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May 17, 2014 | By Verizon IndyCar Series
It might require Will Power to top his heart-racing four-lap average speed of 230.323 mph -- set midway through Round 1 of qualifications May 17 for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race -- to secure the Verizon P1 Award in the Fast Nine Shootout on May 18.
That's doable, with conducive track and weather conditions, according to the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, who approaches the 2 p.m. (ET) session with an Alfred E. Newman "What, me worry?" attitude.
Power, the Verizon IndyCar Series championship points leader, picked up 33 more under the revamped qualifying format for being the fastest qualifier on day one. A few days earlier, he predicted a 230 mph average speed, and four others backed him up on the speed chart on the entertaining day of bumping to break into the top nine that pays additional points and $100,000 to the pole winner.
Round 1 continues until 5:50 p.m. ABC will televise qualifications (4-6 p.m. ET) and May 18 (1-3 p.m.), with www.watchespn.com providing additional coverage around the TV windows. The IMS Radio Network broadcast both days can be heard on network affiliates, XM 209 and Sirius 213, on www.indycar.com in conjunction with Timing & Scoring and the INDYCAR 13 app.
In 2003, four entries recorded four-lap average above 230 mph. Scott Dixon was the first (230.999), followed by Robby Gordon (230.205), Tony Kanaan (231.006) and Helio Castroneves, who went out at 4:36 p.m. and posted a 231.725 mph average (232.215 fastest lap) to earn the pole.
Ed Carpenter set the tone early in qualifications with a four-lap average speed of 230.114 mph in the No. 20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka car, and Ryan Hunter-Reay followed two hours later with an average of 230.011 mph in the No. 28 DHL car for Andretti Autosport. They were joined in the 230 club by Simon Pagenaud (230.070) and JR Hildebrand (230.027).
Carpenter earned the Verizon P1 Award last May with a four-lap average speed of 228.762 mph in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka car with a top speed of 229.347 mph on Lap 1. It was the best four-lap average since 2006 when Sam Hornish Jr. won the pole with a four-lap average of 228.985 mph.
"The speeds are coming up quick," said Carpenter, who posted laps of 229.949, 230.184, 230.251 and 230.071 mph. "I think there are a couple of little things we can do to get some more speed out of it, but I would rather test that stuff on (May 18). I think we have a good chance for the pole, but the field is very tight this year. There are so many good cars and drivers out there that I don’t really know where we sit right now. It will come down on who gets it right on the day for the pole. It really comes down to being perfect for four laps."
Hunter-Reay's teammate for the month, Kurt Busch, who is seeking to be the fourth driver to compete in the Indy 500 and the stock car race in Concord, N.C., the same day, was 12th after his initial qualifying run (229.256 mph). With an hour to spare before having to leave for the evening All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch moved solidly into the top nine (229.960) and departed by helicopter satisfied with the day's efforts.
“The Andretti team has taken the steps to help me get to a comfortable place to be able to go out there. We could have camped on our 12th-place run from our earlier outing and been back out here (May 18)," Busch said. "But why not go for it? We didn’t have to withdraw our time, so why not go for it and try to get into that final group. I gave my heart a run at it.
"The way you have to challenge a track for a NASCAR run is you have the most downforce and the car is going to be the most at its grip level. Here at Indy you take all the grip away and you take all the downforce – you make the car as uncomfortable as you can make it. And then they tack on three extra laps, so you’re doing 10 miles. So I’ve qualified a Pro Stock care a quarter-mile at a time, I’ve qualified a stock car for 15 years.
"Qualifying at Indy you have to do it over 10 miles and you have to do it in the most unnerving conditions with the car; the car is not ready to go 230 (mph) but you have to handle it.”
Also in the Fast Nine Shootout are James Hinchcliffe (229.960), Marco Andretti (229.836), three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves (229.788) and rookie Jack Hawksworth (229.732). Qualifiers 10-33 also are required to make another four-lap run May 18 to determine their position in the 200-lap race.