Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) driver Alex Tagliani will start on the outside of the sixth row for Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma after he qualified 12th in IZOD IndyCar Series time trials Saturday afternoon at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
Tagliani, driver of the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Honda/Dallara/Firestone Indy car for SSM, made it to the second round of “knockout” qualifying for the second road-course race in a row. In the top-12 session, he toured the 2.303-mile, 12-turn road course with a fast lap of 79.8032 seconds at 103.891 mph, 12th-best among 28 drivers entered in Sunday’s race.
“It was alright, but I knew the lap time we needed to do needed to be in the 78s (seconds) and we just couldn’t get there,” said Tagliani, who qualified fourth at Infineon last year en route to a 14th-place finish in the race. “The frustrating thing is, we came here without testing. Everybody else here came here to test the new tire and, with no time, we needed to do some miracles. We had a pretty big task in front of us – learning the new tires, trying to get the set-up of the car. I can’t drive (SSM teammate) Martin (Plowman’s) set-up. It doesn’t work for me. Within one session, we had to make some changes to get some improvement. It’s been a very challenging weekend – very disappointing, so far, especially after being fourth here last year (in qualifying). Against these big teams, you can’t expect to come here to make some miracles in two sessions. For the race, I think we need to change the set-up again and do some work in the warm-up. We need to continue to work this weekend as a test because I was not here and it’s been hurting us quite a bit. I think the team did good to recover from where we were this morning. We have a lot of work to do, right now. A lot of work.”
The rookie Plowman, Tagliani’s teammate for the weekend as he was in his debut at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington two races ago, qualified 15th in the No. 17 Snowball Express/Honda/Firestone Indy car for AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Plowman’s fast lap in the opening group qualifying session was 79.3792 seconds at 104.445 mph. Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma will be Plowman’s second IndyCar Series outing. He started 26th and finished 18th at Mid-Ohio, and has a pair of Firestone Indy Lights Series races under his belt at Infineon with finishes of 10th and 16th the last two seasons, respectively.
“I would say, after this morning, we had the confidence going into qualifying knowing that I could extract time out of the red (compound) tires, which was my problem at Mid-Ohio,” said Plowman, who clocked the fastest lap in practice here this morning. “I was quick on black (compound) tires but I wasn’t very good on the red tires in qualifying. To get our times like that on the red tires was a big step forward for me. But, without wanting to sugar-coat it, I knew what our realistic goal was and that was to get into the top-12 and break into the second qualifying group. That was always going to be my goal for qualifying. I was never really a pole contender. At the end of the session, the car felt good. The track was dirty after the World Challenge race, and the balance of the car shifted a lot. It was sliding a lot in the rear. We missed our progression to the second group by seven-hundredths (of a second), which is a big step forward for me from Mid-Ohio, but it’s a bit frustrating for me to have missed it by that little bit here today.”
Team Penske’s Will Power, last year’s race-winner and pole-sitter at Infineon, qualified on the pole once again today with a fast lap of 78.6017 seconds at 105.479 mph. It was Power’s sixth pole of the season and the 22nd of his career. Helio Castroneves (79.0916 seconds at 104.825 mph) and Ryan Briscoe (79.1112 seconds at 104.799 mph) made it a Team Penske sweep of the top-three starting spots for Sunday’s 75-lap race. Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti (79.1464 seconds at 104.753 mph) and Scott Dixon (79.3892 seconds at 104.432 mph) rounded out the top-five.
The Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma gets underway at 4:45 p.m. EDT Sunday with live coverage provided by Versus beginning with its pre-race show at 4 p.m.
Date: Aug. 27, 2011
Event: Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma Qualifying (Round 13 of 17)
Series: IZOD IndyCar Series
Location: Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. (2.303-mile, 12-turn road course)
Pole Winner: Will Power of Team Penske (78.6017 seconds at 105.479 mph)
SSM Lineup: Alex Tagliani (12th, 79.8032 seconds at 103.891 mph)
Martin Plowman (15th, 79.3792 seconds at 104.445 mph)