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‘Andretti Curse’ At Indy Lives On During Bump Day

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 23 2011

Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was rocked by news that he had been bumped from the starting field at Indianapolis on Sunday. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

The pistol shot that ended Bump Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway left Andretti Autosport bruised and confused, despite having qualified three drivers for the 100th anniversary edition of the Indianapolis 500.

Last-minute qualifier Marco Andretti bumped teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay from a 33-car field that includes Andretti Autosport’s Danica Patrick, an earlier Sunday qualifier, and Pole Day qualifier John Andretti.  However, Mike Conway’s anticipated return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway – site of the violent crash that sidelined him for the remainder of the 2010 season – ended in disappointment when the Brit failed to get up to speed.

Mark it down as the latest examples of “The Andretti Curse, Extended Family Version.”

“You know what? I was in the mindset whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” said Marco Andretti, whose four-lap/10-mile average of 224.628 mph placed him on the inside of Row 10 and relegated Hunter-Reay to spectator for the scheduled 200-lapper on May 29.

“I think coming into like my first run of the month, I knew we were going to be in this position, unfortunately,” said Andretti, driver of the No. 26 Team Venom Dallara/Honda. “If we didn’t find that big jump in speed that we were down, even my teammate Danica, I knew we were going to be in this position. So I think we were just kind of prepared for it, and we showed up when we had to.”

Native Canadian Alex Tagliani of Sam Schmidt Motorsports claimed his first Indy 500 pole Saturday at an average speed of 227.472 mph in the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda. Andretti and

Danica Patrick nervously waits out the rain on Bump Day.

Patrick were among 14 drivers seeking to nail down one of nine remaining grid spots during a six-hour session interrupted twice by rain. With 75 minutes left, Patrick put the No. 7 Team GoDaddy car solidly into the field with a four-lap average of 224.861 mph.

“You would think after seven years I’d be better off, but I’m worse than ever,” said Patrick, whose run placed Andretti on the bubble while Hunter-Reay sat 32nd. “I mean, not ignoring the fact that the competition has only gotten more difficult. A lot of people have said in their opinions this is the hardest they have ever seen the field. It’s as competitive as they’ve ever seen it. I would have to agree.”

Eight drivers failed to gather the necessary consistent speed to force Andretti to re-qualify until Alex Lloyd of Dale Coyne Racing, who finished fourth in the Indy 500 last May, put together an average of 223.917 mph. Teammate James Jakes sought to knock Hunter-Reay out, too, but his attempt was waved off after two laps.

“To be honest, I was happier that we got bumped, you know, because that justifies us going out again,” said Andretti, 24-year-old son of team-owner Michael Andretti. “You hate to withdraw your time and then you have to lift, or you crash the thing and you’re out of it. So many things could have gone wrong. Somebody was looking over me today. I was lucky.

“I knew we were going to be hanging it out at the end there. Our approach was we’re going home anyway. Really, I mean, the way we went out, it was either stick it in the fence or stick it in the show. So luckily we were on the upside of that.”

Hunter-Reay, however, failed to qualify for the first time in his Indy 500 career. His previous starts came in 2008 with Rahal Letterman Racing, 2009 with Vision Racing and 2010 with Andretti Autosport.

“I can’t even process this right now. It’s just devastating,” said Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop car. “We struggled all month, or all week, to find speed and it just wasn’t there. It wasn’t enough in the end. This is terrible. It was my teammate that bumped me out of the field. I’ve been on that side of it before. In 2009, I was the last car out on track, and I bumped my way into the

Ryan Hunter-Reay is consoled by Graham Rahal.

field. I know what that’s like. This is a hard one to take. I don’t know how it’s going to be on Race Day. I don’t know what to tell you. This is the worst. I don’t think it’s really hit just yet. I can’t process it.”

Conway – who scored his first IZOD IndyCar Series victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17 – also failed to qualify for the first time in his Indy 500 career. His previous starts came in 2009 and 2010, both with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

“It’s a tough break – both me and Ryan, not in the show,” said Conway, driver of the No. 27 Hire Heroes USA/7-Eleven/Dr Pepper car.  “I’m pretty gutted. Danica spent some time with me, putting me back together, after I got back to the garage. I’m obviously happy for Danica, Marco and John to be in, but gutted for me and Ryan. I never wanted to experience this feeling. You see it happen every year, and you hope it’s not you. It’s not nice.”

