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Sports

May 19, 2013

Young Americans waste no time qualifying for Indy

INDIANAPOLIS — Bump Day at Indianapolis followed the script.

No surprises, no drama and no drivers getting bumped.

On a day devoid of tension and rumors, all nine drivers who made attempts on the second and final day of Indianapolis 500 qualifications made it into the 33-car field, led by two young Americans — Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal — who easily had the two fastest cars on the track.

“I don’t want to sound too confident, but I knew we would be fine,” Newgarden said after delivering the day’s best qualifying run at 225.731 mph. “I think we would have been OK yesterday if we would have had another shot at it.”

The lone twist might have come if Mexico’s Michel Jourdain Jr. actually made a qualifying attempt to get in the race. But after failing to top 220 mph in practice, the discouraged Jourdain had his car towed back to Gasoline Alley.

That left it up to Newgarden, the Tennessee native, and Rahal, the son of a former 500 winner, to captivate the fans.

Newgarden’s chance came after he failed to get a second shot to make it in Saturday when he sitting in qualifying line as the gun sounded at 6 p.m. He had to wait another 18 hours and this time, he left no doubt that he belonged. His qualifying speed from Sunday would have been good enough for 21st, the outside of Row 7, if it happened a day earlier. Instead, he’ll start 25th, the inside of Row 9.

Rahal struggled all week — and not just because he was using a Honda engine. The nine drivers in the first three rows of the three-car, 11-row grid are all powered by Chevrolets. The top Honda qualifier was Canadian Alex Tagliani, the 2011 Indy pole-sitter. He’ll start 11th, the middle of Row 4, after going 227.386.

Rahal, who drives for his father, Bobby, couldn’t quite get his car right. But when it mattered Sunday, Rahal easily made it in with an average speed of 225.007 to claim the No. 26 starting spot — the middle of Row 9.

“I’ve certainly had better (weeks), I’ve certainly had some that were more challenging,” Rahal said after locking up his sixth straight Indy start. “But there have been some mysteries behind a lot of our speed problems. I think the first few days people thought we were being extremely slow, but really we were just being really conservative.”

They were the lucky ones.

Conor Daly, Buddy Lazier and Katherine Legge spent most of the afternoon trying to figure out how to get more speed — if they had to re-qualify their cars.

Daly had a tough week. After flying back from two races in Spain, the airline lost his HANS device, and after Thursday’s crash A.J. Foyt’s crew had to rebuild Daly’s car. They were working overtime again Saturday night after Daly’s first qualifying attempted was derailed by puffs of smoke coming out of the rear end of the No. 41 car. But the 21-year-old rookie from suburban Indy returned to the 2.5-mile oval Sunday and put his car on the inside of Row 11 with an average of 223.582.

“I have to thank the crew for all they’ve done,” Daly said. “I think they had the car apart at least 15 times after the crash and the problems we had (Saturday),” Daly said. “We got the engine back at about 8:30 last night and they worked late getting it back in.”

The first nine drivers all qualified on their first attempts, assuring race organizers of a full field. Nobody else even made an attempt.

Jourdain Jr. tried everything. Nothing worked, making it the second straight bumpless Bump Day.

His decision not to go out eased the tension for Legge, who was hired Saturday by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and was sitting in line ready to re-qualify when Jourdain’s car was towed back to Gasoline Alley. The British driver will start on the outside of Row 11 after going 223.176.

The day’s biggest scare came with about 30 minutes to go in practice when Team Penske driver Will Power tapped the wall with his right rear tire. The yellow flag came out briefly but Power was not injured.

Fans still had plenty to root for.

There was Newgarden, the hotshot 22-year-old who drives for Sarah Fisher, a local favorite; Rahal, the 24-year-old with the familiar last name; and Daly, the new kid on the block with deep ties to the speedway. They also wanted to see if Lazier, the 1996 race winner, would qualify for the first time since 2008. He didn’t make it onto the track until late this week, struggled to find speed and got bumped Saturday. He came back Sunday and was the first driver to qualify, getting his father’s No. 91 car into the field with a run at 223.442. He’ll start 32nd.

The Laziers will be one of three father-son teams starting next week’s race — joining the Rahals and Michael and Marco Andretti. Organizers believe that is a track record and it’s already causing quite a stir.

“The Rahal name, it’s a nice perk around here,” Graham Rahal said before adding fuel to his budding rivalry with the younger Andretti. “I certainly don’t get the pressure that an Andretti does, by any means. How many father-son combos have won it? I think one, right? Andretti can’t do that, so, that would be one more that we’d get on them.”

Other notable facts about this year’s field include:

—Scotland’s Dario Franchitti and Brazil’s Helio Castroneves will try to become the first foreign-born four-time winners in Indy history. Three Americans — A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears — have won four times. This will be the first time since 1987 that two three-time winners will start the race. Castroneves qualified eighth. Franchitti will start 17th.

—Britain’s Pippa Mann and Brazil’s Ana Beatriz, of Dale Coyne Racing, will be the first women teammates in Indy history. Mann will make her first start since being injured in the 2011 crash that killed Dan Wheldon and will start 30th. Beatriz will start 29th. Legge and Switzerland’s Simona de Silvestro also qualified, giving the race four women starters.

—Carlos Munoz, who qualified second Saturday, will be the first rookie to start on the front row since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000. Both are from Colombia, and Munoz is leading the Firestone Indy Lights series in points.

—Daly will be the youngest rookie to start the 500 since Rahal in 2008.

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