By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Marco Andretti captured pole for next Sunday’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (2: 30 p.m. ET on NBC).
Piloting the No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport Honda, Andretti was the last driver to go out in the Fast Nine shootout and put together a four-lap average of 231.068 mph on the 2.5-mile superspeedway to unseat five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) from the top spot by a narrow 0.017 of a second. It’s the sixth pole of Andretti’s career and eclipses his previous best Indy 500 start of third (2013). It also marks the first time in 33 years an Andretti has been on pole for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, after 1969 Indy 500 winner Mario, Marco’s grandfather, led the field of 33 to the green flag in 1987.
“I thought of him,” said Marco of his grandfather, “because today I walked out of the motorhome and it was pretty windy. He has a famous quote, within us, he doesn’t say it to many people, but he says, ‘The wind will scare you but it’ll never crash you.’ So today, he was right. I don’t know if that’s right, totally. But, it’s pretty awesome.”
The windy conditions would prove to be tricky once he went out on track.
“For me, I started feeling it on Lap 2, which meant it was going to be a long couple laps,” said Marco, who will make his 15 start in the Indy 500 next Sunday. “Yeah, Lap 3 and 4 was sketchy.”
For the first time in 33 years, an Andretti will lead the field to green in the #Indy500.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) August 16, 2020
Michael Andretti, Marco’s father and team owner of Andretti Autosport, was ecstatic of his son’s pole-winning performance.
“Fantastic,” said Michael, who has a best finish of second (1991) in 16 attempts as a driver at the Indy 500. “It was unbelievable. The car was so loose and he didn’t take his foot off the throttle. He drove the hell out of it. After the first three guys went, I’m like, ‘We have not shot,’ but he kept it in there and did a hell of a job.”
Dixon, the 2008 winner of the Indy 500, will start from the middle of the front row after a stout 231.051 mph four-lap average.
“It’s crazy,” said Dixon. “A gust of wind could have changed that in a moment. I’m really happy for Marco. They’ve had a solid month and he deserves this. I know what this place means to his family and him, especially. It’s good to see him even under this pressure to make it work. Hopefully, we can reverse that position in a week’s time, but really proud of the PNC Bank No. 9 crew. Everybody at Honda. Honda has done such an amazing job this month, so far. Obviously, we’re all focused on next weekend, but I can’t thank them enough. Hopefully, we can keep on pushing and have a great afternoon this afternoon and get back out there.”
After being the first driver to go out to qualify, Takuma Sato’s run of 230.725 mph was enough to end up third. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver and 2017 Indy 500 winner will start next Sunday on the outside of the front row.
The only Chevrolet in the fight for pole was Ed Carpenter Racing rookie Rinus VeeKay, who rattled off four crisp laps at an average of 230.704 mph to qualify fourth. The Andretti Autosport duo of James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay slotted in fifth and sixth, with rookie Alex Palou (Dale Coyne Racing) following in seventh. Graham Rahal (RLL Racing) and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) ended up eighth and ninth, respectively.