Boy, was that worth it.
Alex Tagliani capped off one heck of a Pole Day for next Sunday's Indianapolis 500 in quite the dramatic fashion when he drove his underdog Sam Schmidt Motorsports car to the pole.
Tags, as they call him in the IndyCar world, ripped off four laps at an average of 227.474 mph — just enough to stop Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon from earning his second 500 pole. Oriol Servia completed the other surprising bookend of the front row in his Newman/Haas Racing No. 2 at 227.168 mph.
Tagliani's dramatic laps &mdash possibly the first attempt ever started at Indianapolis after 6 p.m. local time — came in "The Fast Nine" session of Indy's Pole Day. Implemented last year, the program forces each of the fastest nine qualifiers at the end of the regular qualifying session to make one more go to secure the pole award.
This year, the early session was cut short by roughly 45 minutes when a rain shower hampered activity at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and, for a time, looked like it would wash the end of the day out completely. But the skies soon cleared as the track dried quickly and IndyCar officials said each of the top nine teams would get one final shot at the pole.
The extra session produced some extremely rare mistakes on the part of Chip Ganassi Racing. Two laps into his qualifying run, last year's winner Dario Franchitti appeared good enough to make the front row. Then he ran out of fuel before completing his fourth lap.
Over the radio, a dejected and dumbfounded Franchitti simply repeated "How the [expletive] does that happen?"
The glaring mistake also seemed to impact his teammate Dixon. Following his run, Dixon reported running out of fuel along the final straightaway coming to the checkered flag. He missed the pole by .0915 seconds.
"I know Dario is probably a little more ticked off than I am, but to come so close is pretty aggravating," Dixon said.
Four drivers who have yet race so far in the 2010 IndyCar season were a part of the elite group at the end of qualifying, including Townsend Bell (4th), Dan Wheldon (6th), Buddy Rice (7th) and Ed Carpenter (8th).
Carpenter drew some of the biggest cheers of the day, likely due to his car being owned by fan-favorite and former driver Sarah Fisher.
Here is the how the first three rows will look for the May 29th race:
Row 1: Alex Tagliani, Scott Dixon, Oriol Servia
Row 2: Townsend Bell, Will Power, Dan Wheldon
Row 3: Buddy Rice, Ed Carpenter, Dario Franchitti
A brief but heavy rain shower crossed Indianapolis Motor Speedway about four hours into the initial five-hour qualifying session Saturday, effectively scuttling several teams' attempts to lock themselves in the field.
Rules put in place a year guaranteed that the best 24 qualifiers on the first day of time trials would be locked in to the 33-car field, and teams' efforts to reach that security blanket provided many of the most interesting moments.
Easily the most dramatic of those was the return of Simona De Silvestro. The Swiss driver suffered an incredible crash Thursday after a mechanical failure sent her car into the Turn 3 wall. From there, she flipped and caught on fire mdash; suffering 2nd-degree burns on one hand.
Saturday morning was her return to Indianapolis, bandaged and in a backup car, and after three desperate attempts, she locked herself in the field at 24th.
Surprisingly, the entirety of Andretti Autosport struggled all day while two of the three perennial-favorite Team Penske cars failed to place in the top-nine for a run at the pole.
Two-time winner Helio Castroneves registered 16th quick at 225.216 mph, while teammate Ryan Briscoe didn't make the top-24. Briscoe crashed hard in the morning practice and never could get his backup car to reach the same speed after limited practice.
On the Andretti front, a surprising John Andretti led the way in the effort co-partnered by Richard Petty. Andretti, on his third qualifying attempt of the day, put his No. 43 Petty blue machine 17th on the grid with a four-lap average of 224.981.
Meanwhile, Danica Patrick ran twice with a best of 223.837 mph and Marco Andretti ran a 223.389 mph. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway also struggled.
Sunday promises to have plenty of excitement as well, as the final qualifying day has nine spots open to 16 drivers.