2011 Indianapolis 500 Bump Day - Pure Tension #BlogPost

The Indianapolis 500 is a race immersed in tradition. From the drinking of the milk, to the singing of Back Home Again in Indiana, it’s traditions are long and are staples of the speedway. As the number of entries for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 grows, it looks like there will be one tradition that will return this May, Bump Day.

Bump Day is what decides the field of thirty-three that will compete in the greatest race in the world. After Pole Qualifying the day prior, the top twenty-five cars are locked into the field, the however many that are left spend Bump Day trying to make the race. There are three attempts on each car, once three attempts are made, you can no longer qualify that car. A driver can then swap into a backup car or another team’s car altogether to try to make the show. This turns Bump Day into the most exciting days in all of sports, drivers risking it all to accomplish their dream.

2011 was the final Bump Day to date, and it was one of the all time classics. After Pole Day, May 21st, Alex Tagliani sat on pole with Buddy Rice and Will Power starting to his outside. Seventeen drivers, however, would be going for nine slots in the field, meaning eight would miss the Indianapolis 500. As the sun rose on May 22nd, all seventeen had a shot of making the field. The starting gun fired at noon.

However, clouds loomed over the speedway. Danica Patrick was the first up to attempt a four lap qualification run, but her car was soon pulled out of line. The car had failed technical inspection, meaning that the car had to be fixed and then placed at the end of the line of cars on pit lane. Danica would lose valuable time to qualify while rain approached. This meant that Brazilian Ana Beatriz would go out for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, and would start the hectic day. Beatriz would put in a speed of 223.879 mph. Graham Rahal was the next to go out at a moist speedway. The son of the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner would put down two laps that were quicker than Beatriz, but rain started to creep in. As Rahal started his third lap, it began to sprinkle in the South End of the Speedway; nevertheless, Rahal kept his foot down for five more miles, putting down a speed of 224.380 mph just as the yellow lights came on and the track closed due to moisture.

At 2:30pm, the track reopened. Raphael Matos was the first one out, setting a speed not good enough to topple Rahal or Beatriz. Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe soon went to the top of the charts in his backup car after crashing in Pole Day practice, setting a speed of 224.639 mph. Next was Alex Lloyd, who set a reasonable time, but still was vulnerable to getting bumped. Pippa Mann, Charlie Kimball, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway all went out after Lloyd. The field was full, and the bumping was about to start.

Around 3:00pm, the skies darkened again, and with the field full, those who got an attempt would be in if qualifying was to be canceled. This would mean Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti, Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier, Scott Speed, Sebastian Saavedra, James Jakes and Ho-Pin Tung would be left out of the 500. The teams would have to race the rain to get an attempt. Marco Andretti was the next out and his Andretti Autosport entry knocked Raphael Matos out of the top thirty three, but Andretti only had a slight buffer over that crucial last spot. Paul Tracy went quickly after the youngest Andretti, and quickly went fastest on the day, knocking Mike Conway’s Andretti Autosport car out of the field.

Danica Patrick, now passed inspection, was next in line, but just before her run, the track closed. Rain started to fall once again at 3:15pm. Would a minor technical infraction cost Danica a shot at even making the 500? Intensity built in the Andretti camp, their biggest star could be out of the biggest race.

The only person more tense than Danica, it seemed, was Alex Lloyd. Lloyd was on the bubble for the small Dale Coyne team and it would be a huge boost to make the 500, as the car had major backing from the Boy Scouts of America. Rain continued to fall, and two seats sat on opposite sides of the pit lane, waiting, praying, for completely differing results.

To Lloyd’s dismay, the track reopened at 4:45pm, and Danica was quickly on her qualifying attempt. The car that almost missed the field easily made it, setting a speed of 224.861 mph, second fastest to Paul Tracy, placing her safely in the field in the middle of the ninth row. With Danica’s run, it was now 2006 Indianapolis 500 runner up Marco Andretti’s turn on the bubble. Raphael Matos went out next, but wasn’t near fast enough to bump Andretti. However, Andretti’s teammate posed the next real challenge.

Mike Conway was next out to take an attempt, but was almost two full miles per hour off pace. Andretti sat in his car on pit lane, watching the attempt, cheering when the sorry third lap popped up, at a speed of 221.199mph. Ryan Hunter-Reay, another Andretti car, was next, but pulled out of line, not wanting to scratch his 32nd place effort.

