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Tagliani Wins PEAK Performance Pole On Wild Day

Provisional Grid | Trackside Notes | Fast Nine Transcript | Quotes

Simona De Silvestro, who suffered burns to her hands in a crash 48 hours earlier, is in. So are three rookies, led by JR Hildebrand, and 49-year-old Davey Hamilton.

All four KV Racing Technology-Lotus cars are in, while four of the five Andretti Autosport cars are temporarily out. Helio Castroneves, who started from the pole the past two years and had the quickest time on "Fast Friday," will start 16th -- his lowest in 11 starts.

And to cap a wild Pole Day for the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500, Alex Tagliani earned the PEAK Performance Pole Award presented by AutoZone in a winner-take-all "Fast Nine" segment -- in which seven different IZOD IndyCar Series teams were represented.

Twenty-four starting positions were filled on the first day of qualifications, and the remaining nine will be determined on Bump Day. That also portends to be another drama-filled six hours as at least 15 drivers are expected to make qualifying attempts to secure a spot in the May 29 race. Once 33 spots are filled, bumping begins. Each entrant receives three attempts.

Tagliani, the final driver to go out in the Fast Nine, is the first Canadian to earn the pole for the 500 Mile Race. He recorded a four-lap average of 227.472 mph to swipe the award from Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon (227.340). Oriol Servia of Newman/Haas Racing will join them on the front row -- the first time since 1993 that the team has qualified on the front row.

It's also the first time since ‘05 that cars from three different teams are on the front row.

"I’m probably going to be pinching myself until I go to bed," said Tagliani, whose No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports topped the speed charts in practice throughout the week. “It’s been an amazing team effort. We have a great group of people, and the additions with the other cars. I had good input from Townsend (Bell) and Dan (Wheldon) and it’s been nice to work as a big group this week.

“I wanted this one so bad.”

That’s understandable, especially after being bumped from the field in 2009. He did start the race, however, replacing Bruno Junqueira in the Conquest Racing car and went on to earn Chase Rookie of the Year (advancing from 33rd to finish 11th).

“This is a reward for Sam, as well,” Tagliani said about Schmidt, who is celebrating his 10th year as a team owner at Indianapolis. “He got involved and helped to continue it. He’s an amazing team leader and this is a great result for him. I hope there’s more to come.”

Bell, IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Will Power, who started from the pole in the first four races, and 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner Wheldon will share Row 2. Buddy Rice, the '04 winner, will be on Row 3 with Ed Carpenter and reigning 500 Mile Race champion Dario Franchitti.

Franchitti looked to be on pace to grab the provisional pole with an average of 227.043 mph through three laps in the Fast Nine, but the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car ran out of fuel on the final lap. Dixon said his car also ran out of fuel -- just after completing the 10-mile run. Four Indy 500 winners participated in the Fast Nine.

"We were pretty close on setup with the Target car, but not good enough for the pole today,” said Franchitti, a two-time race winner. “We were definitely good enough for third place. We obviously ran out of fuel at the end of the third lap, and that was it. It’s disappointing for us, but I'm happy for Sam Schmidt, Allen McDonald (Franchitti’s former engineer), Alex Tagliani and their whole team."

A brief shower cut short the first round of qualifying by 23 minutes and limited the scheduled 90 minutes of the Fast Nine to one attempt by each entrant. After Rice posted a four-lap average of 225.786 in the No. 44 Panther Racing car, Servia popped in at 227.168 in the No. 2 Telemundo entry.

“I couldn’t believe we were in the top nine and then we decided to go all out at it and the Telemundo car was really fast,” said Servia, who didn’t compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010. “I’m just very proud of the whole crew. The work they put in over the winter, even with the uncertainty, when we didn’t know 100 percent what the program was going to be. To be on the front row is just unbelievable.”

There were 17 entrants bumped in the first round, with some – such as De Silvestro – re-qualifying. She was cleared to drive the No. 78T Nuclear Clean Air Energy car for HVM Racing early in the morning by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Michael Olinger.

“My body’s shaking,” said De Silvestro, who is driving the car she used at Indianapolis in 2010 when she earned the Chase Rookie of the Year Award. “I was pretty nervous out there. A day ago, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get back in the car. I was really freaked out about it. After the crash, I was like: ‘I don’t need this. This is too crazy. It’s way too dangerous.’ After a while, you’re back to being a race car driver and thinking, ‘Nah, I can do this.’ And you suck it up.”

De Silvestro might have turn more than practice laps May 22. She’s 24th (224.392) and potentially could have to bump her way back into the field. Also tenuous is Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technology-Lotus in 23rd (224.417).

“I know there are a lot of people cheering for me to start in the back so I can make some passes to the front,” said Kanaan, who charged from 33rd on the starting grid last May to 11th. “But that’s not really where I want to be.”

With better footing are Vitor Meira and Junqueira of A.J. Foyt Racing, Bertrand Baguette and rookie Jay Howard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso and Tomas Scheckter of KV Racing Technology-Lotus, rookie James Hinchcliffe of Newman/Haas Racing, Justin Wilson of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, and John Andretti of Andretti Autosport.

Notes

It's the first time since 2004 that a Penske Racing car didn't qualify on the front row. … It’s Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ first Indianapolis 500 pole and the second in the IZOD IndyCar Series (Jaques Lazier in 2001). … Wheldon gave Bryan Herta Autosport its best career start at Indianapolis. The team’s previous best was 32nd in 2010 (Sebastian Saavedra). … Carpenter gave Sarah Fisher Racing its best career start Indianapolis. Its previous best was 21st in 2009 with Sarah Fisher behind the wheel.

***

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Tagliani Wins PEAK Performance Pole On Wild Day
 
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To cap a wild Pole Day for the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500, Alex Tagliani earned the PEAK Performance Pole Award presented by AutoZone in a winner-take-all "Fast Nine" segment -- in which seven different IZOD IndyCar Series teams were represented.
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