Ryan Briscoe steals pole for 2012 Indy 500

Photo by Dan Helrigel, IZOD IndyCar
Ryan Briscoe must feel at least a little vindicated. In 2011, Briscoe's Pole Day didn't go nearly as well. He crashed and had to hustle to get into the race by qualifying on Bump Day. This year, Briscoe gives team owner Roger Penske his 17th Indianapolis 500 pole, beating James Hinchcliffe and his bright green GoDaddy machine by just .0023 of a second. That's the closest margin in the 96-year history of the race. 

Briscoe said of his achievement, "I don't know how many times I've been here and I've been in both those seats before that we have rolled out feeling good and next thing, Helio goes out and goes a mile‑an‑hour quicker than everybody.  I'm just glad it was my turn."

When asked about losing the pole to Briscoe, Hinchcliffe said, "It's heartbreaking in a sense but the end of the day we get to start on the front row for the Indy 500 and that's the coolest thing ever...I'm going to lose a little bit of sleep over how small that margin was to Ryan and to know that we had it for three or four laps, but that's Indy, man."   

For a full rundown of the IZOD IndyCar's somewhat convoluted qualifying rules for the Indy 500, see this Fast Facts column by Skirts and Scuffs' Paula Thompson. In short, on Pole day the first 24 places are set in the day's first session, with the fastest nine out of that group making a separate run to determine the starting order for those first nine places. The remaining portion of the field has Bump Day to earn a starting spot. 

The Mayor of Hinchtown lit up Pole Day's first qualifying session with a stellar run midway through the 11:00am-4:00pm period. Most of the fastest laps came early in the session with the track slowing significantly as it heated, but Hinchcliffe busted out a 225.746 lap to lead the Fast Nine into the final qualifying period. 

Tony Kanaan needed a second run after his first attempt was disqualified because the car was missing ballast. He was understandably upset, but managed to get out and put his car solidly in the Fast Nine with no penalties or disqualifications. 

At 4:30 Saturday, after having already gone through the hours of tense competition to get the absolute fastest four-lap average possible,  those fastest nine drivers had to make at least one more run. Although none of them could end the qualifying session with lower than ninth place on the grid, they had to fight to keep the position previously earned. The order going in: Hinchcliffe, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Briscoe, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Josef Newgarden, E.J. Viso. 

For Hinchcliffe, the process proved particularly frustrating when Briscoe bested what Hinch had hoped was his pole-winning time. He made a second attempt to regain the pole but had the run waved off by IZOD IndyCar Race Director Beaux Barfield when it became obvious it would not beat Briscoe's time. Tony Kanaan also attempted another run, but was unable to move up the grid. 

The Fast Nine results: 

1. Ryan Briscoe  226.484 
2. James Hinchcliffe  226.481 
3. Ryan Hunter-Reay  226.240 
4. Marco Andretti  225.456 
5. Will Power 225.422 
6. Helio Castroneves  225.172 
7. Josef Newgarden 224.037 
8. Tony Kanaan  224.751 
9. EJ Viso,  224.422

F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello, whose experience at the Brickyard is limited to the road course, qualified just out of the top nine.He'll start his first Indianapolis 500 from 10th position, on the fourth row.  

The rest of the field:

10. Rubens Barrichello
11. Alex Tagliani
12. Graham Rahal
13. Ana Beatriz 
14. Charlie Kimball
15. Scott Dixon
16. Dario Franchitti
17. James Jakes
18. JR Hildebrand
19. Takuma Sato
20. Townsend Bell
21. Justin Wilson
22. Michel Jourdain
23. Simon Pagenaud
24. Sebastian Saavedra

Bump Day coverage begins today at noon Eastern on NBC Sports Network and online at IndyCar.com. Nine drivers can earn their chance to make history at the Indy 500. 
Ryan Briscoe steals pole for 2012 Indy 500 Ryan Briscoe steals pole for 2012 Indy 500 Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, May 20, 2012 Rating: 5