Sharp Cuts It Close But Earns Spot In Another 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 10 2009

Scott Sharp reacts to last-minute qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

Scott Sharp reacts to last-minute qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Scott Sharp rediscovered the gamut of emotions that typically accompany qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday when he and Panther Racing teammate Dan Wheldon emerged from the wringer with second-day starting spots in the 93rd Indianapolis 500.

Sharp, the 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion, qualified for his 14th Indy 500 on his final attempt of the day with a dramatic last-minute run that bumped E.J. Viso out of the provisional grid of 22 cars.

Sharp, who withdrew his first run and was bumped out of the field by A.J. Foyt IV with roughly 10 minutes to go, qualified 20th with a four-lap/10 mile average of 222.162 mph in his No. 16 Tequila Patrón Panther Racing Dallara/Honda.

“I honestly never thought I’d be so happy to qualify 20th in my life,” said Sharp, whose bid for one of the 11 spots open on Pole Day went awry when he crashed in Turn 1 during practice on Friday afternoon. Sharp’s car suffered extensive right-side damage, prompting an all-nighter for repairs. Indianapolis-based Panther Racing went on red eye alert again when Wheldon crashed on Saturday morning.

Wheldon – the 2005 Indy 500 and series champion – rebounded to nail down the 18th position Sunday with a four-lap average of 222.777 mph as positions  11-22 were filled.

“Wow. It’s been a tough week, let me tell you,” Sharp said. “I mean, it’s not supposed to be this tough, I thought. With all my experience, I guess leaning on that I figured I’d come back in, and pretty easily. And I did early, pretty easily get up to speed and pretty much thought… if maybe things really fell into place we would be, certainly a top-10 car no problem. And obviously had a few things go wrong that led to our crash the other day. The team did an amazing recovery. The Panther guys, I can’t say enough about them. A few of the guys pulled all-night (Friday) to get that done. And then Dan of course had his crash, so it’s been really tough, but they’ve rebounded and never missed a blink.”

With the clock approaching the end of qualifying at 6 p.m., Sharp was without a spot in the field. Earlier, he had made one qualification run – which the team withdrew – then made a second attempt and qualified with a four-lap average of 221.333 mph. But A.J. Foyt IV bumped Sharp from the grid with only 10 minutes remaining.

With four minutes to go, the No. 16 was pushed into the tech line – where the cars of Viso,  Davey Hamilton and Sarah Fisher stood between Sharp and his final chance of becoming one of the first 22 starters. Those drivers could have stayed in line until time expired at 6 p.m., but the Indy Racing League reserves the right to request those drivers to move out of line if they were not planning an attempt. Brian Barnhart, IRL president of competition and racing operations, reminded the teams of Viso, Hamilton and Fisher about this provision, and all three organizations agreed to pull out of line to let Sharp make an attempt that started less than one minute before the gun was fired to end qualifying.

“The sportsmanship out there was incredible today,” Barnhart said.

Sharp rolled off four laps at 222.165, 222.245, 222.127 and 222.111 mph to bump Viso.

“I really thought at the last bit we were done,” Sharp said, “because we made a change to the car at that point where we were down to our final draw. We laid the wing down some more, pulled up into the tech line. I lost my radio. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t hear anything anymore. I saw four guys in front of me, and I looked at my watch and it said six minutes to go and I said, ‘That’s it. It’s over,’ and then all of the sudden, just boom, boom, boom. You know, the guys that aren’t going to make a run, or if you’re not fast enough to take up a lot of track time, they got them off or got them out of the way and all of the sudden it was fire it up and go.

“Once I pulled onto the track my mind was probably the clearest it’s ever been. I just had to hold it down, hit my marks and see what we ended up with.”

Viso, who started and finished 26th as a rookie last year, said he could have done without the last-minute drama.

 “Things obviously didn’t end up as well as we wanted,” said Viso, driver of the No.13 PDVSA HVM Racing Dallara/Honda. “But we knew that being in the 21st, 22nd position is a very vulnerable position and anything could happen. And it happened just in the last minute, and that’s a sad thing because we didn’t have time to go back out and defend ourselves.”

Despite punching into the grid, Englisman Wheldon said he continues to fight an imbalance in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara/Honda. “We’re just missing a little bit,” said Wheldon, who previously had qualified no lower than 16th in six starts at IMS. “By the same token, I think if we work hard, we can hopefully fix it. The team is certainly good enough to do that. It’s just made for a very challenging opening few days.

