By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – On a hot Saturday at Indianapolis, 35 drivers had the daunting task of trying to put together four solid laps that’ll either get them into the Fast Nine or make the top-30. It’s no easy task as conditions, the luck of the draw and risking everything can dictate how a competitor go about their run.
Scott Dixon wasted no time as not only he was the first man to qualify, he literally set the tone. His four-lap average of 231.828 mph was the standard everyone else had to surpass. Guys like his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan, Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta and Ed Carpenter tried but failed. Dixon ended up being the fastest man at Indy for the day.
QUALIFYING RESULTS: 105th Indianapolis 500 – Saturday
In his eyes, the best four-lap average of the day was decent. Comes to show that even a six-time INDYCAR champion wanted more on what be described as an intense month.
“Definitely nerve racking,” said Dixon. “It was a good draw, but I don’t know if I ever gone out first. Sitting in the truck before going out with TK. He told me if I still get nervous. I don’t think if I’ve ever been nervous. You just want to be competitive and have a great run.
“Our run was decent. Made a mistake on Lap 2 which cost us on the average, but pretty much happy with what the team did.”
Herta went 231.648 mph on his four-lap average, strong enough for second. He too felt that his top qualifying run was okay as he was on par with Dixon.
“We’re there and it’s really close between us,” said Herta. “Might just be a little on the line and speed. We’ll have a car ready just in case we need to do something later.”
With the clouds clearing up and conditions getting hotter, opportunities of dethroning Dixon became non-existent. In Herta’s case, he tried again past 4 p.m., but the run proved to be more of a feel for tomorrow’s Fast Nine.
When that goes down, they’ll have to put on a 10-mile masterpiece. One guaranteed shot is all a driver gets to determine the first three rows.
Rounding out the Fast Nine was Marcus Ericsson, who also felt his run was decent. Over time, it turned out that all four Ganassi cars will fight for the pole position. It’ll be Ericsson’s first rodeo after missing out last year by a single row.
“Car felt pretty good, but a little bit disappointed with the overall speed,” said Ericsson. “I was hoping to be a few spots up. It’s really nice to drive and the balance was pretty good.
“We know we have a strong package and we’ve shown that all week. It’s been great to have four strong cars and drivers to work together. That’s why we’re so strong today again and we need to keep that going.”
Further down the grid, the emotions varied from driver-to-driver. Those who are in the 500 can take a huge deep breath. They’re going to the big dance with some having compelling stories.
Two men stood out for both the right and wrong reasons. Those being Pietro Fittipaldi and Jack Harvey respectively, but each not having to worry about missing the field.
Fittipaldi put on a flyer in the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware entry that kept him inside the Fast Nine for a period of time. After four brilliant laps, Fittipaldi hugged and handshake his crew for a job well done as the Indy dream will finally become a reality.
“We can focus on the race and see where we are at. It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of the 500,” said Fittipaldi, who’ll start 13th. “It’s all a build up and hype to the race and qualifying when all the cars are single file. You start feeling the nerves. Same for the race next week, the most important in the world.”
Harvey’s day could’ve been catastrophic when he had a massive vibration. When he got his qualifying run out of the way, the issue was on the right rear Firestone tire. Harvey explained the issue became apparent immediately.
“What do you do? You can’t stop because it’s Indy 500 qualifying,” said Harvey. “I was surprised the car was able to get to the end and kept it out of the wall.”
Harvey would re-qualify and his day went from awry to total relief, knowing he’ll be safely into the 500.
“We can be stronger than P20, but we put a time on the board. Our team handled it real well and were calm,” Harvey commented. “Now, we can go back and take a breather. Figure out where the speed is. It’s such a privilege to be one of the drivers here. Not super fun what happened this morning, but a fantastic result.”
When the gun blast took place at 5:50 p.m. ET, it symbolized the end of a grueling afternoon at Indy. Positions 10-30 are locked in, but disappointment a plenty who had expectations of fighting for the pole. Marco Andretti being one of those guys.
After winning the pole last August, the vibe was a complete 180 and was willing to re-qualify again. Tensions and concerns were evident for Marco, especially when he went out second in line and had to follow up Dixon’s run.
“That was my most concerning qualifying run I’ve ever done here at the speedway,” said Marco. “I’ve had slow cars, but not over two miles an hour off my teammates. If they don’t find an issue with the car, we might be on the outside looking in.”
Marco would qualify two more times, but will be rolling off 25th. Far from ideal, but won’t have to worry about Sunday as this year’s 500 marked the 50th consecutive year an Andretti qualified at Indy.
Another driver who endured a chaotic day was Alex Palou. His four-lap average good enough for seventh, but the game of risk vs. reward kicked in.
Palou felt that re-qualifying may be necessary which he did.
“We don’t want to risk a really good car that we have,” said Palou. “But I think we will go out again. Try to put it in the Fast Nine. The entire team has done a good job and hope to get all four cars in.”
The risk backfired and crashed in Turn 2 and while he kept his first attempt due to going into the “no risk” zone, a long night ahead for the No. 10 Ganassi crew.
If any positives, Palou won’t need a backup car and will fight for pole glory along with his Ganassi teammates.
Finally, there’s the danger zone known as the Last Row Shootout. For five competitors, the pressure intensified as 2018 Indy 500 champ Will Power, Simona De Silvestro, Sage Karam, Charlie Kimball and RC Enerson only got 75 minutes to be one of three that’ll make the final cut.
De Silvestro barely got one more run in with seconds to spare. Despite beating the gun, she failed to make the top-30 while Dalton Kellett dodged a bullet. So much so, that he actually went out before De Silvestro.
Adding into the chaos qualifying at Indy provides, the first run was withdrawn. Therefore, Will Power moved up to the bubble spot while Kellett had to make the top-30 again. It barely paid off for the AJ Foyt Racing driver and will start 30th. Power will have to fight another day, hoping to make the 11th and final row.
That being said, shades of 1995 are slowly kicking in with one Penske and its satellite effort (De Silvestro’s Paretta Autosport) being endangered of missing Indy. De Silvestro mentioned that everything was looking great until Fast Friday.
“We struggled for some speed and it’s not easy from that point on. Hopefully, we’ll move forward. We need to see what we can do,” said De Silvestro. “We had felt really confident during the week because we had really good speed. Since we got up to the boost, we didn’t do it as much of a jump like other teams. We need to put our heads together and get better.”
One long intense day filled with chaos at IMS is only the beginning. Day 2 qualifying beings at 1:15 p.m. ET as 14 drivers will look to tell a story of their own with five fighting to survive. Some wanting a excellent starting spot and the prestige that comes with it. Others are sweating bullets, praying Sunday will be a positive outcome. Either way, there will be tremendous emotions.