Random Thoughts on Qualifying

My week of attending practice and qualifying has come to a close. It started with a whimper with Tuesday’s rain out. Still, I was able to say hi to several friends and enjoy a low-key day at IMS with no cars on track. From Wednesday on, it was non-stop action.

Wednesday morning, I did my favorite thing and walked through the garage area watching crews fine tune the cars and get the engines properly warmed up. The three Penske cars were the first to take the track, and they crossed the Yard of Bricks in formation. While Team Penske put on a show, Scott Dixon gave everyone something to talk about early. Within six minutes, Dixon put up a lap over 229 mph. That pretty well set the tone for the week, that this was going to be a week of surprises.

The weather was perfect for the rest of the week, except for a torrential downpour Friday night as we were leaving the track. Other than Tuesday’s rainout, the weather was outstanding – especially for qualifying.

Speaking of qualifying, I still prefer the old format that was in use for decades – but this two-day version of multiple attempts was very entertaining. There were many surprises on Saturday, with both Foyt cars making the Top-Twelve, while no Andretti cars and one Penske car made it. I had predicted Scott Dixon would win the pole, but it was his Ganassi teammate, Alex Palou that took the honors. Rinus VeeKay will start in the middle of the front row, while Felix Rosenqvist will start on the outside of Row One – in the closest front row in history.

At the other end of the field, Graham Rahal was devastated to be knocked out at the last minute by teammate Jack Harvey. The question remains, will Katherine Legge be pulled from her car, so that Graham can race on Sunday. Most people I talked to in the Media Center tend to think that won’t happen.

The Last Chance Qualifying was so exciting, it was sort of anti-climactic when the run for the pole followed. It could not match the gut-wrenching emotion that Bump Day provided. I still wish they could devise a way for Pole Qualifying to take place on Saturday, then have Bump Day on Sunday. Of course, if there are only thirty-three entries – that would really be anti-climactic.

This was a very enjoyable week for me personally. I got to do everything I wanted to do, and then Susan came up Thursday night. She struggled a little bit during the Grand Prix weekend, and I was worried how she might do with a longer, more intense weekend. But she did much better and I feel good about how she’ll fare next week for the race.

The best thing about this week, however, was that there were no incidents. I’m not sure there has ever been a month (week) where there was not a single crash throughout the entire practice and qualifying. With so little time to work with during the week, it was critical that all teams had the maximum time to work with their cars, and not repair them. That made a good week even better.

TV Coverage: I was in the pits for the Fast Twelve Qualifying, but I was in the media center during the Last Chance Qualifying. As far as the normal NBC crew, I had no issues with what I heard, but Steve Letarte sounded like nails on a chalkboard. It’s bad enough that we will have NASCAR guys on next week’s race broadcast talking about cars being “tight” and having “oversteer”, as opposed to “push” and “loose”; but his high-pitched, screaming voice made Leigh Diffey sound like Callum Ilott. I am hopeful they keep a gag on him through most of the race broadcast next week.

The Weather: You could not have drawn up three better days, weather wise than what we had Friday through Sunday. Friday was borderline hot, but had cloud cover for much of the day. After Friday night’s downpour; fans were greeted with very cool temperatures, while drivers were greeted with a very green race track. I shouldn’t say this, but I snuck a peek at the weather yesterday morning. Right now, it looks picture-perfect. I realize a lot can change between now and then, but this looks very encouraging,


The Top Twelve: Will Power was the first to go out to try and keep his hopes for the pole alive. He was the first to go out and he was the first to be knocked out. He ran consistent laps, but he finished the day where he started it – twelfth place. He will roll off in the outside of Row Four next Sunday.

Benjamin Pedersen took his Foyt machine out next. No one expected anything from Pedersen, so whatever he did Sunday was just a bonus. He went faster than Power and will line up beside Power in the middle of Row Four next Sunday. After turning an unofficial lap of over 235 mph in the morning practice, Marcus Ericsson has to be disappointed that he will be tenth on the grid next Sunday. He was considered a legitimate contender for the pole.

Tony Kanaan and Alexander Rossi both have to disappointed in their runs as well. Both were knocked out of the Firestone Fast Six. Kanaan will start ninth next Sunday, while Rossi will roll off seventh. Takuma Sato, who had been fast all week was also knocked out and will start eighth –in the middle of Row Three.

