Let’s cut right to the chase. As INDYCAR fans, your minds are numb. Well, most of your minds are numb. If your mind is not numb, chances are you wore a Helio Castroneves T-shirt or a Dario Franchitti hat to the Speedway this week as a proud supporter of those “red cars” that seem to win everything.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske have ruled the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 with iron fists for some time now. Perhaps one day, we’ll all look back on their dominance, reckon that these two teams kicked a lot of butt, and hold them and their golden years in pure reverence. “There will never be a rivalry like that again,” we’ll say with pride.
But right now, I could probably argue that a fair amount of you – especially those of you that are more casual followers of the series – have been quite tired of two teams with seemingly limitless resources pounding the opposition, which is always game but doesn’t pull one over on them as often as we’d like.
Of course, we can’t hate them solely for winning all the time. They’re just, well, good. Still, it sure would be nice if you could see somebody rise up against the juggernauts, right? Especially at the 100th anniversary running of the world’s greatest race, right?
We all expected those two teams – Castroneves, Will Power and Ryan Briscoe on the Penske side, Franchitti and Dixon on the Ganassi side -- to settle the Indy
500 pole amongst themselves Saturday in a grand display of speed.
Instead, something different happened.
Alex Tagliani emerged as a threat for the pole during the rain-shortened week of practice, but it didn’t make it any less stunning when he managed to best two-time “500” winner Scott Dixon for top spot on the 33-car grid in the “Fast Nine” shootout. A crowning achievement for both him and Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Tagliani believes there’s more to come from his close-knit team as well.
“When we work together, we're just ‑‑ we fight, we kiss each other, we hug each other, we go for dinner,” the Canadian said. “You know, it's just like we all know what's at stake. We want this team to succeed. You know, like, we don't put our sweat, our tears, our effort just to come here and parade and just say we're part of the Indy 500 or we're just going to compete in IndyCar.
“And this year it was even more, because for me when I started, I had this discussion many times, it's like last year, we didn't have a leader. I accepted to start this team because it was my opportunity to be in the seat. I wanted to be in the seat. But now we have a leader in Sam, who has shown trust in us very quickly, and that's why the chemistry just continues.”
Tag’s pole was the final surprise on a Pole Day that was full of them, from Franchitti and Dixon running dry on their “Fast Nine” runs to Team Penske getting shut out from the front row, from Oriol Servia rising to P3 to the continuing struggles of the Andretti Autosport gang.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been too surprising to see all three SSM/SSM-linked drivers in the top nine (Townsend Bell will start fourth and Dan Wheldon will start sixth). But it’s likely refreshing all the same to fans looking for somebody – anybody – that can dust the Penske-Ganassi bloc next weekend in the “500.”
Even better, it seems that Tagliani has embraced the giant-killer role.
“I tried to be available as much as possible in the garage to the fans…Everyone for some reason is like a little bit tired of the domination of the Penskes and the Ganassis,” the Canadian noted after putting his name into Indy history as the pole-sitter for the 100th anniversary running.
“Everyone that came and cheered for us and bet on us, I'm happy that we didn't make them lose money.”
What’s more, they certainly got their money’s worth. Not to mention some hope – real, bonafide hope -- that next Sunday, it will be somebody new wearing the wreath and sipping the milk to the sounds of the Gordon Pipers.
All the Penske and TCGR drivers will most certainly be contenders in the 500, but at least for now, the ones that are pulling for the underdogs have something to smile about.