INDIANAPOLIS – Pippa Mann faced an excruciating dilemma Saturday in Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
Her car was fast enough to make the field, but the line of cars that might prove critical to staying in the race wasn’t moving fast enough.
“I literally had to sit there sweating it out, and all that was going through my head was, ‘Not again, please not again, please, please not again,’” said Mann, who narrowly missed last year’s race.
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The native of Ipswich, England, was able to avoid a repeat, making the field as the 30th and final driver guaranteed a spot on the first day of qualifying.
Mann, one of nine women to race in the Indy 500, initially had qualified in 19th at 12:27 p.m., and it seemed for most of the next three hours that she was a cinch to make her seventh start at the Brickyard’s Memorial Day weekend classic.
But her No. 39 Dallara-Chevrolet began falling steadily on the qualifying results chart as the track kept getting quicker later in the afternoon. Mann flashed back to her failure to qualify for the 2018 Indy 500 in virtually the same way.
“We felt we were going to slot in somewhere between 23rd and 26th-ish today, which happened, and then we kind of miscalculated how much better the track conditions were going to get at the end of the day,” she said. “And by the time we realized how much better they were and how much quicker we’d have been able to run, there were too many cars in the line to pull our time to go.”
Ultimately, she and her Clauson-Marshall Racing team had made the right call, and that prompted tears in an emotional interview on NBCSN.
“We made it,” said Mann, who finished a career-best 17th in her most recent Indy 500 start in 2017. “We’re locked in! We made it. Thank you.”
Mann, 35, is driving for an entry founded in honor of Bryan Clauson, the late USAC, IndyCar and NASCAR driver who was killed in a 2016 sprint car crash. Clauson’s father, Tim, is a co-owner with Richard Marshall.
Clauson-Marshall Racing regularly competes in USAC sprint car events; this will mark its Indy 500 debut. The seed actually was planted when Mann missed the race last year, and Tim Clauson approached her in a suite at IMS as she watched the event.
“I should have been in the car and wasn’t, and he told me this was something he wanted to do, and it’s taken us a year of work to get this far,” said Mann, who plans to return to work as a performance driving coach after Indy. “So right now this is just one race for now, but I’m really very honored that Tim chose me to come drive his car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time following in Bryan’s footsteps.
“It means a huge amount to me. I’m an odd choice to a lot of people because I’m not a dirt racer, I’m a road racer who’s joined a dirt racing team. But the Clauson family and the Marshall family have kind of become like family to me over the past couple years. This has been an incredibly cool experience and I am so glad this ended this way today.”