Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Preview

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Today is Fast Friday – the last day before qualifying. A few years ago, someone got the bright idea to increase the turbocharger boost for Fast Friday and carry it through the qualifying weekend. Then they dial it back down for Carb Day and the race. How much is the boost increased? I don’t really know. Once they stopped quoting the measurement in inches, the numbers never really meant anything to me.

I’m not a fan of the increased boost. It just sounds a little gimmicky to me. I say keep the same boost throughout the month. But for whatever reason, nobody with IndyCar or IMS has asked me my opinion on it.

With three cars guaranteed to go home, everyone here has been compiling their own list of who they think will be spectators on Race Day. It was popular on Tuesday to say the McLaren and Fernando Alonso would not make the race, but I wasn’t buying it. I just thought they had too many resources at their disposal and Alonso was too good a driver to allow that to happen.

But around 12:30 on Wednesday, Alonso crashed the car in Turns Three and Four and the car was heavily damaged. Alonso never saw the track for the remainder of Wednesday. As the day wore on yesterday, we kept hearing that they would be out later. But the radar showed a huge thunderstorm bearing down on the track, so they brought out the yellow at 4:30 before it actually hit. That meant that McLaren lost the entire day yesterday. Alonso’s top speed of the week has been 225.433 mph. But with so little track time, you just have to wonder if Alonso will be pressing to get speed out of a car when it just isn’t there. It will be one of the most watched storylines of the weekend. I’m not ready to put Alonso on the bubble just yet, but I’ll be closely watching his times today.

This has been a tough week to get a handle on. Team Penske and Chevy led the first two days, while Ed Jones of Ed Carpenter Racing led yesterday’s practice – also in a Chevy. But if you compare each day to the other, there are very few parallels you can draw other than Chevy being the fastest of every day. As the week went on, the temperatures rose each day. Consequently, speeds decreased by about a mile an hour each day. Will Power turned the fastest lap of the month on Tuesday with a speed of 229.745 mph. Then on Wednesday, it was Josef Newgarden with top honors at 228.856 mph. Yesterday it was Jones leading the way at 227.843 mph.

One day, a driver or team would be near the top; then the next day they would be near the bottom. And those that appeared to struggle on one day would be one of the fastest the next. Who will get the pole and who will be going home is still a huge mystery.

One team that had gloom written all over it before practice started was Juncos Racing. On Monday, it was announced that their sponsor for the month had fallen through. It seemed to be a safe assumption that they would struggle to the point that they most likely wouldn’t qualify. Well, that’s why we don’t make assumptions.

Juncos and driver Kyle Kaiser have been consistent all week driving a solid white car with no lettering at all. It is about the most generic looking car I’ve ever seen. But yesterday, Kaiser was seventh quick with a lap of 225.396 mph. Hopefully the obviously blank sidepods will draw the attention of a potential sponsor at some point.

So what are my predictions? I’ll go out on a limb and say Ed Carpenter will win the pole. If so, he would tie AJ Foyt with four poles. Rick Mears is the record-holder with six.

What three will go home? That’s a good question. One curveball is that rain is predicted for Sunday. If Sunday is a complete washout, then the thirty-three fastest from Saturday will make up the field. So a car that crashes on Saturday may not get a chance to come back Sunday morning. These are the things that make qualifying so nerve-wracking.

But assuming Saturday and Sunday both run on schedule, my picks to go home are Ben Hanley of DragonSpeed; Jordan King of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing. The first two have been behind the eight-ball all week and Rosenqvist struggled all day yesterday after his hard crash on Wednesday. I’m not sure if it’s the car or his mindset after that hit, but they seem to be chasing it at the moment. That would present an interesting scenario if the NTT Data car failed to make the race in the first year of NTT’s series title sponsorship. That means that Fernado Alonso and McLaren will make it, and Lady Luck will smile on Pippa Mann and Clauson Marshall Racing and they will just squeak in – making the start-up team the feel-good story of the month.

Before closing, I will get on my soapbox again regarding the new qualifying format. I’ve been here all week and no one is speculating who will be on the pole. All conversations I’ve been a part of have focused on who will be going home. There is more drama regarding Bump Day than Pole Day, but some still think that the pole needs to be decided on Sunday afternoon. And I think it is absurd that the “Last Row Shootout” is a one shot deal. I think they should dedicate at least two hours and allow teams as many attempts as they can squeeze in for those two hours. End of rant.

I’ll be solo again today, but Susan will be here tonight and joining me at the track both Saturday and Sunday. As I’ve done all week, I’ll have a recap this afternoon. Then she and I will both be posting throughout the weekend. For additional photos and videos, please follow us on Twitter. You can follow me at @Oilpressureblog and Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back this afternoon after practice.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Preview”

  1. Great review George. I have never been in favor of limiting the number of qualifiers on a day. I agree Sunday should be totally dedicated to making the field and the pole needs to be decided on Saturday.

  2. Jeremy Williams Says:

    I agree the thing that bothers me the most about the format this year is the last 6 only get one attempt each. In the future I hope they give cars more chances of bumping their way into the field. I’m guessing Ed Jones as the surprise pole winner. He has been in the top 3 the past two days on the no tow list. I think Hanley, Davison, and Ferrucci will be the three drivers that miss making the 500 this year.

  3. agree. a huge part of the drama of qualifying was when they’d put a car in line and the clock was ticking and is there time for another run and all that. I understand TV wanting a more condensed version but you do lose something. fingers crossed for minimal rain anyway. thanks george.

  4. I have a feeling if people just gave it a chance the new format could be pretty entertaining and have plenty of drama. But Sunday is going to be a total washout so we won’t find out until next year.

    Turning up boost for Fast Friday/Qualifying is as much of a gimmick as double-points, nothing impressive about those speeds when they’re fabricated.

    I’m hoping to get down there for the last few hours today but I have a feeling the workload won’t allow it. Have fun George (and Susan)!

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Sunday being a washout would be a real shame for the series and for NBC because that is a big network NBC timeslot and the qualifying broadcasts have been solid performers for several years on ABC (their average ratings the last 3 years were higher than NBC’s recent IndyCar Grand Prix rating). Also, one day of qualifying? Booooooooooo. This is Indy.

    I prefer a more traditional qualifying format as well, however, I do think it is fair to point out that everyone in the “last row shootout” will have (theoretically) unlimited attempts to avoid putting themselves in said shootout on Saturday. That should provide as a good a show on Saturday as on Sunday.

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