The first day of qualifying for the Indy 500 is ongoing and will decide what nine drivers will battle for pole position tomorrow.
It’s been unseasonably cold at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the first day of qualifying for the 98th Indianapolis 500 is taking place. INDYCAR intended to hold a two-hour practice prior to the start of time trials, but it was too cold at 8 Saturday morning for tires to reach operating temperatures.
As it was, practice began at 9AM with a half-hour session for one group and then another half-hour session for a second grouping of cars, as the series tried to give all an opportunity to find a bit of clear track to seek out qualifying setups. It didn’t actually work that way as Marco Andretti turned the top speed, tow-aided of a massive 232.239mph. That speed - and fully 12 over the 230-mph mark, set tongues wagging as to who would make it over 230 without a tow?
Only two cars failed to practice during the hour-long session - Ed Carpenter and teammate JR Hildebrand. Didn’t matter much for either one of them. When the track opened at 11AM for four-lap time trials, Carpenter (fifth in line) promptly turned an average speed of 230.114 mph; Hildebrand’s best was 229.453. By 1:30PM, 32 cars had been through the line and made an attempt, leaving one space up for grabs. Only rookie Sage Karam, in a Chevrolet/Dallara/Firestone Indy car hadn’t made a qualifying try by that time.
Today’s session, which goes until 5:50PM, won’t dictate pole position for this year’s Indy 500 - that happens tomorrow but qualifying dictates the top nine qualifiers today. There will be two sessions on Sunday - one that sets positions 10-33 and a final go-round to certify pole position amongst the top nine qualifiers from Saturday.
At the time of this writing, the top nine are: Carpenter, Ryan Hunter-Reay, rookie Jack Hawksworth, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, point leader Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Carlos Munoz and Josef Newgarden.
Slowest drivers thus far in the going are James Davison and Buddy Lazier, which isn’t unexpected as neither has much practice time under their collective belts.
It’s clouded over now, at 2PM, and Simon Pagenaud has withdrawn his 228.749-mph speed to make a second attempt. His speed of 229.193mph didn’t get him to fast nine. Castroneves’ second try helped him, going from 229.456 and 10th place to 229.788 and third (before Kurt Busch’s second try gave him third) and pushing Newgarden back to 10th. Then Karam came on the track to complete the field and the rookie ran 228.650mph, falling off considerably on his final tour of the 2.5-mile oval.
Now there are, at 2PM, 33 cars qualified for the May 25th classic, and drivers are beginning to test their luck at improving. It’s still mostly overcast, the wind is blowing about 10-15mph and the excitement is mounting. Who will be in the Fast Nine tomorrow afternoon and who will be left out?