|A day of hot laps and hard decisions
We started the day early and the crowd came early too. Today they had the grandstands across from the Pagoda open so we sat there. It turned out to be a good place to watch because after each driver qualified they did a posed photo shoot in front of the Pagoda. We had a pretty good view of it, even if we were 100 yards away. We also had a good view of the pits, but there wasn’t much going on there for the first stage of the event.
For the first stage runs drivers and cars lined up at the south end of pit row where they had an easy out to the track. They drew for their starting positions, and A.J. (Anthony) Foyt lV was out first in the 41 car. They were making runs to qualify for the first 24 positions today, or the first 8 rows. Each car gets one warm-up lap before they get the green flag, then they have to run four laps (ten miles) to finish the attempt.
A.J. qualified for the 24 on his initial run, but later got bumped off the board by faster cars. His team mate Vitor Meira in the 14 car also made it to the list for a while but was eventually bumped off too. This was not a good day for A.J. Foyt Racing, and probably not a very good day to be around A. J. himself!
The plan for the day was to qualify the 24 fastest drivers by 4:00 o’clock, then close the track for half an hour. At 4:30 the nine fastest cars returned for a ‘shoot-out’ in which they each made at least one more qualifying run to determine their final starting positions. This put a lot of stress on the drivers, because as Dario Franchitti said, “You come in shaking from going out and doing four laps on the ragged edge just to get into the top nine, then you have to go out and do it all over again to qualify for your final position.”
Shoot-out rules guaranteed all top drivers a starting position no lower than ninth, and if they went out for second or third runs they did not jeopardize their previous times if they did worse. With $175,000 awarded to the pole winner and choice of pit location for the race, there was a lot of incentive to go for it. All qualifying drivers received points toward their season standings too, and the points were higher for the faster positions.
The qualifying went well, with only three ‘incidents’ in which drivers crashed and were not able to finish. Rookie Takuma Sato crashed first and he was not badly injured but he did not return to the track. Mario Moraes crashed the beautiful 32 car next and was put out of the running for a while, but he was able to return in his back-up car and qualify later in the day. The saddest story was Tony Kanaan who is a big favorite with the crowd. Tony crashed on the first lap and wiped out his car badly. He walked away from the crash, but did not return to the track for the rest of the day.
After everyone eligible and able has gone out and qualified, drivers have the opportunity to go out again and try to improve their positions. The risk is that to do so they must sign away their previous times and start over from scratch. If they fail to qualify this time, or do worse than they did on the original attempt, they have to live with the results or hope to make a third try if there's time. It's a tough decision.
To everyone's amazement Helio Castroneves opted to sign off his original time and go out and requalify. This was a huge risk as he was in second place already. The reason Roger Penske and Helio decided to take that risk was so that if he did improve his time and go into first place, they would have their choice of position in the pits for the race as well as starting location in the shootout.
The risk paid off and Helio laid down a blistering time that put him in first place of the top nine. The next surprise was Ana Beatriz, who was on the bottom of the board in 24th place. She too threw out her original time and went out again, with the result that she vastly improved her time and went ahead of both Danica and Simona de Silvestro. E.J. Viso also improved his time with another run.
The stage was set for the shoot-out!