Fourth Turn – Pole Day At The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

For 2005, a new qualifying format was introduced here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In an attempt to add drama to the trials, only eleven cars would make the field on each of the first three qualifying days. Bumping would occur when the daily field filled, and those left on the outside would move to the next day?s proceedings. Drivers already in that day?s field could withdraw their run and try to better their speed. The fourth day would find a full field, and anyone still on the outside could bump their way in with a faster run.

This was fine in theory, but rain washed out Pole Day in 2005 and ?06, compressing the new rules and depriving fans of seeing the new format in full bloom.

But on a beautiful Saturday in ?07, the ?Run For Eleven? was rolled-out before one of the larger pole-day crowds in recent memory.

?I think the (qualifying format) is very stressful for the drivers, but the fans love it,? said Andretti-Green pilot Dario Franchetti. ?I?ll be quite happy if I?ve done my qualifying for the ?07 500. I don?t want to go back out there. I don?t think we will unless a lot of people go quicker.?

Target Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon concurred, also noting that this would stir interest in the fans. ?I think it?s cool. It?s a very good way to do it for the fans. It?s going to keep them on their feet all day. It?s also good for me because I can have another try.?

Pole favorite Dan Wheldon viewed the new format in a personal way after posting a slow 223.686 mph. ?I?ve done out laps of 225.6 this month. It?s good you can go back out and have a go,? said the 2005 500 winner. ? It?s great for the fans, and that?s what it?s all about. It?s a beautiful Saturday and there are a lot of people here and it should be exciting for them because they deserve it. It will go right down to 6:00pm. and I think particularly today, with the weather as hot as it is, there will be a lot of people waiting to go until the last part of the day. It should be very interesting.?

And ?very interesting? is what these events should be about. Qualifying has become a very neutral drill on the open-wheel circuit, what with each car that shows up making the field. Some call this new Indy format a ?pseudo-bumping session,? knowing that even if you?re bumped today you?ll be back tomorrow and will likely make the event. But as the drivers noted, this is meant for the fans, and judging by their reaction today, it may just be working.

Notes: AAA Hoosier Motor Club Insurance has expanded its sponsorship of driver Sara Fisher to include her No. 5 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry for the Indy 500?Thirty-three car/driver combinations posted speeds during the week leading up to Pole Day. Scott Dixon led the charts at 227.167mph. on May11, with Jon Herb the slowest at 217.758mph?Indy Pro Series driver Tom Wood announced his retirement from driving after sustaining a compression fracture of the T9 vertebrae during private testing at the Milwaukee Mile on May 8th. He intends to focus his energy on the IPS team that he owns. ?We need to work on a game plan, but eventually I?d like to develop our own ladder system, developing guys in the IPS to compete in the Indy Car Series.??Former tennis champion Billie Jean King was the honorary starter for Saturday?s Pole Day activities?Eighteen of the thirty-one drivers entered in the 500 are from the US?Even though 1998 500 winner Eddie Cheever?s biography takes up four pages in the Speedway?s media guide, his team is not entered in this year?s race, choosing instead to focus their interests on their Grand American Rolex Series entries?IRL and NASCAR team owner Roger Penske admitted this week that; ?I think everybody has interest in Dale Earnhardt Jr. to join their team. ?We?d sure like to talk to him. We?re a Dodge team, we have drivers under contract today, and we?re not in a situation that we would probably be in line to offer him a job. Just the comments that I read in the paper, he might know more than I do that he wants to be with Chevy when we have a contract with Dodge. And when we have contracts, as you know, we stay with them.?

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