Harry C. Risher
Greensburg Daily News
Most race fans left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after this weekend’s qualifications with a smile on their faces, and a great personal sense of satisfaction in what they had just witnessed. Why? Because a journeyman driver who most average fans can relate to came out on top of the 33-car field after a tense and competitive weekend of time trials for next Sundays’ 97th Indianapolis 500. Indianapolis resident, family man, team owner, and driver Ed Carpenter successfully played “David” with the millionaire/billionaire “Goliaths” of the IndyCar world, and beat them all in the highly competitive and lucrative pole position qualification trials for the 2013 Indy 500.
Carpenter, a locally popular Butler grad is in many ways a rare throwback to the days when drivers owned their own race teams, drove their own cars, and made their own decisions. The last owner-driver to win a pole position against the mega-buck, corporate owned, and sponsored race teams of the Indy 500 icon A J Foyt who won the 1975 Indy 500 pole 38 years ago.
So Carpenter and his driver-owned, one-car team faced off against the powerful, multi-car teams of Andretti Autosport with five machines and Team Penske (17-time pole winners and 15-time Indy 500 winners) with three machines in Saturday’s all-out, one shot Fast Nine Shootout for the prestigious 2013 Indy 500 pole. It was certainly a modern era David vs Goliath challenge on wheels at speeds approaching 230 mph. Eight powerful, well financed, winning race teams faced off against the only owner/driver team in the Izod IndyCar Series in the pole determining Fast Nine Shootout.
When all eight drivers for high bucks teams of Penske and Andretti had taken their shots in the Fast Nine Shootout; it wasn’t three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, 2012 IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Penske driver Will Power, or popular favorite Marco Andretti who captured the Indy 500 pole -- it was Ed Carpenter, the lone owner/driver in the Series who had earned the coveted pole position! It wasn’t until the last thrilling challenge by Penske driver Will Power that the fans rose to their feet sensing a monumental upset. Much to the crowd’s delight, Power (who earlier recorded the day’s fastest speed) fell short in knocking Carpenter off the pole. A roar, reminiscent of the glory days of Indy qualifying went up from the crowd when it was announced that Carpenter’s four-lap, 10-mile qualification average of 228.762 mph had bested all competitors. All in attendance had witnessed an improbable upset at the historic Brickyard ,and loudly cheered their approval. The rare achievement by Carpenter marked the first time an American had won the pole position for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since Ohio native Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. Hornish, whose pole speed average of 228.985 mph was close to Carpenter’s, went on to win the 2006 Indy 500. The popular, local favorite son had successfully played the role of a modern day David - at least in the Shootout for winning the prestigious pole position for the 97th Indy 500. The diminutive and likeable Carpenter had emerged at top of the 33-car field, and defeated the “Goliaths” who have long dominated the Series.
It was Carpenter’s and Carpenter Racing’s first pole ever at the Indy 500, and the first time in Speedway history that a car No. 20 had ever won the pole.
A happy and relieved Carpenter commented on his huge accomplishment: “This is the start of a dream come true...this is just the first part of what we want to do. To fight the Penske’s and Andretti’s is an accomplishment in itself! This is fun ,and it’s huge for our team, but the pole won’t mean much if we don’t go out and perform on race day. I’m really proud to lead the field to the start of the 97th Indy 500. It makes me that much more proud to be a Hoosier!” Carpenter’s pole-winning efforts paid off well for the small team. They collected $100,000 and 15 precious IZOD IndyCar Series championship points.
Rookie speedster Carlos Munoz of Columbia wound up second in the middle of the first row beside Carpenter with a four-lap average of 228.342 mph. The Andretti Autosport rookie was elated when told he had made Indianapolis Motor Speedway history by becoming the youngest driver (21 years and 136 days old) to ever earn a front row starting position. Munoz commented on his front row accomplishment: “I don’t have words to describe how happy I am! Just to be a rookie on the front is a dream come true!”
Ironically, the last Columbian to qualify on the front row was Juan Pablo Montoya. As a rookie, Montoya also qualified second in 2000, and incredibly went on to win the 2000 Indy 500. Rookie Munoz collected $50,000 for his second place qualifying efforts. Filling out the first row, with the third fastest speed of 228.261 mph, was Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti. It was Andretti’s best qualification run and Indy 500 starting position ever in eight tries. He collected $40,000 for his third place efforts. The third generation Marco Andretti, whose famous father Mario was the only Andretti ever to win the prestigious Indianapolis 500 (1969), hopes this is the year to break the much talked about “Andretti Jinx”.
A record-tying four women qualified for the 2013 Indy 500. Katherine Legge was the last qualifier making her first Indy 500 during Sunday’s Bump Day finals. Legge is joined by Ana Beatriz, Pippa Mann, and Simona de Silvestro in this year’s 33-car field. The ladies will be joined by four rookies in the field. This year’s Rookie of the Year contenders are: Conor Daly, Tristan Vautier, A J Allmendinger, and front row starter Carlos Munoz. Two drivers-Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves have a chance at joining the ranks of four-time Indy 500 winners with a victory in the 2013 Indy 500.
The 2013 Indianapolis 500 certainly has all the necessary ingredients to be one of the most competitive ever!