After the qualifying sessions over two days, Ryan Briscoe ended up being the fastest man in Indianapolis and he will start from the pole in the 96th Running of the Indianapolis 500. For Briscoe, it was his first pole at Indianapolis as he will look to become the 21st winner to win the 500 from the top spot.
Briscoe actually had a quiet week and never really got into the top 10 on the speed charts until the morning warm-up session before qualifying.
The speed in the Firestone Fast Nine session actually surprised Briscoe a bit. He was fifth quickest in the first session that advanced him to the Fast Nine, but it wasn't until the later session that he turned the fastest laps of the day.
The next day, Briscoe told me he knew that after he turned his first lap over 226.6 mph that he knew he actually had a chance. Once he completed his four-lap run he knew that it would be hard to beat: "After my teammates went their first time and they didn't beat me I knew I had a chance with them being my toughest competition today."
Actually, they didn't end up being his biggest competition as Andretti Autosport had three drivers take multiple shots at Briscoe during the final 90 minute session. Briscoe's eventual margin over second place James Hinchcliffe was a mere nine inches.
He went on to talk about what was going through his head when Hinchcliffe was making his run.
"After his first lap I was like uh-oh, but knew he still has to run four laps, but after his second lap I was thinking we're done," Briscoe said. "I saw his third lap was slower than my worst lap, but I'm not good at math I knew it was going to be close. Then, he went by the straight and came by me and the crowd was cheering like he got the pole. I heard Dave Calabro say you're not going to believe it and I was like 'Yay!'"
He continued, "I knew my average was going to be tough to beat on a second run with the engine temperatures coming up and knew it was going to be tough for anyone to beat that."
I asked him what it felt like after Hinchcliffe's run and what was going through his head whether it was joy, relief, or simply being glad it's done, Briscoe replied, "I took my gloves off and turned to my engineer and asked how much time is left until the end and they were like 50 minutes to go. I was like, 'Crap, we have a good ways to go but just need to keep cool.'"
I asked if winning the Indy 500 pole had sunk in yet with it being not quite 24 hours after the run. "It actually has, and it's been awesome to be congratulated by so many guys."
While I was interviewing Briscoe, I wanted to get his feelings on qualifying being more stressful than the actual race itself. I talked to many drivers during the week and most of them had told me that it was. Briscoe said, "It's stressful there's just too many unknowns on pole day."
Many people think drivers just hop in and go, but what they don't realize is the tremendous strain qualifying takes not just on their bodies, but their minds as they have to compete against the g-forces on their bodies and mental strain from making sure they hit their lines and concentrate hard enough not to lose the car when it's literally on the edge of being out of control.
Briscoe thinks the race will be great due to the new car and he is excited to extended Penske's stronghold on the season as he hopes to earn the fifth straight win in as many races for his team.