“Obviously, with the problem that we have, having less downforce for a qualifying trim kind of accentuates that. But if you’re going to win this race, you have to feel like you have a very good balance and you feel 100 percent comfortable in the car.”

Overshadowed by the Panther Twins was the performance of Raphael Matos, the 2008 Firestone Indy Lights champion. Matos, of Brazil, led the day’s 11 qualifiers with a four-lap average of 223.429 mph in the No. 2 US Air Force Luczo Dragon car to become the first Chase Rookie of the Year candidate to qualify for the May 24 race.

“We did a qualifying simulation during the five minutes before qualifying started, and we made a few adjustments in the car for the qualifying run and found almost half-a-mile an hour,” said Matos, driver of the No. 2 US Air Force Luczo Dragon Racing Dallara/Honda. “The whole crew did an amazing job. Let’s go racing.”

Paul Tracy (223.111 mph), Vitor Meira (223.054 mph) and Justin Wilson (222.903 mph) make up Row 5, while Hideki Mutoh (222.805 mph), Ed Carpenter (222.780 mph) and Wheldon comprise the sixth row.

“I’m not really happy with the laps we qualified on, so I’m disappointed,” said Tracy, the forever outspoken driver of the No. 15 GEICO/KV Racing Technology Dallara/Honda. “But we’re just out of miles and need to get some full-tank running in. We wanted to be in the 223s today. We achieved that on the first lap, then started sliding the front tire with a tail wind in Turn 1, and then it kind of fell off. The last couple of laps I just couldn’t get the speed out of it.”

Tracy is competing at IMS for the first time since 2002, when he finished second to 2009 pole-sitter Helio Castroneves in one of the race’s most controversial finishes.

“The race is a long race, and we’ve got an OK starting position,” said Tracy, who qualified for his sixth Indy 500. “We’re starting in mid-pack (13th), and we’ll go from there. A lot of things can happen in a 500-mile race. It’s three times longer than any other race in the series, and a lot can change over the course of the race.”

Foyt IV (222.805 mph), Sharp, Fisher (222.082 mph) and Hamilton (221.956 mph) rounded out the day’s qualifiers.

Three drivers were involved in crashes during the day. Rookies Mike Conway and Alex Tagliani, and IMS veteran John Andretti all encountered trouble in Turn 1 of the 2.5-mile oval. Tagliani and Andretti were uninjured while Conway, of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, was admitted to Methodist Hospital in good condition with bruised lungs. 

There will be no track activity until Thursday at IMS. The final 11 spots of the 33-car field will be set on Saturday, May 16, with Bump Day following on May 17. 


 Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with starting position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine and speed:
1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 224.864
2. (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 224.083
3. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 224.010
4. (02) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 223.954
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 223.867
6. (11T) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 223.612
7. (5) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 223.331
8. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 223.114
9. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 223.028
10. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 222.882
11. (99) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 222.622
12. (2) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 223.429
13. (15) Paul Tracy, Dallara-Honda, 223.111
14. (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 223.054
15. (18) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 222.903
16. (27) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 222.805
17. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 222.780
18. (4) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 222.777
19. (41) A.J. Foyt IV, Dallara-Honda, 222.586
20. (16) Scott Sharp, Dallara-Honda, 222.162
21. (67) Sarah Fisher, Dallara-Honda, 222.082
22. (44) Davey Hamilton, Dallara-Honda, 221.956

Notes and Quotes

·         Raphael Matos qualified 12th, highest qualifying rookie in the field. Last year’s field featured 11 rookies, and Hideki Mutoh was the highest qualifier at ninth.

·        Paul Tracy qualified 13th, his second-best Indianapolis 500 qualifying effort in six races. His best is seventh in 1993.

·         Vitor Meira qualified 14th for his seventh Indianapolis 500.

·         Justin Wilson qualified 15th, bettering his rookie effort of 16th a year ago.

·         Hideki Mutoh qualified 16th for his second Indianapolis 500.

·         Ed Carpenter qualified 17th for his sixth Indianapolis 500.

·         Dan Wheldon who qualified 18th, started 16th in 2005 and won the race.

·         A.J. Foyt IV qualified 19th for his sixth Indianapolis 500.

·         Scott Sharp qualified 20th for his 12th Indianapolis 500.

·         Sarah Fisher qualified 21st for her eighth Indianapolis 500. She has started 21st or 22nd in three consecutive Indianapolis 500s.

