By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS– What a difference a year makes.
A reversal of fortune for Pippa Mann at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway meant that she qualified 30th for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 instead of being on the outside looking in.
Mann’s No. 39 Clauson-Marshall Racing Driven 2 Save Lives Chevrolet qualified at 12:27 in the afternoon with a four lap average of 227.244 mph. That average put her in 17th position at the time.
However, the weather conditions grew cooler as the late afternoon shadows began to roll across the Brickyard and the USAC racing team making its NTT IndyCar Series debut were worried as the track got faster and their position dropped closer and closer to the 30th place cutoff. However, time was running out as other competitors were bumped from the top 30 fastest cars which were locked into the 33-car field after Saturday’s running schedule ended at 5:50 p.m.
“For a moment there when we were sitting in line and the weather conditions changed and the track was getting faster, I thought we had made the wrong decision,” said Mann. “I thought I was staring down last year again. I am so proud of this Clauson-Marshall Racing Driven 2 Save Lives team. We made it! We’re locked in! We made it!”
Mann’s emotions on NBCSN were clear for all to see. After the 2018 heartbreak of not being fast enough to make the field, Mann became Tim Clauson and Richard Marshall’s choice to pilot the car for their Indianapolis 500 attempt. Mann was a clear choice for Clauson since she raced alongside his son Bryan when they were at Dale Coyne Racing in the 2016 Indianapolis 500 before Bryan tragically died in a USAC Midget race in Belleville, Kansas that August.
Bryan’s decision to donate his organs saved five lives, inspiring the Clauson-Marshall Racing partnership with Driven 2 Save Lives.
“Tim Clauson actually approached me in the suite on race day last year when I should have been in the car and wasn’t and told me this was something he wanted to do, and it’s taken us a year of work to get this far,” said Mann. “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.”
Mann’s performance on the no-tow practice report sheets (for laps turned without assistance from a car traveling closely in front to break up the air) has been mid-pack as she has worked with her new team to get up to speed ahead of Saturday’s qualifying. She had been as high as 12th but also back in 25th place but qualifying was always the focus for the 2010 Freedom 100 polesitter.
“The big thing for us is that the Clauson-Marshall Driven 2 Save Lives Chevrolet has actually been pretty good all week long,” said Mann. “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. 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. So 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.”
Mann was not quick enough in 2018, but can rest easy Saturday night knowing that the stress of trying to make the field of 33 falls onto other drivers’ shoulders and not her own. For her, Sunday’s last row shootout between Fernando Alonso, Max Chilton, James Hinchcliffe, Kyle Kaiser, Sage Karam and Patricio O’Ward will be spent looking from a position of safety and not one of concern.
Because she’s in the 2019 Indianapolis 500 and the rest have no guarantees.