By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS– Qualifications and post-qualifying practice for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 are finished and there were a lot of storylines and observations that came out of this past weekend that are worth looking at.
Between McLaren and Fernando Alonso missing the race to Juncos Racing’s successful rebuild, it’s all under review.
Starting from the front of the field and working back, it must be noted that Simon Pagenaud’s performance in the Fast Nine Shootout was massive, especially at a time where some are questioning whether or not he has a seat at Team Penske after this year.
It was also a strong showing from Ed Carpenter Racing. The eponymous team owner will start second with Spencer Pigot in third and Ed Jones in fourth. It was a great result for Jones after a roller coaster year at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Speaking of Chip Ganassi Racing, it was rather odd to see how far down Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist were on the grid. The 2008 Indianapolis 500 champion qualified 18th while Rosenqvist was in 29th position. The Swede was especially in danger considering the format for 2019 meant that only the top 30 cars were locked in after the first day.
Moving on to teams that in theory punched above their weight, DragonSpeed and Ben Hanley did a marvelous job of qualifying for the field after being bumped out of the top 30 cars twice. For their first oval race, the sports car racing team did a fantastic job setting their car up and were well prepared for their Indianapolis challenge.
On the other end of that spectrum of preparedness for their first Indianapolis 500 attempt as a new team was McLaren Racing and their driver Alonso. Numerous articles have come out in the meantime about how the backup car was trying to get a new paint job, how there was no steering wheel for the first test and other details. Still, the fact that there were so many failures should be a warning to those looking at Indianapolis to try and qualify for the first time.
McLaren’s failings show that even the biggest companies can have foul-ups and that if you don’t come prepared, then the Speedway will bite you. The team’s failure also legitimizes the difficulty of Indy car racing, oval racing, and the qualifying procedure. Many outsiders may decry oval racing as simplistic.
“It’s only four corners! They’re only turning one direction! How difficult can it be?”
It was difficult enough where a team whose parent company’s 2018 earnings totaled over 1.2 billion British pounds failed to make the show.
The team that bumped them had 25 full time employees which increased to 40 or so after they added another racing program. And the vast majority of their mechanics worked over 40+ hours straight to get their road course car properly massaged for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Juncos Racing lost their primary sponsorship days before practice started and ran the first part of qualifying with a superspeedway car that was especially prepared for superspeedway racing. However, Kyle Kaiser had an incident on Fast Friday that ruined any chances of qualifying that car. The team decided to bring out the car Kaiser ran at Austin in March and began work immediately.
Their efforts were repaid when Kaiser bumped Alonso out by just over .01 seconds over a four lap, ten mile average.
Kudos also to James Hinchcliffe, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Sage Karam for their efforts during this past weekend. Hinchcliffe’s accident on Saturday necessitated a new car to be assembled by the ASPM crew and the crew got it done in just two and a half hours. Hinchcliffe qualified 32nd while Karam got past any issues he had with the car, put his foot down and qualified 31st.
Monday’s practice session showcased some very dicey racing between numerous cars. Many went three-wide in the cooler conditions and the cars looked like they were able to run somewhat close together.
The only big moment was when Marcus Ericsson misjudged following Rosenqvist while Rosenqvist was in the high groove and brushed the wall exiting Turn 3. Ericsson’s car seemed to be undamaged but that contact could’ve been much bigger.
Pagenaud set the fastest time in that Monday practice session followed by Josef Newgarden, Hinchcliffe, Dixon and Alexander Rossi. What’s more interesting is that the top ten have five Chevrolet entries and five Honda entries so the race is still up in the air even though qualifying was more of a Chevrolet show.
Carb Day might be a greater indicator of how the race will play out but we’ll have to wait and see, especially if rain comes on race day and washes out the 500.