Pole day is always the most enjoyable in the Indie Racing League, except for the actual race of the Indy 500, which takes place in 2008 on May 25, pole day, is second best. You have all the top drivers contending for that elite position. Veterans and past winners and previous pole setters all vying for that prestigious title, plus a hundred thousand dollar check is always a nice bonus. Yes, a hundred thousand dollars is what the pole setter gets for that first spot, twenty five thousand goes to second place, and ten thousand is given to third, so you can see why every driver, team, and owner wants that coveted spot. Is it bragging rights, starting in the number one position, or is it just the money that is revered, it is probably the combination of all three, but one thing is for sure, it entitles the bearer to be named the fastest car and the best driver of the day out on the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Saturday’s pole day gave much excitement, from the crashes to the usual drivers having to prove they are the best; you get three tries to take your spin around the track. When you take a qualifying run, the first two laps are considered practice runs, and then the next four laps are combined for your total score. At the end of the day when the gun goes off and the official qualifying for the top eleven spots are over, the racer with the highest speed that day is essentially the winner.
I guess most people, especially if you are an avid fan of IRL, knows that pole position usually goes to one of the top racecar drivers in the league. The pole position changed six times during the first qualifying day, from Ryan Briscoe to Scott Dixon, to Helio Castroneves back to Briscoe, then to Dan Wheldon, and in the end, it was eventually Scott Dixon that had the fastest car of the day with over two hundred and twenty six mph. Not only did he win the top prize money, he secured himself the best position for one of the greatest races of the season. Dixon’s teammate Dan Wheldon wound up in the second position, and in third was Briscoe. Fourth was Briscoe’s teammate Castroneves.
Ganassi was elated having his Target team take pole and second, while Penske team took third and fourth. Danica Patrick was the only woman to qualify that day and came in fifth. The Andretti/Green team struggled, but eventually all four cars made it in the first day of qualifying. Marco Andretti took a risky gamble, scratched his eighth position spot for a shot at pole, only to have gained one spot to seventh. If a racer already qualifies and has a position and wants to give it another try, then they have to scratch that time and start all over. A risky, but sometimes smart move, just ask Dixon and Wheldon, both will definitely say it is worth it. Actually, the Penske team should also be proud, even though they did not get pole, starting in third and fourth position is wonderful, but to most of these competitive racers, they will tell you different. I think that the drivers who are just trying to get a spot, whether it is pole or last position, to just qualify for this race is special, and should be celebrated.
Vision Racing’s Ed Carpenter got a spot, but his teammate A.J. Foyt IV spun his car during his qualifying run, almost hitting the wall, luckily avoiding a crash. Anthony did not make another qualifying attempt. Tomas Scheckter wound up just making it in the eleventh and final spot of the first qualifying day. Every driver who did not qualify or got bumped, will have to try the next day for the next eleven spots and then the last day, which is considered bump day, to fill the final positions. That day is also fun, because every team is trying to get their driver into the race. Plus, each team who has a driver qualify gets two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. That is a nice sum; maybe not so much for the big teams, but for the smaller teams like Sarah Fisher’s team, they will just about break even with all the money the team has spent to get her into the race. If she qualifies, they will be okay, if she does not, then they are at a huge loss, and it is those small teams that make just solidifying a position, the best reward.
While most of the drivers from Champ Car got bumped on the first day of qualifying, it was nineteen-year-old Graham Rahal who was the most impressive racecar driver out on the track. Not only is he the youngest driver competing, he is also a rookie. Graham races for Newman/Haas team, and as you guessed, Paul Newman is that very famous Newman. Graham’s teammate is Justin Wilson. Both drivers tried to qualify but got bumped, but it was Graham who stood out among all the racers that day.
In the beginning, he found himself in a very precarious position. He was on the eleventh spot, which is called the bubble, and stayed there for most of the day. Once he got bumped he went back out there, but his car just did not have the speed. After a big crash with less than fifteen minutes left, the young racecar driver who sounds and acts like he is thirty with poise and confidence, very mature and smart for his age, told his team to be ready, to have a fresh set of tires just in case he gets another chance. After Scheckter lowered his qualifying time, Graham Rahal put on his helmet and was ready to go out again. Graham had a wonderful last minute opportunity to try to beat Scheckter’s time and gain the last position of the day, with less than five minutes to go before the gun went off, he was told his team had made a crucial mistake. A mistake, that ultimately cost him that final spot.
A critical error in judgment, Graham’s team did not do what he had asked. They did not have a set of fresh tires ready to go. In fact, they had not gotten any tires at all. Whether that is a lack in communication, effort, or just plain stupidity, they really messed Graham’s chance at a position on the first day of qualifying. Maybe they did not take the young rookie seriously, maybe the crew chief should have stayed on top of things better, but in the end, that ruined any chance of Graham going out again, and now he will have to start all over from scratch, and try to qualify the next day with everyone else.
I felt sorry for Graham Rahal, but he kept his poise, not losing his temper, although you could see he was upset. He has such promise. He is such a talented racecar driver. Not a bit nervous, he shows impeccable character, which is void in a lot of the racecar drivers today. While Marco Andretti who is only two years older, and has been through the Indy 500 and qualifying day still seemed nervous, Graham Rahal seemed like a pro, you could not tell this was his first time. He might be a rookie, but he already has one win in the IRL this season, beating out all the veterans like Wheldon and Dixon. His talent has not gone unnoticed; every racer out their today noticed him, impressing his team, his father, and all the fans.
Qualifying was rained out the next day, now all the remaining spots will be done on one day, and while teams race to get a car qualified, and drivers scramble to get a spot, Graham Rahal will certainly ascertain a position, effortlessly. Out of all the new, old, and emerging racecar drivers coming to compete in this one race, that most drivers and teams look forward to all year, I would definitely keep my eye on Graham Rahal. Sure Target/Ganassi, Penske, and Andretti/Green teams are all favorites to win, like they are for every race, but sometimes the most unlikely, underrated of racecar drivers can pull out that amazing victory and sweep past all the favorites, and move right in and snag that coveted ever lasting win.
Davin Colten’s highly successful debut novel, Lie With The Devil, a suspenseful romance set in 1940’s Europe during WWII, was recently published. Pursued by a spy and hunted by Germans, romance and peril flourish between an unlikely pair of allies in this incredible drama. A love affair transformed by war, Lie With The Devil is available from Amazon.com, Borders.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon CA, DE, FR, JP, and several other online bookstores throughout the US, UK, Europe, Australia, Japan, all over the globe. A spy thriller series will follow.
By Davin Colten author of Lie With The Devil