- Associated Press - Saturday, May 19, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Dario Franchitti’s 39th birthday is one he’d rather forget.

So would Chip Ganassi.

The team with four straight IndyCar championships didn’t even come close to making Saturday’s Pole Day shootout for the Indianapolis 500, and the thought of bumping their way into the shootout were so bleak that none of Ganassi’s four drivers even made a second qualifying attempt on a steamy, slick 2.5-mile oval.

“It sucks. It absolutely sucks. Every member of the Target team is working so hard. We’re just going to have to figure this one out,” said Franchitti, a two-time Indy winner and four-time points champ. “It’s not been a very good qualifying day for us.”

Not at all.

The woes began when Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy winner and two-time series champion, produced an unusually slow four-lap average of 223.684 mph early in qualifying. That wasn’t even close to Tony Kanaan, who went 225.100 on the day’s first qualifying attempt _ a run later disqualified because of a rules violation.

Two attempts later, after Team Penske driver Will Power was clocked at 225.399, Charlie Kimball qualified at 223.868. Franchitti followed that with a 223.582, and Graham Rahal, the last Ganassi driver on the track, sealed the team’s fate even though he posted the fastest speed of the day then delivered the best speed of the day for Ganassi, 223.959. It still wasn’t enough.

All four practiced briefly in the afternoon, but Dixon turned the best lap of the four drivers at 224.220. It still wasn’t enough to supplant Venezuela’s E.J. Viso from the final spot in the shootout, so the Ganassi drivers packed up and headed to the garage.

The May 27 race will be the first in five years not to include one of Ganassi’s cars on Indy’s front row.

“We’re a little disappointed,” Ganassi said. “Honda seems a bit challenged here, so we’re working on that. I think in race trim, we’re OK, we’re just a little challenged in qualifying.”

Rahal will start 12th, Kimball 14th, Dixon 15th and Franchitti, the three-time defending series champ, 16th for the May 27 race.

“I’ve had some great birthdays here, today’s not one of them,” Franchitti said.


SARAH’S STRUGGLES: American rookies Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson were two of the biggest surprises in practice.

Things didn’t go as well for the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing teammates in qualifying.

Yes, Newgarden was the only Honda driver to make the nine-driver pole shootout, but he was the slowest of the seven who completed a qualifying attempt during the 90-minute segment. He’ll start on the inside of Row 3 after going 224.037.

Things were even worse for Clauson, who was within one lap of making the 33-car starting grid. But as he drove through the first turn, Clauson’s No. 39 car spun and wound up hitting the outside wall.

Crew members were scrambling throughout the afternoon to fix his car in time for the resumption of qualifying. Sunday’s round is expected to fill the final nine spots in the field.

One thing that will help is that Dallara, the chassis maker, which has an assembly plant in Speedway, Ind.

“We ripped a lot of stuff off it, but we’re actually going to fix that tub and go back at it,” Clauson said. “So we’re not even going to get the backup car out, we’re just going to go back out with this one probably tomorrow.”


NOT SO SMOOTH: Clauson was the first driver to hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway walls with the new cars.

But he wasn’t only the one having a tough day.

Spanish veteran Oriol Servia crashed on his warm-up lap when he spun coming out of the fourth turn, slid down the track, hit the inside wall and then hit the attenuator at the start of pit road. He, was released from the infield care center and was cleared to drive but did not get another

The biggest hit of the day? Easily Ed Carpenter. His No. 20 car spun going through the second turn, then slid up the track and slammed into the outside wall. The rear wheels came up but the car never got airborne.

The good news: Nobody was seriously hurt.

“While we never like to see any car involved in an incident, we have been very pleased to see all of the drivers walk away from the 200 mph plus impacts,” said Will Phillips, IndyCar’s vice president of technology. “All the credit to Dallara and those who had input into the safety of the new car.”

Another rookie, Colombia’s Sebastian Saavedra, blew an engine on his warm-up lap and wound up with No. 24 starting spot, the outside of Row 8.

And Tony Kanaan, who won the pole in 2005 but has never won the 500, was forced to requalify after his No. 11 car failed post-qualifying technical inspection. Series officials erased his qualifying average of 225.100 because of a violation involving the ballast. He requalified at 224.751, good enough to make the shootout but never completed another full qualifying run.


WHAT A RELIEF: Rubens Barrichello had a solid showing in his first qualifying attempt on an oval.

The longtime Formula One driver will start 13th after going 224.264. But it looked easier than it actually felt.

“People at home, they might think `It’s just four corners,’” the Brazilian said. “I’ll tell you these four corners are much more difficult than many of the other corners I’ve done in my whole life.”

Barrichello wasn’t the only veteran driver relieved to make the race.

Mexico’s Michel Jourdain Jr. qualified 22nd with an average of 222.893.

Who didn’t make the race Saturday?

Four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais was bumped out and now must requalify Sunday. And former Formula One driver Jean Alesi didn’t make a qualifying attempt Saturday.


BRAND NAME: Country music group The Band Perry was in town to help announce Crown Royal’s five finalists to have their name appear on the official title of July’s Brickyard race.

The finalists are Brandon Veatch of Bloomfield, Ind.; Curtis Shaver of Troy, Ala.; Dale Beatty of Statesville, N.C.; John Thomas of Sarasota, Fla.; and Lindsey Marquez of Sun Prairie, Wis. Four of the five have served in the military. Shaver is a certified EMT, paramedic and fire fighter.

Adult fans can vote from Monday through June 28. The winner will have his or her name appear on the July 29 race’s official title.

The band’s three members _ Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry _ also waved the green flag to start Pole Day qualifying Saturday. It was their first time at the Brickyard to see the IndyCars.

“I’ve never seen cars go that fast,” Neil Perry said.

“It’s such an adrenaline rush being that close to it,” Kimberly Perry said.

The band was in town to perform a concert with country music star Brad Paisley and is scheduled to perform when Cup drivers are in town in late July.


PIT STOPS: Howie Mandel will serve as Indy’s honorary announcer on race day, making the traditional call “all cars to the grid.” … Servia was the only driver not to drive a lap in Friday’s practice. On Saturday, he said the team was having trouble with the installation of an engine. … Ryan Briscoe is the first Australian national to win the pole. Dixon, who is from New Zealand, also won the pole but was born in Australia. … Newgarden is the highest rookie qualifier since Danica Patrick was fourth in 2005.

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