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May 18, 2014 | By Verizon IndyCar Series
Juan Pablo Montoya made multiple four-lap attempts May 17 in an effort to crack the Fast Nine Shootout that determined the Verizon P1 Award winner and first three rows for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
If only he would have recorded the 231.007 mph average that the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske car posted May 18, it would have bettered Ed Carpenter’s 230.661 mph as the fastest in Round 1. But those are laps over the Yard of Bricks. He’s starting 10th in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 25.
All Round 1 lap times/speeds were erased and positions 10-33 were required to re-qualify to determine starting position under the revamped format. Carpenter paced the Fast Nine Shootout qualifiers with a four-lap average of 231.067 mph to earn the Verizon P1 Award for the second year in a row.
Montoya, who is making his first start in the Indy 500 since winning in 2000, topped all qualifiers for positions 10-33. He’ll be on Row 4 with reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon (230.928 mph average) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car and first-year competitor Kurt Busch (230.027) in the No. 26 Suretone car for Andretti Autosport.
“In hindsight, I think we were a little conservative (May 17)," said Montoya, whose 231.540 mph on Lap 1 was the fastest of the Round 2 qualifiers. “I felt I probably had the fastest of the three cars at Penske and I was excited about that. I went out to qualify and the speed wasn’t there. The track, with the wind, was coming up and down and you really had to take advantage when the track was quick.
"We were a bit more aggressive today and were really pushing the envelope. Overall, the car had good speed."
Six of the 24 qualifiers registered four-lap averages above 230 mph, and all but four bettered their average speed from Round 1. Oriol Servia improved the most from Round 1 to Round 2 -- 11 positions (228.034 to 229.752) -- and will start on Row 6 in the No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry.
Busch, who is attempting to be the fourth driver to compete in the 500 Mile Race and the NASCAR race in Concord, N.C., the same day – and the first since Tony Stewart to complete it in 2001 – is the fastest rookie in the 33-car field.
“It was a great qualifying effort," he said. "It’s been great all the way around. Each day has been a nice amount of progress that I’ve shown the team and the team was ready to give me next step and here we are. We’re on Row 4 of the Indianapolis 500. (May 17) it felt like that was everything I could get out of the car at that moment and it would have been nice to stick around and try to defend that fast nine. I think that I would have been over-achieving. These guys in this paddock are true competitors.
"This finesse and this precise inputs that you have to give these IndyCars to get the mile an hour out of them, these guys are the experts. They have been doing it for years. Came in today to try to defend that 10th and I was just hoping for the fourth row.”
Rookies Jack Hawksworth (230.506) in the No. 98 BHA/BBM with Curb Agajanian entry and Mikhail Aleshin (230.049), driving the No. 7 SMP Racing car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, will flank Justin Wilson (230.256) in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing entry on Row 5.
Row 11 features the youngest – 19-year-old Sage Karam – and oldest – 46-year-old Buddy Lazier – alongside Sebastian Saavedra, who turns 24 on June 2.
The difference in time between Carpenter and Lazier (2.1509 seconds) is the closest field by time in the history of the Indianapolis 500. The previous closest was 2.5399 seconds in 2011. The difference in speed between Carpenter and Lazier (3.147 mph) is the second-closest field by speed in the history of the race. The closest was 3.130 mph in 1953.
The qualification format injected intrigue, strategy and drama over the two days, and INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Derrick Walker sees additional dynamics evolving.
“The thing I like about the format is that Saturday is about getting in the race. If you don’t want to risk being on the back row and risk being bumped, Saturday is bloody important,” Walker said. “Your time is so important to be in the race. On Sunday, it’s all about where you start the race, so there are two distinct events.
“Then there are bits and pieces and last-row bumping potential. I think that’s one of the unique things that happened (May 17) is that people reloaded and reloaded. They weren’t going any further up the grid in some instances; they were practicing for (May 18) when they got one shot to get their starting position. Even James Davison, who is a raw rookie and doesn’t have many laps to waste with a short-month engine program, rolled the dice and punched himself up to 30th just in case somebody came along to try to bump.
“The other element is Fast Nine, so the guys who could run those lap times were reloading to the point of risking it all.
“When we all look at it, I think one of the best ways to make it better is to change very little because there’s a lot more to come in this whole strategy over two days. The teams, because it’s new, demonstrated some things. If we get two or three more cars that wanted in the show, Sunday would be quite a day – getting your starting position, the Fast Nine and getting on the back row.”