·         Davey Hamilton qualified 22nd for his ninth Indianapolis 500   

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 10 2009
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Andrew Bernstein says:

    Perhaps this site has few readers, although the lack of interest in IRL seems universal: I watched some video footage earlier on their own site that had been viewed only 400 times.

    Here’s my own thoughts for today, since talking to myself is a regular occurrence. What was up with Ryan Hunter-Reay? There is a big problem going on in his garage, and the lack of information on regulations and budgetary constraints leads to alot of unanswered questions.

    Not that Hunter-Reay doesn’t know the answers: when first interviewed about his lack of pace, he mentioned that the team could not outfit his car with the proper components. It was almost a surprise that he could keep talking as the day wore on, as hard as he was biting his tongue. His teammate Ed Carpenter is up to speed, but that hasn’t helped RH-R find the missing 3 MPH.

    I think it was Thursday practice when Hunter-Reay backed his carbon (fiber) copy Dalara into the SAFER barrier. Didn’t look too bad, probably not a hard enough hit to damage the tub. Today, he says the car is pushing too badly for him to get into the corners at full tilt. Hmmm, does all of this add up to a possible connection?

    Let’s say the team shows up for the month of May with two primary cars, and two Speedway rear wings. Spares were either not available in time, or too costly to fit in the budget. Hunter-Reay shreds one in practice, and now the team has to bolt on a higher downforce rear wing. So they lay it back as much as they can to minimize drag, and flatten out the front wings too: but the front of the car won’t stay planted unless they stand up the front wings to balance the car. Drag city, wrong venue.

    Sure would be nice to bolt on Ed Carpenter’s rear wing and have a go…but as Saturday’s tech revelation demonstrated, you have to race in the same configuration you qualified with. I think the team knows they aren’t going to be getting another proper rear wing, and I think Hunter-Reay might not get in the show because of it.

    This is another example of the back-stories that I want to understand. This is as close to an absolute spec series as can be created: there should be a gnat’s whisker between all the top speeds, and the first 22 slots show a consistancy that would not be apparent if a variety of chassis and engine packages were fighting for the same ground. And it suggests that the engineers and mechanics have very little latitude for applying speed secrets when the cars are so strictly equalized.

    In a way, this strikes me as Formula 1 in reverse. Different technological plateaus in that series often lead to the “two by two” grids, as each team is capable of putting their drivers in identical cars…which were vastly different than the ones in the row in front or behind them. Driver input was minimized in the past when elaborate active suspension systems and secret traction control were engineered into the cars.

    Not so at the Brickyard. As I wrote yesterday, I think this batch of drivers are working their tails off on every lap. Adjusting the weight jackers and sway bars on every straightaway is their best way to maintain cornering speed, and the changes from fuel load will add more to that equation on raceday. These boys and girls are earning their money, no matter how much they don’t have.

    But that’s still what determines the pecking order. Penske, Ganassi, AGR and NHL have all had the resources to polish their rockets to cut through the midwestern wind. The grid isn’t two by two, but it’s pretty close. The devilish answer to this result is in the details, and they are minute details with a big price tag. And they are the speed secrets that no one is talking about.

    This was a good Mother’s Day at the Speedway…the whole month has been so far. Nobody has had to watch their kid get hurt playing the hero, or the fool for that matter. Thank goodness for the SAFER barriers, HANS restraints, and the incredibly strong Dalara monocoques. John Andretti stepped out of a pile of junk today. Too many tears and a few drivers have fallen in the past, when risk was much more accepted as the cost of doing business. Whatever else Tony George gets blamed for, he deserves full credit for saving at least a few precious lives. The Dalaras are his animals, in his bullring, and he’s put the safety of the matadores as top priority. Thank you, Mr. George.

    Thanks too to Bobby Rahal, for teaching his son how to drive like a pro. Graham looks like the kid at the window in my local McDonald’s, not the polished racer who bears their corporate sponsorship. He drove like a hero today, avoiding Andretti’s wreck and preventing his own. Bobby’s Father’s Day present will come early as Graham will be on the podium when the Spectacle is completed.

    I’ll close with best wishes to Mike Conway, who did reportedly suffer bruised lungs as a result of his shunt today. I hope he’s OK, this is another story that has gotten zero coverage. Provided his injuries are minor, the worst result is that he will be losing his seat. He has been off the pace all year, and the crash today is Going to get him a Wally Pipp award. That’the seat at the end of the bench, not the one back in his car.

    Imagine how much damage I could do with a press credential?