Random Thoughts On "500" Qualifying

Suffice it to say, this was a strange weekend. From mid-week, the oddities began. Susan found out her work would take her to Indianapolis early, so that opened the door for me to get up there on Thursday night. For once, I arrived at the track before the gates opened on Fast Friday. Rain had been forecast for Friday, but it was hot and sunny.

Although it was a good day at the track, it seemed odd being there while Susan worked (but it did not keep me from going). Unfortunately, it was practically the last time we saw the sun all weekend.

It rained heavily overnight and was still sprinkling in the morning. They got the track dried for practice and qualifying, but the rains returned with force after we had two qualifiers. By 2:30, the day was considered a wash – literally. The two times of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Huertas were wiped out and everyone was told that we would try it again Sunday. It was strange to be leaving The Speedway in the middle of the day.

Then Sunday is when the real strange stuff started. Ed Carpenter crashed hard in Turn Two and became the third car since Wednesday to get airborne and upside down. That was when IndyCar officials decided they had seen enough. After meetings, rumors and more meetings, it was decided that the boost would be dropped to race-levels and that teams would qualify in race trim. Each car would be given one shot to qualify, beginning at 3:15. So much for my plans to be on the road home by 5:00.

With the single-run qualifying and then the subsequent bump session that did nothing except for delaying everyone, the gun went off at 7:00. I think I remember Donald Davidson describing a special situation years ago, when cars were still qualifying at almost 8:00 – but it’s certainly the latest session that I can ever remember attending.

Since Susan had her car, she left as soon as the primary session was over. I didn’t leave the track until 8:15 and had a four-hour drive staring me in the face. I’m wondering how productive I’ll be at work today.

TV Coverage:  Obviously, I have not seen the TV coverage. But I heard from a few that Sunday’s coverage was good. But I also heard that they seemed to forget about the bumping session after the primary session. I can’t speak to that, but they weren’t the only ones. Everyone there (including me) seemed very fuzzy on the latest new qualifying rule that has been thrown at us.

Early Favorite:  Scott Dixon won his second Indianapolis 500 pole in his career. His only other pole came in 2008, which is also the year of his only Indianapolis 500 win. The two Ganassi cars of Dixon and Tony Kanaan have been quietly consistent all month. You have to count them both as early favorites to win the race this Sunday.

Honda Woes:  Since before the season started, when we first saw the road course aero kits- we heard that Honda was targeting winning the Indianapolis 500. But throughout practice, the Chevys were consistently faster than the Hondas. But when the third Chevy went airborne yesterday morning, both Chevy and Honda were given additional restrictions at the last minute for qualifying. Honda teams cried foul as they wondered why they were being penalized for Chevy’s design flaws.

As it turned out, the starting grid for the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 showed only three Hondas in the Top-Ten spots; with the fastest being the Honda of Justin Wilson, who will start on the outside of the second row. Almost all of positions 11-30 are made up of Honda powered cars. Ironically, the two slowest cars battling it out for the last starting spot were Chevys driven by Bryan Clauson and Buddy Lazier.

All in All:  It was a strange weekend, but fortunately the qualifying session was uneventful. Nothing against Buddy Lazier, but it was fitting that the car that had been slowest since it hit the track, was the one left out of the field. Other than Juan Montoya qualifying fifteenth and Townsend Bell qualifying twenty-fourth, there were no real surprises. Personally, I was glad to see Pippa Mann qualify solidly in the field on the inside of Row Ten, after limited time in a repaired car. It would have been a shame if her Susan G. Komen campaign did not last through race weekend.

Now we have a week to debate and predict what will happen next weekend. At this point, your guess is as good as mine.

George Phillips

14 Responses to “Random Thoughts On "500" Qualifying”

  1. Chevrolets flew. Hondas did not. Seems to me Honda was penalized for Chevy’s problem.

    The resulting qualifications were suspenseful only because of the ruling that a wrecked car would not make the race. What if a couple of cars, say Power and Helio, wrecked. Would they have started the 500 with 32 cars?

