Photo; Jay Howard. Photo from the 2010 Indianapolis 500 Program
A change in qualifying procedures shook up the paddock in 2010. It was just the third year of the newly merged Indy Racing League. In an attempt to revive interest in qualifying, a new format was created. One of the features was a Fast Nine shootout for the pole. The first day of qualify would establish 24 positions. The cars who didn’t make the top 24 would try again Sunday to fill the last nine slots, and the slowest of Saturday’s 24 could be bumped from the field. Qualify was just one weekend instead of the two weekends which had been in place most years since 1952.
The drama began early Saturday when Tony Kanaan crashed during practice. The perennial crowd favorite had never started worse than 6th. His car would not be ready until the next day, meaning 25th was the highest he could start the race. Helio Castroneves easily won the pole in the shootout. The defending race and pole winner posted a blistering average on his first attempt in the shootout which no one else could come close to.
The track was not finished with Kanaan. In Sunday morning’s practice, he crashed in nearly the same spot. His crew did not have the luxury of 24 hours to repair the car this time. In the final hour, a chess match developed between Jay Howard, driving for Sarah fisher’s team, and Paul Tracy, driving for KV Racing. Before they began to play the withdraw/requalify dance, Tony Kanaan made the field at 5:23 with a speed that was not completely safe, but time was on his side.
Howard was bumped from the field by Takuma Sato at 5:41. Howard went back to reclaim his spot, but his average was slower than his first attempt. Tracy withdrew his time, putting Howard back in the field. Tracy went out for another attempt but waved it off after two laps that weren’t fast enough. The Fisher team decided to withdraw Howard’s car, fearing that Tracy would find the speed to bump him on his last try. Howard was in line ahead of Tracy and got the day’s final attempt. It was even slower than his second attempt. Howard and Tracy were both out of the race. if they had kept their times, both would have made the field.
Adding to the strangeness of the situation was the case of Sebastian Saavedra. He had qualified, then crashed his car during a practice period. Saavedra was at Methodist Hospital being checked for injuries during the final hour. He had been bumped twice, but the Howard and Tracy withdrawals and failures to go to fast enough put his car back in the race.
An historic field was set. For the first time, four women, Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick, Simona De Silvestro, and Ana Beatriz would start the Indianapolis 500. The first row would feature two former winners, Castroneves and Dario Franchitti, and a future winner, Will Power. The last row had two future winners, Sato and Kanaan.
Indystar writer Bob Kravitz said of the new qualifying format, “In the end, this gimmicky pole day format worked as well, if not better, than anybody could have expected. we will know for sure in 20 years, when the Indianapolis 500 is still doing it exactly the same way.”
It’s not exactly as it was in 2010 just 10 years later, and i think it still has a ways to go, but the format is evolving. It will never make everyone happy.
Dario Franchitti won the 2010 race, his second win in a span of four years.