Depending on who you ask, qualifying for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 was either a hit — or a complete disaster.
For everything that went right, something went wrong, at least in the eyes of many fans. While 35 entries meant there was bumping for the first time in a while, at the end of the day on Saturday series regular James Hinchcliffe and fan favorite Pippa Mann were on the outside looking in. Unfortunately, despite two rain delays, the gun to end qualifying went off at 5:50 p.m. for television purposes, ten minutes prior to the “traditional” 6 p.m. finishing time, which didn’t sit well with a portion of the fanbase.
So when the 33 qualified drivers came back on Sunday to re-qualify, it was a bit anti-climactic to many compared to what they have seen the day before. People wanted bumping at the end of the day on Sunday, just like in the old days.
Overall, the weekend didn’t sit well with people on both ends of the fan spectrum.
And, because this regime of people who run the show, both within IMS and IndyCar, pay attention to the fans and their concerns, changes were announced Thursday that will be hopefully a compromise that people can live with.
In short, the first 30 qualifiers will be set on Saturday, which is separated into the Fast Nine qualifiers and qualifiers 10-30. The drivers who qualify in positions 10-30 are then done qualifying for the weekend. Sunday will consist of the drivers outside of the top 30 getting one run through to earn spots on the final row of the grid and Fast Nine qualifying, all of which will be shown on NBC in a prime afternoon slot. After the field is set, there will be about three hours of full-field practice.
Dude, this is about as good as it can get. You’ve got cars on track both days, all day, bumping drama, pole drama, and a full-field practice, which over the last few years has become a lot of fun.
Is it perfect? Probably not, but here’s the deal, the old days that everyone wants to go back to weren’t so perfect, either. I went to Pole Day from 1979-95, and I remember lots of times where there would be a flurry of activity when the track opened, several hours of downtime, then another flurry of activity from about 4-6 p.m.
I remember watching only 11 cars qualify on Pole Day in 1987, and in 1993, 10 qualifiers were in the books by 1 p.m., and the next qualifying attempt came four hours later. I remember a lot of years being bored out of my skull waiting for action on the track, and we only kept coming back because I was a hardcore fan.
Bump Day was fun, but part of what made it fun was the swapping of rides, or drivers showing up with their helmets and jumping into a backup car, then making a mad dash to try and make the field. That doesn’t happen any longer.
It’s a different game now. Television rules, and I for one commend NBC for making such a massive investment in a series that for one race a year still doesn’t pull in better ratings than the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The bumping drama and the Fast Nine are what will pop the most on TV, and that’s who gets the plum three hours on a Sunday afternoon. On network television.
I mean, we could go back to the “old way” of doing things, but would you rather have it this way or have qualifying sitting on Versus or some other god-forsaken cable channel? The world works in a different way now, and there are more pulls on people’s time than ever. The best way to get people to spend their time at the track is to have cars constantly driving around it, from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Longtime readers of 15 Days in May will recognize one of my favorite quotes: “The good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”. I say, enjoy it for what it is, and not what you think it is supposed to be.
Mann, Karam Push Confirmed Entries to 31
One of the lasting images from qualifying last year was that of Pippa Mann. Mann, looking to make her seventh start a year ago, fell short as her last-ditch qualifying effort wasn’t quick enough to make the field. The sight of Mann getting emotional as they took her qualifying photo spoke volumes about the heartbreak of missing the race, especially for a driver who works the entire year to find funding for just that one race.
Mann will again be looking to make her seventh start this year, and will be driving the No. 39 machine owned by Clauson-Marshall Racing and carrying sponsorship from Driven2SaveLives and powered by Chevrolet. The Clauson portion of the ownership group is Tim Clauson, father of Bryan Clauson, a two-time Indy 500 starter who lost his life in a racing accident in 2016.
From their website, the “Indiana Donor Network and IndyCar driver Stefan Wilson launched the Driven2SaveLives racing campaign in April 2016 as a way to promote organ, tissue and eye donation and transplantation.”
Wilson of course is the younger brother of Justin Wilson, who was killed at Pocono in 2015. The connection between the two families is that both Bryan Clauson and Justin Wilson were organ donors, and Mann has been an advocate for organ donation as well.
All things considered, Mann is a great driver to bring in as a one-off for the 500. She brings in a lot of money, of course, but she also has a passionate connection with who sponsors her, whether it is the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Donate Life Indiana or Driven2SaveLives. Mann usually puts her cars solidly in the field, and has been running at the finish in five of her six career races. In 2017 she was the first driver one lap down and finished in a career-best 17th place. Given budgets and resources, Mann’s career is pretty comparable to most of the one-off drivers we have seen in recent years, if not better, except for those who have been one-offs for big budget teams.
Also back in the mix is Sage Karam, who joins Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for the fifth time. Karam, who will be looking to make the field for the sixth time, will pilot the No. 24 Wix Filters Chevrolet.
After finishing ninth as a rookie in 2014, Karam is looking to turn around his fortunes at the 500, as the last four races he’s run have hit him with some bad luck.
In 2015, Karam was involved in an incident in Turn 1 of the opening lap, and then the next year was running in sixth place when he crashed in Turn 1 just before the race’s halfway point. In 2017 he dropped out due to mechanical problems, and last year was again running in the Top 10 when he crashed in Turn 4 with 46 laps to go.
Since running all 200 laps in his rookie run, Karam has completed just 362 laps in his last four races. Karam, who turns 24 next week, seems to have a lot of support from his team and sponsors, but could this be a make-or-break race for him? There is no doubt that Karam has the potential to be great, he’s shown that by his performance during races, as well as flashes during his run with Ganassi Racing in 2015. But, as I mentioned in regards to Conor Daly a few weeks ago, it’s a results-driven business. For Karam, a hard charger with a little bit of an edge who I think is good for the sport, it’s time to take the brilliance he has shown in the past and run it the entire 200 laps.
Happy Birthday Mario Andretti
I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning that this past week was Mario Andretti’s birthday. The great one turned 79 this week.
Of course, Mario had an amazing career, winning the 1969 Indy 500, the 1967 Daytona 500, the 1978 Formula 1 World Championship, 52 IndyCar races and four National Championships. His legacy as a driver is secure forever, but what I think is also amazing is his ambassadorship to the sport, especially IndyCar.
Mario hasn’t driven a car in competition in more than a quarter century, but is still a visible sight at the track. Always approachable, he’s always available for a photo, one of which I got with him in 2012. He is still one of the faces of IndyCar, and it is more than appropriate that the Speedway is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his lone 500 win.
I remember a couple of years ago at Mid-Ohio when I was working with John Cummiskey Racing in the USF2000 series and we were on the pre-grid just about 20 minutes before race time, and Mario walked by on his way to where the two-seaters were being worked on. Everyone just stopped what they were doing, and as he walked through the grid of cars and people, everyone said hello.
Very few people in the world get that kind of respect, but for Mario, it is very well-deserved.
Check out the latest Pit Lane Parley episode!
This week the PLP gang is joined by Indy Star motorsports writer Jim Ayello as they discuss the upcoming IndyCar season. I’ll be joining Host Mike Joachim and Jess in St. Pete next week for the first stop of the 2019 NTT Data IndyCar season, and look forward to putting on my reporter gear and cranking out some great content.
You can check out this week’s episode here!