Santino Ferrucci had the No. 14 at the top of the pylon with two laps over 234 mph, until Felix Rosenqvist knocked him down to the second fastest of the session on the last run of the session.

Once again, this format is not what I grew up with; but they did themselves a favor by adding three more cars (from the fast Nine) and splitting them into two sessions.

Last Chance Qualifying: The desperation round started with Christian Lundgaard and Sting Ray Robb putting up underwhelming times in the 229.5 range.. At least, I thought they were underwhelming until Jack Harvey put up a four-lap average of 228.477 mph. That lowered the bar from Graham Rahal, who went out fourth. He posted a not-so great time of 229.159 mph, but it was good enough to beat Harvey – at least for the time being.

The cars sat for a while, but then Harvey went out with a run that fell short. Although time was starting to run out, Harvey went back out with about two and a half minutes to go. To be honest, I didn’t think he had a prayer. But by the time his Lap Three time was posted, I realized that he had a chance to bump out his teammate. As we all know now, he did.

Row Eleven will consist of Christian Lundgaard, Sting Ray Robb and Jack Harvey. Graham Rahal will miss the 2023 Indianapolis 500, under the same conditions his father did thirty years ago.

You have to wonder what that does to the dynamics of a team that has already struggled mightily through most of the season. If you are Bobby Rahal, you understand that Jack Harvey and team had every right to go for that final spot – but as a father, you know his heart sank when his son got bumped from another employee. This will be frosty between now and Detroit.

Firestone Fast Six:  When the first two rows were finally filled, it was anti-climactic for a couple of reasons. First, we had just been run through the gambit of emotions after watching Jack Harvey bump his teammate. Even if that hadn’t happened, watching each driver get one run, one after another was not real satisfying. I’m sure Pole-Winner Alex Palou would disagree with me.

All in All:  It was a very enjoyable and entertaining weekend. I’m sorry to see it come to an end, but I am anxious to get home to our dogs and sleep in my own bed. For the past ten days, I’ve only spent two nights at home. Plus, I know we will be back up here Thursday night after work, for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing!

George Phillips

6 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Qualifying”

  1. Isn’t this the fastest field for the Indy 500 at a field average of 232.184 mph? I think it’s the first time the first 10 rows are all over 231 mph! Enjoyed this immensely despite traveling during the weekend.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    For all the has beens and never was-es who have failed to qualify at Indy, there have also been greats, pretty goods, and just OKs who have missed the show too. It’s galling to see Graham miss the show, but I know he’ll be back… and I expect RLL will be playing an almost Foyt-like game of musical chairs this offseason. What a mess they have been all year (outside of the Indy GP).

    The current qualifying format works tremendously well for modern Indycar, it suits the current size of the entry list and modern television production very well. I prefer tradition, but I also find what we have to be quite fun.

  3. Mark J Wick Says:

    I saw video in which Graham was asked directly if he would get in a team car for the race and, without hesitation, he said he would not. “This race is for people who earn their spots.”
    There are two cars with no sponsorship in the race, so his sppnsors do have places to be seen, and Abel recing does not have a crew experienced in making pit stops, so I see a possibility for cooperation for mutual benefit there.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Back when there was a lot of noise about possibly guaranteeing spots in the 500 for full time entries, including publicly-stated support from Michael Andretti, Chip Ganassi, and even Roger Penske (not to mention several reporters), Bobby Rahal was the ONLY owner I recall publicly saying anything against the idea. It appears that Graham understands and respects the tradition of Indy just as his father does.

  4. idididone Says:

    I. wonder why they don’t set s time period for fast 12/fast 6 qualifying. That would add the same excitement to those that we felt for the “Last Chance” round.. I too found the format as it played out to be somewhat anticlimactic..

  5. Enjoyed qualifications. Especially the beautiful day Sunday. Still have qualms about this new qualifying format. I like how they are handling “bump day” now with limited entrants and that was highlight of Sunday.

    Overall, the positive is that there was considerable track activity over both days. But I am a traditionalist. You should not “win” the Pole twice only to lose it on the third try.

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