Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Preview

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It’s a Friday morning in mid-May. That must mean that we are back on the road on the way up to our second of three consecutive weekends in Indianapolis. This weekend is for Indianapolis 500 Qualifying. In many ways, this is my favorite of the three weekends we will spend at IMS this month.

The Grand Prix weekend is nice because there are no crowds. But because of the lack of crowds, there is not a full-fledged effort as far as concession stands, souvenir shops, etc. Qualifying weekend has a full feel to it and the crowds seem bigger, and more relaxed. It is three full days to spend at the track from early morning until evening – all three days. It always amazes me how fast those three days zip by. Of course, Race Weekend is what the month is all about. But the crowds and the intensity of Race Weekend make it a little less enjoyable – except, of course, the race itself.

We should arrive in time for the start of Fast Friday, which is the traditional day before qualifying begins on Saturday. In recent years, this is also the day that the teams are allowed to turn up the boost for more horsepower, and consequently –more speed. The cars will have the increased boost for qualifying weekend, but then it will be dialed back for the race. This is one of my soapbox topics. I feel like that if they are going to increase the boost, it should be that way all month. Otherwise, this is another attempt at the dreaded manufactured drama to show how close these cars are to the track record. If they aren’t going to race with this much boost, why do it at all? End of that rant, but here comes another.

This year, there are thirty-five cars and drivers that will be trying to squeeze into a thirty-three car field. So, there actually will be some bumping. This will be the first time that there will actually be bumping on the newly designated bump day on Saturday. For decades and decades, bumping had always taken place near the end of qualifying. They would fill the front of the field and naturally move to the back of the grid before the field was full. Then, bumping would begin whenever there were thirty-three cars in the field. It was the slowest car that was vulnerable, not the one occupying the thirty-third position in the field. It was pretty simple and it made sense.

Beginning in 2014, the powers-that-be came up with what I think is a very convoluted system. Now bumping will take place on Saturday as everyone will make a qualifying run and the slowest cars after thirty-third place will go home. That means two drivers this year will not make it. The nine fastest cars will be locked into the Fast Nine. Those outside of the Fast Nine will re-qualify for their starting position on Sunday. Then the Fast Nine will re-qualify in reverse order (the car with the fastest speed from Saturday will go last) to determine their starting positions and the pole winner. Even if a driver in the Fast Nine crashes on their attempt, they are guaranteed to start no worse than ninth.

It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that I don’t care for this new format. Quite frankly, I haven’t come across anyone that does. I suspect that ABC had a lot to do with developing this new format. That way, they didn’t have to devote a lot of air time to Qualifying. My hope is that when NBC takes over next year, they will revisit Qualifying. Personally, I would rather see two full days of “traditional” Indianapolis 500 qualifying over cable on NBCSN, than the Cliff Notes version that ABC has been shoveling to fans on network television over the last five years. Pole Day should be on Saturday and Bump Day should be on Sunday. End of rant.

One of the many good things that comes from having thirty-five entries is that we will pay just as much attention to the back-end of the field as we do to the front. Not only will we be speculating who gets the pole, we will also be wondering who goes home.

So just who will be the two cars that go home? Will they be two one-off drivers, or will one of the IndyCar regulars fail to make the field for whatever reason. Will someone crash on their run on Saturday – ending their dreams for this year; or will just going too slow be what does in someone’s hopes?

My guess is both may happen. The small one-offs usually have no back-up cars available to them. I could see a situation where a Pippa Mann or Stefan Wilson wads up a car on Saturday and has no chance to come back by the time the gun goes off on Saturday afternoon. I can also see a scenario where a Matheus Leist or a Zachary Claman De Melo just can’t find the speed due to unfamiliarity with high-speed ovals, when needed. If I had to pick two drivers likely to not make the field, I would guess them to be Claman De Melo and Kyle Kaiser. I just think that being young rookies, they may not produce when the pressure is on.

But to be truthful, I’m also worried about Conor Daly. I would consider his to be fourth in the pecking order of the four Coyne cars. We found out earlier this week that the team of Sébastien Bourdais does not share information with the other Coyne cars. That is an interesting dynamic that could adversely affect the two one-off Coyne teams that are trying to find their way. Daly has not shown much speed this week and as much as it pains me to say it – he could be on the outside looking in on Sunday.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are ten to fifteen drivers who could be considered fast enough to be in the Fast Nine. From that group, it’s really tough to pick one that will end up on the pole – therefore, I will narrow it down to two. Your pole winner for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 will be either Marco Andretti or Ed Carpenter, although the sentimental side of me wanted to go with Tony Kanaan, who has put the AJ Foyt team back in the limelight at IMS for the first time in ages, by running up near the front practically all week.

Susan and I should be arriving at IMS before Fast Friday practice begins. As usual, we will both be posting a few times per day throughout the weekend –so check back often. In the meantime, for instant photos, videos and comments; please follow me on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog, and Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back later today.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Preview”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Well, I guess I’m one of the very few that likes the new qualifying format. It’s unlikely we’ll see enough cars entered to have any meaningful bumping any time soon so for me the bumping has moved to the fast 9, seeing who makes it in and who gets bumped out of a chance for pole. And then by having the pole shootout on Sunday it makes Sunday more exciting. Before they switched to this format and did the pole shootout on Saturday it made Sunday a bit boring, but now both days have meaningful action. It’s obviously not as good as the old days when 40+ cars were fighting for a spot on the grid but I think it’s better than the format they were using before 2014. I understand if I’m an outcast now. 🙂

    I’ll be there both days this weekend. Forecast looks pretty good for Saturday but we might be interrupted by some rain on Sunday.

  2. Don’t overlook Power or Bourdais for the pole. Their no tow speeds have been good all week

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    Having any positive comments about the present qualifying format is simply putting lipstick on a pig IMHO.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    The current qualifying format is effective for the television time slots that it has. Without bumping to do, I don’t struggle with it. It should work well enough this year too, but as the number of entries increases it becomes quite unwieldy as finding enough time when the track is fast to qualify all cars twice is already a challenge.

    I think the 2013 bump day broadcast (which I watch in its entirety) really struck Indycar hard, as NBCSN was on the air for hours and hours where absolutely nothing happened, capped by the Rahal team parking Jourdain’s car without making a qualifying attempt. I don’t think anyone was happy with how that all unfolded.

    Andretti and Penske will likely put multiple cars in the fast 9, but I’m curious as to what other teams will break in.

  5. Why not tape-delay qualifying if the chance for drama is so hit or miss? Suppose 11:00 to 6:00 each day. 3 attempts per car. Award the pole on Saturday, bump on Sunday. Broadcast the condensed broadcast at 7:00Edt each day. Let the die-hards stream it live if they want to, but I love Indycar and I don’t know if I need to see every run. Come on in prime time and show 2 hours of the best runs, the pole run, and any other notable events. Same with bump day. If nothing exciting happens have a pre-race show or something.

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