We now know what nine drivers will compete for the Indianapolis 500 pole Sunday.
Qualifying for the 98th Indianapolis 500 is turning into a two-day chess game. Bobby Fischer would be proud. Throughout the afternoon there’s been enough withdrawals, re-qualifying and terse action to please anyone that appreciates watching a driver hold their breath for two warm-up laps and four tours of this 2.5-mile oval at speed. In all there were 63 qualifying attempts between 11AM and 5:50PM.
Yes, just 33. But if someone wants to nominate a 34th entry, it must be done by 7PM tonight.
The Fast Nine are locked in (by order): Ed Carpenter, Carlos Munoz, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, Will Power, Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and JR Hildebrand. For those counting at home, that’s four Chevrolet drivers and five Honda-powered cars, with Carpenter quickest of all. These nine will qualify on Sunday for their ultimate starting positions, with Hildebrand first out of the box and teammate Carpenter last in what’s certain to be a nail-biter. By the new rules, Carpenter earned 33 points for his fast speed today, with the points descending to one point for the slowest qualifier, Buddy Lazier.
Provided there isn’t a last-minute 34th entry, Lazier will be first out of the starting gate; if there is a 34th entrant, then that honor falls to Carlos Huertas, who was 30th on the scoreboard on Saturday.
There will be an 8:30AM hour-long practice session and Pole Day qualifying begins at 10:15. Fast Nine qualifying takes place between 2-2:45PM on Sunday. Only the Fast Nine earn qualifying points on Sunday, descending from nine points to one.
Here’s some interesting statistics about today’s time trials: 33 cars made at least one attempt; there were five failed attempts, 14 cars withdrawn (times erased) and re-qualified, five waved-off attempts, and a total of 15 cars “retired” and re-qualified without withdrawing their earlier times. Teams and drivers could “retire” in order to do their now-customary three tries at qualifying without withdrawing an original speed and time. That seemed to happen on a regular basis.
There was an hour-long recess for sprinkles at mid-afternoon but the moisture was ineffective in damaging the track surface. If anything, once the track reopened at 4:18PM, times decreased incrementally and speeds went up. The track was way quicker once the rain blew through and it showed.
Even though he didn’t want to make a second qualifying attempt, Ed Carpenter felt he needed to make the statement that this is, after all, his home turf. The Indianapolis-bred driver of the No. 20 Fuzzys Chevrolet/Dallara/Firestone Indy car improved from 230.114 mph to 230.661 mph - nobody could top that. In fact, every one of the Fast Nine are over 230 mph with everyone else at 229 or lower. Lazier, the slowest car (and he made only a single qualifying attempt) clocked in at 226.543 mph.
So everything changes on Sunday. All times are erased and everyone starts anew.
It’s supposed to be warmer (low 60s) and sunny, so the air will feel warmer than the actual temperature.
While the new qualifying strictures are a bit confusing for the first try, they worked well today with activity on the oval whenever it was open. No doubt there will be more tension with Sunday’s final qualifying attempts to set the field for this 98th Indy 500. By 3PM on Sunday, we’ll know who’s got the Verizon Pole Position and where everyone starts in this traditional 33-car lineup.