get it done. Paul Tracy was in line to qualify again when the rain came. Both drivers have a good shot on Pole Day, but I'm sure DRR is feeling like with a little luck, they could have had all 4 in.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing: C
How do you start two cars in the first three rows of this race and still get a C? By seeing both of your previous Indy 500 champs run out of fuel on qualifying runs during the Shootout. It was an embarrassing moment from a team that doesn't make mistakes. And yes, they are being graded on a curve.

Penske Racing: D
Will Power is in Row 2, but that's about the only thing that went right for this team. Helio Castroneves had an uncharacteristically mid-pack run and will start from Row 6. Ryan Briscoe crashed in practice, and simply could not find enough speed in the backup car. For at least one day, this was not the dominant Penske crew we've come to expect.

Andretti Autosport: D-
The only redeeming features for the Andretti team on Pole Day were a) none of their drivers crashed, and b) John Andretti made the field. Otherwise, the term “unmitigated disaster” might be a tad strong, but not by much. Bump Day will likely see at least most of their drivers in the field, but needless to say this is not where they want to be.

Dragon Racing: F
What a terrible 24 hours for Dragon. First, Scott Speed appears to have some serious words with his team, which inspire rumors he was going to quit the team. Then, on the verge of solidly qualifying, Ho-Pin Tung crashes, trashes the 8 car, sustains a concussion, and is ruled out for the rest of the weekend. At this point, only a miraculous recovery by Speed to make the show can make this situation any better for Dragon. Otherwise, it's a lost month.

Other Ganassi Teams: Incomplete
Charlie Kimball may have had enough to bump de Silvestro from the field, but the skies poured down rain before he could complete the attempt. Graham Rahal

There are many other Incomplete grades out there, a situation that will rectified by the thrills and accomplishments of Bump Day. If it's anything like one of the most exciting Pole Days we've seen in years, we'll have plenty more to evaluate.

Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.


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