Marco, who ran second to Team Penske’s Sam Hornish Jr. by 0.0635-seconds in his first Indy 500 start in 2006 – clearly struggled to make sense of the day’s events.

“Yeah, I feel for Mike, as well,” Andretti said. “But I think the pair of them are two of the best in the business. Ryan has had terrible luck this year. Fortunately, Mike got a win, but Ryan has been in a position to win a lot of races this year and came short for whatever reason. I was just so fortunate to be on the upside of the circumstances. We were at Mother Nature’s mercy for a while there.

“When I woke up today, I was ready. I was just ready for it, and I was expecting to be…luckily we were in line at the right place at the right time. But I was expecting it to come down to the wire because I knew we didn’t have the speed. We came up with it at the end there, but we were really risking it.”

Michael Andretti, who went 0-for-16 as an Indy 500 entrant between 1984 and 2007, was understandably “ecstatic”  for Marco. “I’m going crazy on one side and crying on another side,”  Mikey said. “I knew it was going to come to that. I knew I wasn’t going to be happy either way. It was not a good day. It was probably my worst day as an owner, for sure.

“Had some real tough times here, and as a driver that probably would have been worse, but as an

Cars, teams and drivers in the qualifying line wait out the rain on Bump Day.

owner this probably ranks up there as the worst. You know, because I felt so bad for those guys. You know, there for a while I was feeling bad for Danica and GoDaddy, and then it turned to bright for them and then dark for Ryan and Mike. So it was just… I just knew somebody wasn’t going to be happy in this team at the end of the day. We were too close together.”

Marco Andretti openly had expressed concern over his car’s lack of speed from the beginning of practice on the 2.5-mile oval last week.

“From the moment we unloaded, we had two fast cars, and we had three slow cars,” Michael Andretti said. “And we’ve gone through everything to try to figure it out. And we have not figured it out. That’s just for speed. I really think once the race rolls around, that doesn’t matter and it comes down to handling. That’s why I feel confident with the cars we have in the field.

“I think Marco is going to be the guy to beat, I really do. We just felt that, you know, we’ve got to get him in the field first, and we’re struggling with that speed all week. We knew it, you know, a few days ago. So it’s been very frustrating because we can’t put our finger on why. It doesn’t make sense. I mean, everything theoretically is the same.”

Marco is the fifth Andretti family member to have competed in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”  at IMS, where only grandpa Mario has managed to wheel into Victory Circle. That was in 1969, the fifth of Mario’s family-high 29 starts at IMS. Together, the Andrettis have one Indy 500 win in 54 starts.

But like Mario, Michael, uncle Jeff and cousin John, Marco believes he will be a factor on Sunday.

“Darn right. We wouldn’t show up, otherwise,” Marco said. “I think it would have been nice to be able to work on the race car today, but not a lot of people did weather-wise, they kind of got caught-out. I saw (Saturday) they got a bit of a jump on us, but we have good cars in the race this year. I don’t want to jinx us. I was thinking about this last night when I wasn’t sleeping; I think this team has been in the top three of this race since ‘03 or ‘04.”

There are five former Indianapolis 500 winners in the starting field – Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002,

Alex Lloyd is congratulated after getting into the Indy 500 field.

2009) of Team Penske; Scott Dixon (2008) and Dario Franchitti (2007, 2010) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing;  Buddy Rice (2004) of Panther Racing and Dan Wheldon (2005) of Bryan Herta Autosport.

But John Andretti is, in fact, the most experienced driver in the field, with 11 previous Indianapolis 500 starts. The record is 35, set in consecutive years from 1958-1992 by four-time race-winner A.J. Foyt Jr.

“Our history is not qualifying here; our history is the race,” said Michael Andretti, alluding most recently to Marco’s runnerup finish in 2006 and Patrick’s third-place run in 2009. “I really feel like we’re going to have good race cars and be really competitive. I think last year we had a similar type qualifying effort, if you remember Tony (Kanaan) started 32nd and Marco started deep in the field and they were both contending for the win.

“So, I think we’re there, and unfortunately I think we’re going to be contending for the win with either a Ganassi or a Penske. It’s probably the way it’s going to come down. There are other good cars; I think Tag (pole-sitter Tagliani) and those guys, but they’ve shown speed. We’ll see how they are when you have 33 cars out there because it’s a totally different day.”