    The other rule requiring the last row to possibly re-qualify was a weak attempt to recapture the drama of what used to be called Bump Day. ABC’s attempt to inject some tension into Lazier’s attempt was sad.

    Good day for Dixie. Bad day for Indycar. I’ll be very concerned if they haven’t figured out Chevy’s problem by race day.

  2. I thought Indycar couldn’t do anything worse than NOLA this year…. and then we got qualifying. Reducing boost and aero was probably the right move, though I know some smart people who felt that only aero modifications were needed, not boost. It’s a little ridiculous how little testing as done on the oval aero kits which to me is one of the biggest takeaways from the weekend. I was ok with modifying both kits to keep the competition close, but it was concerning how much of an edge Chevy had. It was fun for the minute or two Ed Carpenter sat on pole… but as soon as Dixon took it away the drama left and never returned. Having Penske and Ganassi lock down the top 5 is not building a lot of excitement for me in this years Indy 500. There hasn’t been a single pole won this year by anyone other than Penske or Ganassi. 0/6. Aero kits have not only killed parity between Honda and Chevy, but within the Chevy camp things have really stratified towards Penske and Ganassi. Or at least Penske+Target+Kanaan. At Indy Karam seems fast which is good because he’s the only P/G driver at this point I want to see do anything good. Saadavera’s 30th place run was pretty satisfying. Sam Schmitt’s team has fallen so far, so fast with these new aero kits. James HInchcliffe’s run was unbelievably slow. For the 500, I just really hope we see the same type of action we’ve seen since 2012, and that somehow it doesn’t become a Penske and Ganassi runawy. Aero kits seemed like a great idea, but other than making the cars a second a lap faster (when the boost isn’t reduced) they seem to have done very little good, and a lot of damage to the close competition in Indycar.

  3. I feel for you George. I too drove up Saturday from Louisville with my 3 year old son and had the weather on my mind when we left . When we got to the track, no one seemed to know if any more qualifying was going to happen or not. Took a gamble and paid $20 to park in the infield (right on the road course) and it started pouring. We did not even want to get out of the car it was raining so hard. We sat in the car for about an hour and ultimately never saw a car turn a wheel all day. Got some IMS trinkets for my son Nate, walked around for a while and got soaked, and drove home. I did see Tony George walking around, and Eddie Cheever. I yelled out his name and he waved back.

    One of the strangest qualifying weekends I have seen in my lifetime as many will probably agree. I come away from the weekend wondering how IndyCar could be in this situation considering how long aero kits have been in development. They have been in discussions for years. Ample road course testing was apparent but debuting the super speedway aero kits for the first time at Indy, I’m sure some feared this outcome. This is the biggest race in the world and they were not ready with these aero kits. It hurt the on track product yesterday. It defamed the Indianapolis 500 yesterday. It alienated many fans yesterday. It was, in my opinion a predictable disaster yesterday. I sure wish I could have been a fly on the wall in that trailer during the emergency meeting on Sunday. Davey Hamilton summarized A.J Foyt after the trailer meeting on IMS radio with Paul Page something along the lines as, “beep, beep, beep…….beep,….beep, beep.” They surmised correctly I think interviewing him at that moment would have been detrimental to everyone involved. The consensus was, many should not even be interviewed for fears of what they might say. I heard Roger Penske walked out early. A.J. was so mad he probably would have dropped a couple of f-bombs is my guess, he was so ticked off. Tony Kanaan voiced “amateur hour”, Graham Rahal tweeted he felt bad for the fans. I sure wanted to hear what Michael Andretti had to say since his stance has been wary of the aero kits all along. They were ultimately penalized for a Chevy issue.

    I really like the aero kits but this was a disaster. Especially for the Indy 500 brand.

  4. Ok, the good part. No fast 9. The person who won the Pole in qualifying on Pole Day got to keep it. It was a little bit of a return to the former ways of qualifying, although everyone only got one chance. The sooner they return to Saturday Pole day with the old rules for qualifying, the better it will be.

