SPEEDWAY, Ind. - What's Bump Day at Indianapolis like when there is no bumping? The perfect time for hours and hours of ordinary race practice.
Drama failed to sweep over the Brickyard Sunday as the last nine spots for the 33-car Indianapolis 500 field were filled early in the final six-hour qualifying session, leaving most IZOD IndyCar teams hours of race practice ahead of next Sunday's 96th Indianapolis 500 instead of the traditional bumping of drivers in and out of the field. The contrast at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to last year's Bump Day – one that featured the real possibility of Danica Patrick missing the field before two of her Andretti Autosport teammates actually did – was stark.
However, an announcement at the end of the day provided a different form of drama for the series. Officials announced that 13 cars – nearly 40 percent of the field – had received financial penalties for various rule infractions during the qualifying weekend. The penalties even nipped at each driver qualified on the race's front row.
Pole winner Ryan Briscoe, second-place starter James Hinchcliffe and third-place starter Ryan Hunter-Reay were all cited for penalties. Briscoe and Hunter-Reay joined nine other teams found to have illicit braking systems. Each of those teams was fined $10,000 for the violations.
Ex-Formula 1 driver Jean Alesi's Fan Force United Team was slapped with the largest penalty of $50,000 after officials discovered an issue with the variable extra weight teams are required to add based on an individual driver's physical weight. Alesi, 47, qualified Sunday and will become the oldest rookie to start the 101-year-old race.
Hunter-Reay's team was hit with another penalty – the same as Hinchcliffe's – for failing to heed an IndyCar official directive and using improper car cooling equipment outside the garage stall. A.J. Foyt's No. 14 car driven by Mike Conway was also cited by IndyCar for an infraction relating to the team illegally altering parts provided either by the series or by a series-determined supplier. Each infraction imposed, aside from Alesi's, cost teams $10,000 a piece – meaning IndyCar collected $275,000 in fines from 18 infractions made by 13 teams. No qualifying efforts were disqualified, and no race grid penalties were assessed.
But before that, the lack of suspense on Indy's final qualifying day was expected.
The lack of extra driver and car combinations that typically mean some teams and drivers fail to make the race just didn't materialize this year thanks to big changes in the series. IndyCar made a series-wide transition this season to a brand new chassis – plus the addition of competing engine manufacturers. The changes produced logistical problems, most notably limiting the engine supply. The lack of supply, most notably from Honda and Chevrolet, is primarily due to the manufacturers being committed to responsible budgeting. Both have committed to a mostly firm count of teams they're capable and willing to sign engine agreements with.
A third engine supplier, Lotus, has faced numerous challenges that have led to some IndyCar teams defecting to the other suppliers due to an appreciable lack of power. The two remaining Lotus cars qualified Sunday in the final two spots of the grid 12 and 16 average miles per hour off Ryan Briscoe's pole-winning pace.
Ed Carpenter, one day removed from a booming hit against the Turn 2 wall during a qualifying attempt, became the final qualifier in this year's race at 2:04 p.m. Sunday. Carpenter – a driver-owner for the first time this season – qualified his backup No. 20T Dallara 28th on the grid at 222.324 mph.
A full field had to be a relief for IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard after he faced the potential of the Indianapolis 500 field not having a full field of 33 cars for the first time since 1947. There was concern even after practice started last week that the number wouldn't be reached after some legal wrangling over Dragon Racing's abrupt switch to Chevrolet from Lotus nearly kept two car entries off the track.
"I'm an optimist, so I'm optimistic there will be 33," Bernard said Friday morning. "I think it's very important to this race."
Seven minutes after Carpenter's run gave Bernhard what he wanted Sunday, the track was inspected and opened for practice until it closed at 6 p.m. with the customary firing of a gun by a series official. In between, drivers worked on setups hoping to perfect them for the 500-mile race. One driver, Charlie Kimball from Chip Ganassi's team, created a new load of work for his team just 13 minutes into race practice.
Kimball, who qualified Saturday 14th on the grid, appeared to get too low entering Turn 1 and lost control. His car spun 180 degrees and impacted the track's retaining wall. Kimball was uninjured in the incident but faces the possibility of starting next Sunday's race from last if his team elects to use a backup car.
Two other drivers who suffered crashes Saturday were able to return Sunday and make effective, yet cautious qualifying attempts. One, Oriol Servia, timed into the field in 27th at 222.393 mph and didn't hide the fact that he was making a conservative attempt. Had Servia wrecked Sunday before completing a time trial and failed to make repairs before the track closed, he would have been ineligible for the 500.
"We just wanted to make sure we had a solid effort to get it into the race," Servia said. "Obviously, to win the race, you have to be in it first."
The other driver making a comeback after a Saturday crash was Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Bryan Clauson, who timed in 31st with an average speed of 214.455 mph. The speed was notably slower than his Saturday bid that ended crumpled against the turn one wall.
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