May 18, 2012 | By Dave Lewandowski
Andretti, Strong Heading Into Pole Day
The initial four races of the IZOD IndyCar Series season have been a bumpy ride for Marco Andretti, who’s 19th in the championship standings and claiming 11th at Barber Motorsports Park as his best finish. So Indianapolis popped up on the schedule at an opportune time.
"We've had some hard luck. We've just got to keep hammering on,” he said entering the month.
There wasn’t a reason to think Andretti, 25, couldn’t make strides at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He has in the past: runner-up in his Indianapolis 500 maiden run and third twice in the past six years.
His No. 26 Team RC Cola car was quickest in practice May 16 on the 2.5-mile oval (40.2367 seconds; 223.676 mph) and second to rookie Josef Newgarden on May 17 with a lap of 40.5208 seconds (222.108 mph).
On May 17, Andretti’s midday lap of 39.5535 seconds (227.540 mph) mph lived up to the “Fast Friday” moniker to top the time sheet for the day and month.
Thirty-two drivers recorded 1,206 laps without incident in a precursor to Pole Day time trials May 19 (11 a.m.-6 p.m.). Oriol Servia, driving the No. 22 Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry, did not get on track because of an engine issue that was resolved late in the day.
All drivers were aided by a bump in the turbocharger boost of 10 kPa, which equals about 40 horsepower and 4-5 mph per lap, that will be utilized in qualifications. The initial 24 car/driver combinations will be set on Pole Day, with the remainder of the 33 spots being filled on Bump Day May 20.
Andretti, who has started in the top 10 at Indianapolis in four of his six years, will be the prohibitive favorite to pick up the $100,000 pole winner check following the two segments of qualifications. The last time an Andretti sat on pole at Indianapolis was Marco's grandfather, Mario, in 1987 -- the year Marco was born.
"Why not try to go for the pole?" said Andretti, who in 2011 struggled to get into the show (starting 27th but finishing ninth). "If you’re going to be in the top nine, you might as well be on the pole. It would mean the world to me. I showed up this month to win the race and I still believe I can do it from 33rd, But if we could do it from first it would be fantastic.
"Today was a big day for us. I thought we were at a bit of deficit to my teammates to start the month, but we just kept rubbing on it. We kind of woke the car up and obviously with this added boost today it woke my car up in particular as well. We’ve been working really hard too and finding that every couple of tenths of a mile an hour and it all adds up. I’ve been really working specifically hard on the consistency over the four laps that I think is going to make a difference."
His Andretti Autosport teammates could pose the biggest threat. Three of the four, all using Chevrolet power, wound up in the top 10 on a warm and cloudless day. Ryan Hunter-Reay (226.400) was fourth, James Hinchcliffe (225.974) was sixth and Ana Beatriz (225.653) was seventh.
"It's been a lot of fun working with the four of them," Andretti said. "I think we could simulate our own race. It's been fun also because you know every time the five of us roll out, the big time of the day is going up -- whether by one of us or somebody trying to tag along with us. I think a couple of them have a really good shot at front row if not the pole."
Ryan Briscoe, driving the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske car, was second quick (39.6764 seconds; 226.835 mph) and teammate Helio Castroneves was third (39.6973; 226.716) in the No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske car.
“(Andretti Autosport) is going to be heavy favorites (for qualifying) and I’d say for the race as well," Briscoe said. "I haven’t done many long runs with those guys, but I’ve seen them running together and they looked pretty good out there. They’ve done a good job, definitely. I think them -- and together with our package at Chevrolet -- we’re very pleased with how things are progressing over the last week in practice.
"It’s going to be close. There are a lot of teams that are really doing well this year for the Indy 500. There are a lot of small teams that are sticking to the big guns. We’ve got to be on our toes and keep working hard.”
Scott Dixon, driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, was the top Honda driver in fifth (226.224). Teammate Dario Franchitti, a two-time race winner, was 10th.
“Scott and I are the first two of the Honda-powered cars right now and I think we have some work to do," Franchitti said. "It can’t be roses every day and you just need to keep pushing. We have some work to do and the Target guys are working very hard on this with the Honda guys to come up with something before (qualifying). Whatever happens we’ll do our best and that is all we can do.”
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