Related topics

Danny Sullivan Looks at the Battle for the Pole Position

May 15, 1988

Undated (AP) _ By DANNY SULLIVAN For The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - You not only need to run very well to win the pole position for the Indianapolis 500, you need to make your run at the right time of day.

Having the right chassis, engine and line around the race track may get you the pole for the May 29 race if you also are in the right place in the qualifying line.

If the first six or seven cars in line have a nice cool track, they will run much better speeds than later qualifiers on a track turned hot and greasy by mid-afternoon sunshine. Conversely, if the winds tail off during the day, or the track cools in late afternoon, the late runners have an advantage.

Through the first half of this week, the battle for the pole focused on Mario Andretti and my Penske Racing teammate Rick Mears. Both have consistently put the big numbers on the board and have won the pole here in the past.

On the car side of the equation, the Penske PC17s and Lolas seem to have an edge on the Marches.

Al Unser, the defending champion and my other teammate, also is running very well. And so is his son Al Jr.

Mario, Rick, ″Big Al,″ ″Little Al,″ Emerson Fittipaldi and I are all running the Chevy Indy V8 engine. I figure my Penske-Chevrolet will be locked in a pretty heavy battle for a spot in the top five.

Michael Andretti, Roberto Guerrero and Arie Luyendyk have run well, and A.J. Foyt is always a factor. But the traditional Cosworth engine may not have the muscle to take the pole away from the Chevys. Bobby Rahal may be in a similar position with his new Judd engine.

The biggest threat to the Chevrolets is probably the Buick V6 engine used by Jim Crawford and Johnny Rutherford. With their special turbocharger boost allowance here, the Buicks have as much as a 70-horsepower advantage on the field and will give them a real chance to qualify up front.

To win the pole, you need a very strong and consistent run. Running for the pole at Indianapolis is a purist’s delight. You put it all on the line for four laps - 10 miles.

This may sound strange, but running four qualifying laps is much more difficult than making an all-out one or two lap banzai run.

The cars are now set up for optimum speed. These are by no measure race setups. The outside tires are working very hard and after two or three laps they can lose their edge. Since the car is set up right on the edge, you then have no choice but the back off.

The new rule limiting turbocharger boost by two inches (thereby cutting horsepower) makes keeping the engine flat out as possible all the way around the track absolutely critical. You can’t recover the power, or the speed, as easily as you could with more boost.

Backing off will cost you not only the hundredths of a second while you lift off the throttle, but additional time while the engine gets back to full power.

In the simplest terms, you quite literally want to push the throttle pedal through the bulkhead.

Many teams will switch to special gears and qualifying engines to turn the highest possible rpms all the way around the 2 1/2 -mile track. The engine can’t possibly sustain the pace for the race, but if it completes four laps, the engine has served its purpose.

Although we have seen several laps above 220 in practice, I expect the single fastest laps in qualifying to be 218.8 mph and the four-lap average for the pole-winner to be about 218.2.

Mario is awfully good, but Rick wins the pole.

End Advance For Weekend Editions May 14-15

Update hourly