Alex Tagliani on pole for first race
FORT WORTH, Texas -- IndyCar drivers won't have to wait long for their next race. After racing at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night, they will take a break and then do it again.
The first dual races in major open-wheel racing in 30 years will be a Texas two-step -- two shorter sprints at the high-banked, 1½-mile track that already features some of the series' fastest and most exciting races.
Ryan Briscoe, the Team Penske driver who won the single race at Texas last year, has talked to four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and team consultant Rick Mears about the format. For the last dual races at Atlanta in June 1981, Mears won both.
"He absolutely loved doing the twin races," Briscoe said. "His big thing, if you had a good car in the first race, well, you're going to have a good car in the second race as well. If you start the first race and your handling is not right and someone else is a bit better, well at halftime, you can come in and make some changes. Adjust the car and do what you need to do to be fast and maybe win the second one."
Indianapolis 500 polesitter Alex Tagliani is also on the pole for the first race at Texas. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver averaged 215.186 mph over his four-lap qualifying run Friday.
Missing from the 30-car field is Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who will be in the television booth for the Versus broadcast instead of a cockpit. His one-race contract with Bryan Herta Autosport expired hours after his improbable victory at Indianapolis, which the team had planned for its only race this season while building toward running a full schedule next season.
Wheldon said he had "two opportunities" to race at Texas, though he didn't get specific about those or his possible future with Herta.
"It just didn't feel right," Wheldon said Friday. "The fact that we've created so much momentum, it would be bad to spoil that. Yeah, I would absolutely love to be in the race car, but it just seems that it's not the right opportunity to do that right now."
In another Texas-like twist, drivers will come up on stage during the hour-long break between the two 171-mile races for a blind draw that will set their starting position for the second race. Each race will pay half the points and half the bonus prizes.
"It's much appropriate for Texas I suppose. ... It's much more exhibition style because the second race isn't on qualifying," said Danica Patrick, the Texas runner-up last year. "I think that second race will be pretty interesting. I think it's good four our series, good for our sport. ... It's appropriate that the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 that we go back to some old-style rules."
There have been only 17 twin races, nine on ovals, in the history of U.S. open-wheel racing including CART and USAC. All of those twin bills were between 1967 and 1981, the last being the CART-sanctioned event Mears swept.
In 10 of those doubleheaders, the same driver won both races. Mario Andretti had two sweeps in USAC races (1967-68).
So what has Andretti said about twin races to his grandson, Marco?
"Of course that he won and stuff like that," said Marco Andretti, who starts the first race 23rd. "That's the only detail that he gave me."
The 30 cars entered at Texas make up the largest IndyCar field ever at the track and the most cars in a race outside the Indianapolis 500 since 31 cars started at Las Vegas in the 1996-97 season finale.
Crews will be able to work on their cars during the unusual halftime when drivers blindly choose their starting position for the second race. Each team will also have a spare engine to utilize for the second race. They can also use a backup car if the primary car is crashed in the first race, if they have one.
"We're going to have to be more aggressive maybe because the race is shorter, so you're going to see people trying different things to win the race," Tony Kanaan said. "I'm excited."
Kanaan qualified sixth, making KV Racing the only team with two drivers in the top six. Five different teams filled the first top five spots.
JR Hildebrand, the Panther Racing rookie driver who crashed on the last turn while leading at Indianapolis, qualified 11th just two days after injuring his left knee during a fitness promotion for this week's race in Texas.
"It's fine," Hildebrand said. "I'm not having any trouble getting in and out of the car, so it's not going to be an issue."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press