Qualifying Preview

Today begins the second of three consecutive weekends in Indianapolis. Susan will not be joining me this weekend. Her radiology group had the nerve to schedule a radiation treatment for Sunday, which she cannot miss. It may be for the best, however. When we got back from the Grand Prix last Sunday, she was very tired and said three weekends in a row would have been tough this year. So she will rest up this weekend and be ready to go for Race Weekend.

I am driving up early this morning. I will be splitting a hotel room with my good friend and fellow IndyCar blogger, Paul Dalbey of Fieldof33.com. That should be interesting. We’ve split hotel rooms before at races, and he and I are the definite odd couple. I’ll just leave it at that, but you can probably guess who is neater and who is not.

Practice got a little interesting yesterday. After two full days of incident-free running, Thursday’s practice opened up with a photo-shoot of the three Rahal Letterman Lanigan cars running side-by-side slowly across the yard of bricks. The problem was, no one else got the memo. While they were creeping across the starting line, Simona de Silvestro and Scott McLaughlin came off of Turn Four and realized there was much slower traffic ahead. While they both slowed down, Colton Herta came through Turn Four at speed. Herta tried to squeeze between McLaughlin and the wall, but it didn’t work. Herta clipped the wall and the right side of McLaughlin’s car. Neither car sustained serious damage, but they both were sidelined for about an hour as their respective crews made repairs. It was a scary situation, but it could have been much worse.

For punishment, all three Rahal cars will be parked for the first thirty minutes of today’s Fast Friday practice. That seems a little harsh, since the four Penske cars did a similar photo-shoot at the opening of Tuesday’s practice. Insert your own comments.

That was not the end of the problems for the RLLR cars. While they were all fast on the time sheet, Santino Ferrucci got loose in Turn Two and backed it into the wall in a hard hit. The car sustained heavy damage, but so did Ferrucci. He could not put weight on his leg as he hobbled to the ambulance. He was taken to Methodist Hospital for further observation. As of last night, Ferrucci had been released, but was not yet cleared to drive. That will have to come today, if he is to be allowed to participate in Fast Friday. It’s a shame for Ferrucci, as he was sitting at P2 when the accident occurred. He still ended up third quick for the day. Tony Kanaan was quickest with a speed of 225.341 mph. Conor Day was second, and Ferrucci third.

Qualifying Weekend is my favorite weekend in May. Some may be surprised to learn that, but Race Weekend can sometimes be overwhelming – although that probably won’t be the case this year at only 40% capacity. Still, from the time I’ll arrive later this morning until the pole is decided on Saturday afternoon – there will be non-stop action and intrigue throughout the entire weekend. When it’s all over, history will be made when the 2021 pole-sitter is determined. There will also be heartbreak at the other end of the grid as two cars will be going home.

Today has always been historically known as Fast Friday. A few years ago, IndyCar officials decided to turn up the boost for Fast Friday and for the weekend. I’ve never liked that. It feels gimmicky, contrived and artificial – especially when you realize they will be turning back the boost for the race. I really don’t know what the point for doing this is, but they’ve been doing it for a few years now – so I guess it’s not going away.

A week or so ago, I made my predictions on who would not make the race. At the time, I thought there would be thirty-six cars entered. I predicted that the No. 52 third car from Dale Coyne would not make the field. As it turns out, they didn’t even make the entry list. There are now thirty-five cars vying for thirty-three spots in next Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

I’ll stand by my other two predictions that RC Enerson and Top Gun Racing won’t make the field. They have one of the better looking cars entered, although my mind doesn’t really go back to images of Al Unser’s Johnny Lightning Special of 1970-71, like some people insist. But it takes a lot more than having a good looking car to qualify. A brand new team with a rookie driver trying to squeeze into the field is a tall order. It would be a great story if they did, and I would love to see it – but I just don’t see that happening.

I also predicted that Dalton Kellett, a fulltime driver for AJ Foyt, will miss the race. I’ve seen nothing this week to convince me I was wrong. It’s been decades since Foyt has tried to run four cars. I think they will be spread way too thin, and Kellett’s lack of experience will catch up to him this weekend.

If Kellett does find his way in, my money might be on Pietro Fittipaldi to be making explanations on Sunday.

Going back to the front-end of the grid, it’s tougher to answer who might be on the pole. It would be easy to say Scott Dixon or Ed Carpenter, because both have won the pole three times in their career. Both have been fast in practice and both should be considered contenders for the pole. Both manufacturers have shown speed so far, so I’m not sure any predictions can be made based on who has what.

It’s going to be hot on Sunday, so the track will be slippery. I think experience is going to be a factor on a slick track, meaning that I don’t think that one of the new young crop of drivers will end up on the pole

Two years ago, Simon Pagenaud parleyed his Grand Prix win into earning the pole, before winning the Indianapolis 500. Last year, Marco Andretti won the pole but dropped like a stone in the race and finished thirteenth – so there is no real correlation you can draw, so far as winning the race from the pole.

I’m going to go with one of the cars from Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) to win the pole on Sunday. It won’t be the most recent young winner, Rinus VeeKay, for the reasons I mentioned. He just doesn’t have the experience for the hot and humid conditions the will be facing on Sunday. While I would like to see the local driver and car-owner, Ed Carpenter, earn the fourth pole of his career – I think the younger of the two local drivers will earn his first 500 pole and keep his boss from getting it. Conor Daly will win the pole for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

As usual, I will be posting a few times daily each day this weekend. You can also follow me on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog for comments, photos and videos throughout the weekend. Please check back later.

George Phillips

Please Note: The entries for the 2021 Indianapolis 500 Trivia Contest are due on Tue May 25 by 6:00 pm EDT. Don’t let it slip by.

3 Responses to “Qualifying Preview”

  1. I don’t disagree with your pole pick. I see a battle between the Carpenter and Ganassi cars for the pole and spots in the fast NINE and no more than two Penske cars in the mix.

  2. Leslie Bissell Says:

    I think the punishment for the Rahal team is fair. The Penske photo shoot was publicized, it was even on TV. Rahal’s group’s mistake seems to have been that they did not clear it with track officials and it almost caused a serious incident.

  3. I can’t believe RLLR just said, “hey let’s go do a photo op” without confirming with race control.

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