Sebastian Saavedra was next on track. Andretti sat in his car in the qualifying line. Saavedra’s first lap of 223.765mph was good enough to bump Andretti, but the second lap of 223.564mph dropped his average to two hundredths behind Andretti. Saavedra’s looked to possibly bump Andretti, but the car understeered in Turn 2, nearly crashing and causing Saavedra to get out of the gas and abandon the run. Lloyd was back in line for the next run, but wasn’t fast enough to bump Andretti. Andretti was invincible.

Mike Conway struggled to find speed again, tossing his third attempt after only two laps and missing the 2011 Indianapolis 500. He would not be able to make a comeback from his horrific last lap accident the year prior. Dale Coyne’s driver James Jakes was the next out, only eighteen minutes from the end of the qualifications. After Dale Coyne pulled the car’s run after only two laps, Saavedra was the next one out, but wasn’t quick enough to make it. Matos was the next one out with only twelve minutes remaining, not going fast enough, and after begging from Michael Andretti, Matos pulled the car back into pit lane, missing the Indy 500. Marco Andretti was slotted next, but pulled out of line to not erase the earlier time. Next up, Alex Lloyd. Eight minutes remained.

Lloyd, driving for the underfunded Dale Coyne Racing, had only one shot left. It was the third try, if he didn’t make a good sixteen corners, he’d miss the Indy 500. Lloyd dashed into Turn 1 with only seven minutes left. He put together four perfect corners and ran a lap speed of 223.732mph, fast enough. Now, Andretti’s team was scrambling to get back into the qualifying line, as was Ryan Hunter-Reay’s team, who was slotted 32nd still. However, both were beat by Lloyd’s teammate, James Jakes. Lloyd completed his second lap, 223.905mph. Five miles remained. Third lap: 224.114mph. The tension was immeasurable. The most storied namesake in the history of the speedway may miss the Indianapolis 500. Fourth lap: 224.078mph. Alex Lloyd was in the 500, Marco Andretti was out. Four minutes remained.

As Lloyd was safely in, it was now Ryan Hunter-Reay on the bubble. James Jakes was next out on track. Jakes went around the track once, setting a lap of 221.468mph, not nearly fast enough to make the show. Michael Andretti and IndyCar officials both begged for Coyne to wave the run off. Jakes continued, trying with all his might to push the car to the limit. It was at the limit, and the run was waved off as he crossed the line to complete his second lap. Marco Andretti was next in line. Only sixty seconds remained.

Andretti was released from pit lane with fifty seconds to go. It was all or nothing, he would either crash or make the show. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had been beaten into the line by his teammate, Andretti, sat helplessly. He would either watch his 500 slip away, or be the last car in the show. As Marco Andretti completed his warmup lap, the ending gun fired. It would be the last run of the day.

On one side of pit lane, executives from DHL and Sun Drop Soda sat as helplessly as Hunter-Reay, on the other end, Venom Energy executives sat praying, as Marco had, that he would make the show. Andretti flew through Turn 1, the NBCSN tracker showed him in 28th position. He flew through turns three and four as well. His first lap was 224.728mph. Hunter-Reay knew what was happening. He exited the car, took off his helmet, and walked to the end of pit lane where he waited for reporters to ask him what happened. Andretti completed three more laps in the high-224’s, putting him 28th on the grid. The tension subsided, Ryan Hunter-Reay would miss the Indy 500, Marco Andretti would make it. The most exciting day in May, had concluded.

Paul Tracy would go on to finish 25th in the 2011 Indy 500 and would go on to compete in the Texas Duels and Canadian races on the IndyCar calendar, Toronto and Edmonton. Tracy would end his career after the passing of 2011 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon at the 2011 finale at Las Vegas, a race he competed in. Tracy decided he’d seen enough, and talks about his reasons in more detail on the Dinner With Racers podcast.

Danica Patrick would finish out her 2011 Season in IndyCar before transitioning to NASCAR at the end of the year. Danica hasn’t run an IndyCar race since, but has plans to race in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 to finish out her career.

Alex Lloyd finished 19th in the Indy 500 and ran six other IndyCar races that season, but hasn’t run an IndyCar race since 2011.

Ryan Hunter-Reay would actually race in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 after Andretti Autosport and AJ Foyt Enterprises came to the agreement that Bruno Junqueira would give away his #41 ride for the race to Ryan Hunter-Reay, who would race his way to a 23rd place finish. Hunter-Reay would win at Loudon, New Hampshire, in a controversial finish. Hunter-Reay would get redemption three years later, winning the 2012 IndyCar Champion and the 2014 Indianapolis 500 in one of the great Indy finishes ever.


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