    The sun did come out (in a hazy way) about the time that the qualifications finally started at 3:15.

    I will give the track credit for running qualifications Sunday after the accident to Carpenter. We were pretty sure when all the meetings started that they would play for time and hope for a rainout or cancel. But it didn’t happen and they went on with it with the revised car set up.

    There is no excuse for not having at least one oval race before Indy. This has been a problem waiting to happen. I have seen numerous people post that very thing over the last few years and they have been proven right. It also is a classic example of why the reduced schedule in May is not such a good idea. Another example, the “bump day” at the end was an attempt at past glory but one extra car and 45 minutes does not get it done.

    Change is not always good. In the case of Indy in the Month of May, its downright bad. As the crowds over the weekend clearly show.

  5. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Honestly, I liked how the ‘one and done’ run at the pole played out.

    I could easily understand the gravitas of each moment in each run and was riveted to every attempt.

    Is it a fair gauge of team and driver that the spikes in temperature or wind could have as big an impact as they did? Some might say no, but I truly believe what we saw was the best 33 in the race and the best drivers and teams performing under immense pressure.

    There were some discussions afterward on twitter about the format going forward. And without going into great detail here, there were some noted positives that emerged from such a fractured weekend. IF IMS and Indycar can sit back and look objectively at a few things, I think they’d do well to see how the limited runs and less hokey/manufactured drama (Fast 9, et. al.) made for a better show.

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    I agree with what DZ opined above. As I stated yesterday with respect to qualifying, put the aero-kits in the museum basement and forget forever the manufactured “excitement” of the boost and the fast nine deal. Just give them more horsepower. Sometimes order can follow chaos and I thought the ‘one and done’ format was enjoyable while probably nerve-racking for the drivers. Hopefully in 2016 Indy500 qualifying will return to the glorius days of yesteryear.

    Somewhat lost in all the media hysteria yesterday was that perhaps over a million dollars of equipment was wiped out by those three accidents. CFS was not swimming in money to begin with.

    Hopefully the race will be injury free and exciting.

  7. Drama and controversy at Indianapolis? OMG, what has the world come to?

    Forgive me for sounding jaded, but I just can’t muster the proper internet outrage for Indycar controversy anymore. Jesus Christ people, when in the 100+ years of this sport hasn’t there been a rules controversy? Everybody take a deep breath.

    People bitched and complained when the series ran nothing but spec Dallara’s with Honda engines. Now we at least have some diversity, and everyone is complaining that there isn’t more parity. I must be missing something here.

    Speedgeek did an awesome job in the comments section last week showing the stats on the # of cars that have finished on the lead lap in the past 20+ years. People who complain about the competitiveness of the series have short memories. I remember the years when there were 2 cars on the lead lap at the end of the race and the only drama was wondering if someone’s engine would fail. It may have been the golden age of Indy, but as a ticket holder I can honestly say I don’t want to go back to those days.

    The racing the past 3 years has been spectacular and breathtaking to watch. The outcomes up in the air until the final lap. The winners deserving. As a fan, and a customer, I could not have asked for more. And despite all the hand wringing, I see no reason to expect anything less than an entertaining race again next Sunday.

    It’s been 104 years, and The Indianapolis 500 Race remains the greatest spectacle in racing. I’m counting the hours until that green flag waves.

    • Here, here, Tom, and thanks for the nice words.

      Is there a positive way to spin what happened yesterday? Not really. But, as Tom points out, if you listen to Donald Davidson’s show for a week, you’ll probably hear a dozen calls to the end of “Hey, Donald? Remember [year X] when [some controversy happened, possibly involving Jigger Sirois or Jim Hurtubise]? That was a crazy time, huh?” Which is always followed by nervous laughter from Donald, because he hates tackling controversial topics for some reason (I want to call in someday to make the claim that the Bolsheviks funded Andy Granatelli’s turbines as a way to unravel American democracy, just to hear how Donald handles it), but they get through the conversation and move on. Kind of like what’s going to happen here. There’s going to be a race next weekend, probably 100-150,000 of the fans in attendance won’t have the slightest idea what happened yesterday, and probably 90% of the folks who tune in on TV won’t, either. So, again, did much of anything positive happen yesterday? No, but we got through it, and there’s still going to be a race in six days.

