Alex Tagliani on pole for the Indy 500

Most motor races take place over a weekend, but the Indianapolis 500 is not most races. "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" plays out over the course of weeks, with numerous practice sessions, extensive qualifying heats and finally the race itself. And with qualifying completed, Alex Tagliani has emerged on top.

Hailing from Montreal, Quebec, Tagliani is the first Canadian to take pole position at the Indy 500 in its one hundred year history. Of course, he wouldn't be the only Canadian to win the race, following the notable victory of his countryman Jacques Villeneuve in 1995. But as surprising as Tagliani's pole position was, converting into a win will be another matter. Over the course of seven years in Champ Cars, Tagliani's won just a single race (at Road America in 2004) and has yet to notch up a win since moving over to the IndyCar Series in 2008.

The coveted pole position was expected to go one of Ganassi drivers (Scott Dixon, a previous Indy 500 winner, or his teammate Dario Franchitti, a two-time Indy 500 winner) or one of the Penske boys (three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves or current series frontrunner Will Power). Newman/Haas driver Oriol Servia put up a good fight too, but when the times were finalized at the end of the "fast nine" session, it was Tagliani and his Sam Schmidt Motorsports team who set the fastest qualifying speed in the #77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara-Honda with a four-lap average of 227.472 mph.

Dixon qualified second and Servia third to line up beside Tagliani on the first three-car row. Sunday's "bump day" session, which gives ambitious drivers a shot at one of the top positions, was marred by heavy rain, preserving Tagliani's position at the front of the pack for when the race gets underway this coming Sunday. Update: Thanks to our astute readers, commenters and tipsters for pointing out the error in reporting the qualifying procedures.

Qualifying for the Indy 500 is based on average speed over a four-lap session (as opposed to a timed lap) and takes place over two days one week before the race. Saturday's "pole day" secures the top 24 positions on the grid, culminating in a second "fast nine" heat where the nine fastest drivers compete to determine their order in the front three rows. Sunday's "bump day", where grid positions 25-33 are filled. The slowest car, however, can be "bumped" by a challenger if he or she sets a higher qualifying speed. Tagliani's pole position, therefor, remains secure.