Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Preview

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After two full days of practice – today is suddenly Fast Friday already. How did that happen? I still haven’t gotten used to practice starting on Tuesday, instead of Monday. This year, practice started on Wednesday. My hope is that this is a one-time deal due to all of the unique circumstances surrounding this year’s race. I hope that it will revert to at least Tuesday in future years. Personally, I prefer a full week of practice starting on Monday, leading into Qualifying Weekend, but at least put it back to Tuesday.

Another change that I’m not crazy about is practice ending earlier than normal. Yes, practice is starting two hours earlier and ending only thirty minutes early – but why end it at 5:30 local time instead of the usual 6:00? In 2006, Indiana’s move to Daylight Saving Time pretty much made Happy Hour a non-event. What little bit of shade that crept onto the main straightaway came after 5:30 (but that was for May, not August). I’m hopeful this is a pandemic-related change and that practice will go all the way until 6:00 in future years.

But today is Fast Friday. Since turbochargers were re-introduced in 2012, the series has allowed extra boost on Fast Friday and the two days of qualifying. Since the extra boost is not allowed for the race, I’ve never been a big fan of this practice. It has a manufactured or gimmicky feel to it that feels a little phony, just to make the qualifying speeds falsely inflated. Having said that, the boost being allowed today through Sunday will be the most boost that has been allowed since the nineties. I’m excited about that.

Last year, the teams were allowed 20.3 psi of boost for the qualifying weekend. This year, they will be running 21.7 psi, partly due to the extra weight from the aero screen, which are new for this year. That will translate into about 700 hp, approximately 50 hp more than the cars had in last year’s Fast Friday and weekend qualifying sessions.

After only two practice days, it’s hard to get a read on who is looking strong for qualifying. It’s hard to get a read on who is working on qualifying and who is working on race setup. We will probably have a much better idea after today’s Fast Friday session wraps up, as to who will be a favorite on the pole.

Wednesday was very quiet as far as incidents. James Hinchcliffe posted the fastest time of the day as Andretti Autosport cars had three of the four fastest times. Marco Andretti was second-quick, while Ryan Hunter-Reay had the fourth fastest time. Scott Dixon was third quick and Fernando Alonso rounded out Wednesday’s Top-Five.

Alonso slapped the Turn Four wall on Thursday and then rolled backwards, as his damaged car entered pit lane and somehow avoided further contact. His car still suffered significant damage, but the two-time World Champion suffered no damage to himself other than to his ego – earning the badge of honor as having the first crash of the month. Scott Dixon turned the fastest lap of the day (and the month) late in the session, with a 226.102 mph lap.

I was asked at work yesterday afternoon who will win the pole. My response was that I really had no idea. Common sense would tell you that it will come from the Big-Three of Andretti, Ganassi or Penske. If you looked at who was strongest over the past two days, one might conclude that it was Marco Andretti. He was second quick on Wednesday and posted the third fastest time on Thursday. But unlike Wednesday , when several of is teammates were up the top of the speed charts with him – Colton Herta was the only other Andretti Autosport driver in the Top-Ten. So is Marco that fast, or were his other teammates working on race setups while he was working on pure speed?

In qualifying at Indianapolis, there is really a fourth top-tier team – Ed Carpenter Racing. But Ed hasn’t really shown the speed over the past two days; it’s been his teammate – Conor Daly that has been running near the top of the speed charts. Wednesday, Daly was a respectable ninth-quick; but yesterday he posted the fourth fastest time with a lap of 225.106 mph. Carpenter hasn’t been quicker than 221.813, which he turned on Wednesday. Again, in this compressed schedule – Ed may have been the one to work on Race Day trim, while Daly may have been chasing speed. I guess we’ll find out on Saturday.

This truncated schedule does not leave a lot of room for gamesmanship. Team Penske is notorious for sandbagging over the years. They have been relatively quiet over the past two days. Will they surprise us with a burst of speed on Saturday? Last year, they were unimpressive in practice, but three of their four cars made the Firestone Fast Nine and Simon Pagenaud won the pole and then the race. Yesterday, Helio Castroneves was the quickest Penske car with a fastest lap of 223.633 mph. That was good enough for sixteenth quick.

When picking a favorite for the pole, one would be foolish to overlook Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing. Not only has Dixon turned the fastest lap of the month yesterday, he was third quick on Wednesday. There is a reason that Dixon has won three out of six races this season, and Ganassi drivers have won four of the six. They seemed to have figured out racing with the aero screen early on, while other teams are still trying to get a handle on it. I don’t think anything will change as we head into qualifying this Saturday and Sunday. That’s why I say that Scott Dixon will be your pole-sitter for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500. We’ll see.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Preview”

  1. Mark Wick Says:

    I am feeling Jack Harvey on the pole.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I’m thinking a Carpenter, Penske, or Andretti car on pole but a surprising fast nine intrusion from someone from another team like Kanaan, Alonso, Pigot, or Harvey.

  3. Personally, I’m going with Dixon to pull off the May sweep (even if it’s spread over July and August). It’s his year.

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