      In the meantime, I want people to understand the other side of the whole “the aerokits needed more testing” and “we need to have an oval before Indy”. Second part first, I agree with you, but only because I’m semi-nostalgic for my earlier years of fandom when Phoenix came early in the season and I like the ovals to be better spread out. HOWEVER, a race at a one mile oval before Indy would have told us nothing, because here is the apparent failure mode (that’s fancy engineer talk for “when things went wrong”): car going 210+ MPH (not achievable on anything less than a 1.5 mile oval), car gets backwards, car hits wall, car gets airborne (though it looks to me like the rear of Helio’s car was already in the air before he’d hit the wall…that’s a scenario that I don’t really understand yet). And it’s possible that being on a basically flat track with fairly sharp corners has some sort of influence here as well (angle of impact, force vectoring, some other fancy $5 words). So, what I’m trying to say here is that it’s quite possible that the teams could have run a million miles at another oval, even a high speed one like Fontana, and not have seen the proper set of circumstances that made three cars take off last week. Maybe they would have, but maybe not.

      The good news is, there are some bright people in the paddock, and I’m betting that stuff gets done to address the root cause of the issue before the 100th Running next year. In the meantime, on to the race.

      • sejarzo Says:

        The right side of HCN’s car appears to lift slightly and even flutter a tad as it gets perpendicular to the direction of travel on a frame-by-frame view of the incident from the T2 camera. I wonder if suspension compression/rebound from the weight transfer to the left as the car spun, given that the car was already getting air under it as it moved sideways, had anything to do with the LR coming off the track surface before he contacted the SAFER.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Amen to that!

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Unsurprisingly, my easy-to-please self enjoyed Sunday’s action. As I do at the other oval tracks, I really like the one-attempt, all laps count qualifying procedure.

    The last-row bumping session was gimmicky, yes, but also necessary. It appears to me that it remained in place, despite all of the other changes, to ensure that that all cars had a reasonable opportunity make a qualifying attempt more so than a method to manufacture drama. Basically, it existed in case a team needed to repair minor crash damage or fix a mechanical problem that cost them their one first-session qualifying attempt. That is, in fact, how it played out too, with the Lazier team unable to make their spot in the first qualifying session due to mechanical issues.

    I agree with the Honda teams in principle. It was not at all fair to require them to meet the same aerokit restrictions placed on Chevrolet with no incidents to back the decision up. It was, though, still most likely a good idea. I think Indycar erred on the right side here even as the Honda teams were justified in their anger.

    While Bourdais is certainly a better driver than his teammates, the KVSH crew has got to be wondering why the gap between Bourdais and his teammates Coletti and Clauson is so large. It’s been pretty large all month, really, and Bourdais didn’t seem to find any more speed in Clauson’s car in practice last week. Strange.
    Felt bad for Lazier, but at least the Clauson t-shirt I bought is still relevant…

  9. Does Dixon get a Championship point for P1?

    • LurkingKiwi Says:

      I sure hope so! He lost out badly in the points last year, missing the Fast 9 and then crashing; I’d hoped he’d get good qualifying points this year (and JPM was further down than expected too!)

  10. ecurie415 Says:

    As a west coast TV viewer, qualifying was a disaster. Aside from the 500 itself, qualifying is one of the biggest events of the year, and the series made a mess of it. You cannot change the rules on the day of the event (and no, invoking “safety” is not the answer – oval racing is dangerous and was not made any safer by running 224 mph rather than 230 mph). It was amateurish as an event and as a broadcast. It was the first time I watched an IC event and felt embarrassed for the series.

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