A day that began with deep concern ended with smiles throughout the CFH Racing garage following qualifications for the 99th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
All three entries of “Team America” – a team nickname as all three drivers and team owners are American -- qualified in the top 12 for the 200-lap race May 24.
Josef Newgarden, whose No. 21 Century 21 Chevrolet made hard rearward contact with the Turn 1 SAFER Barrier and flipped during practice May 14, recorded a four-lap average speed of 225.187 mph to qualify ninth in the 33-car field.
JR Hildebrand, driving the No. 6 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet, qualified 10th with a four-lap average speed of 225.099 mph.
Team co-owner/driver Ed Carpenter qualified 12th with a four-lap average speed of 224.883 mph in the backup No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. Five hours before taking the green flag for his qualifying attempt, Carpenter’s primary car made rearward contact with the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier and briefly got airborne. It landed on its left side and slid a hundred feet down the backstretch.
Both Newgarden and Carpenter were uninjured in the incidents.
Crew members from the three entries combined to build around the backup chassis that Luca Filippi drove in the May 9 Angie's List Indy Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Carpenter participated in the practice session preceding qualifications under the revised schedule implemented because of SAFER Barrier and catch fence repairs from the 8:15 a.m. incident.
“I don't think we expected to win the pole with the morning we had, so I'm just thankful for the whole CFH Racing team. It was good teamwork and a great effort to get me out there and I'm very thankful," said Carpenter, who earned the Verizon P1 Award for the Indy 500 in 2013 and 2014.
“It was a new engine, the gears were wrong. It wasn’t really a great session; I was trying to get comfortable. We were able to clean things up from where we were in practice. There was a lot more there, unfortunately, the way the day went, we didn’t get an opportunity to get it all out of that car. We were trying to be conservative, too, and not get in too big of a hurry and overstep it again.”
Wilson paces Andretti Autosport
Justin Wilson, who joined Andretti Autosport for the Indy 500, qualified sixth – the highest among the five team entries and the highest of the Honda entries.
“I just have to thank everyone there who has worked so hard the last few months to put this deal together,” said Wilson, who posted a four-lap average speed of 225.279 mph. “I also want to thank everyone a Honda for letting me have the opportunity to be here. I’m hoping today’s qualifying run is a good omen going into next weekend, we’ll see how it all works out, looking forward to bringing a decent result home.”
Marco Andretti qualified eighth, while Carlos Munoz qualified 11th, 2014 race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay 16th and Simona de Silvestro 19th.
Lazier fails to crack the field
Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indy 500 winner who totaled 39 laps of practice entering qualifications, recorded a four-lap average of 220.153 mph in the 45-minute session to determine positions 31-33. But it wasn’t enough to bump his way past Bryan Clauson (221.358 mph) and into the field.
Jack Hawksworth (223.738) and Stefano Coletti (222.001) also had to return to the racetrack to make a second qualifying attempt.
“We broke an upright and an axel this morning in practice and, for us, that took every minute of the qualifying time to get that back on the car,” Lazier said. “Even though we got a late start and had one problem after another, I thought we looked pretty good for the last day and half. It’s just disappointing. Certainly we could do better than that.”
Lazier, whose Lazier Racing Partners team didn’t get on the track until May 14, said he plans to return in 2016 and attempt to qualify for the 100th Indianapolis 500.
“You get a late start and you are a small effort, you are really going to be up against it,” he said.