Qualifying Notes

•This is the closest matched field by time in Indianapolis 500 history _ 2.5399-seconds separate fastest qualifier Alex Tagliani and slowest qualifier Ana Beatriz. The record was 3.0622-seconds set in 2010.

• There are five Chase Rookie of the Year candidates in the field – JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe,

Pippa Mann is one of the rookies in the field.

Jay Howard, Charlie Kimball and Pippa Mann. Last year there were six rookie contenders.

• Dario Franchitti has led 255 career laps in the Indianapolis 500, more than any other driver in this year’s field. Other drivers in the field who have led more than 200 laps are Dan Wheldon (234), Helio Castroneves (231), Scott Dixon (220) and Tony Kanaan (214).

• Seventeen different drivers in this year’s field have led a total of 1,563 laps in previous Indy 500s.

• There is a combined 142 previous Indianapolis 500 starts among the 33 drivers in this year’s field. The record is 260 years of experience, set in 1987 and 1992. There were 140 years of combined experience in last year’s field.

• The oldest driver in the starting field is Davey Hamilton, 48. The youngest qualifier is Graham Rahal, 22.

• There are 10 veterans of the INDYCAR-sanctioned Firestone Indy Lights series in the field  – Marco Andretti, Ana Beatriz, Ed Carpenter, JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, Jay Howard, Charlie Kimball, Alex Lloyd, Pippa Mann and Graham Rahal.

• Eight Indy Lights champions, under CART and INDYCAR sanction, qualified for the race –Townsend Bell, Scott Dixon, JR Hildebrand, Jay Howard, Alex Lloyd, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia and Paul Tracy.

• In addition to the five rookies in the race, there are three veteran drivers –  Buddy Rice, Oriol Servia and Paul Tracy – who did not start in last year’s race.

The Field

Results of qualifying Sunday for the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Rank, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (77) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 02:38.2613 (227.472)

2. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 02:38.3528 (227.340)

3. (2) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 02:38.4727 (227.168)

4. (99) Townsend Bell, Dallara-Honda, 02:38.6696 (226.887)

5. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 02:38.7493 (226.773)

6. (98) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 02:38.9477 (226.171)

7. (44) Buddy Rice, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.4431 (225.786)

8. (67) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.9137 (225.121)

9. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.0253 (226.379)

10. (5) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.4785 (225.736)

11. (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.5814 (225.590)

12. (4) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.5895 (225.579)

13. (06) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.5942 (225.572)

14. (30) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.7973 (225.285)

15. (11) Davey Hamilton, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.8223 (225.250)

16. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.8464 (225.216)

17. (43) John Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.0133 (224.981)

18. (59) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.1907 (224.732)

19. (41) Bruno Junqueira, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.2203 (224.691)

20. (22) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.3488 (224.511)

21. (88) Jay Howard, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.3685 (224.483)

22. (07) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.4040 (224.433)

23. (82) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.4156 (224.417)

24. (78T) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.4335 (224.392)

25. (23) Paul Tracy, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.0433 (224.939)

26. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.0987 (224.861)

27. (6T) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.2572 (224.639)

28. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.2648 (224.628)

29. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.3574 (224.499)

30. (38) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.4424 (224.380)

31. (19) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.7451 (223.957)

32. (36) Pippa Mann, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.7600 (223.936)

33. (24) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 02:40.8012 (223.879)

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 23 2011
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • [...] a racing writer who can sum up a situation better than RacinToday.com’s John Sturbin? “The Andretti Curse, Extended Family Version.” Indeed. (Meanwhile, it’s nice to see John Andretti in the field at Indy driving for [...]

  • Cinzio Bellami says:

    Also, where is the media attention for Simona and Alex Lloyd, since they are obvious the athletes of the week?

  • Cinzio Bellami says:

    Just don’t talk about all the people who are dying from cancer…it is bad enough that they sponsor your car and pay the bills.

    Since the number one cause of death for children under 23 in the USA is speeding and reckless driving…the organ donation cause is also ludicrous..IMHO

    It would seem that when 5 drivers are allowed on 1 team…that is cheating anyway…so who cares?

    Try community college….and take an English class at least.