By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Marco Andretti vaulted to the top of the leaderboard on the opening round of qualifying for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
An unfavorable draw of 28th, Andretti went out during the heat of the day when track conditions were at their toughest. Despite the obstacle, he powered the No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco & Curb-Agajanian Honda to a four-lap average of 231.351 mph. Additionally, he was one of only two drivers to break 232 mph, doing so on the opening of his run with a 232.177 mph. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon hit 232.356 mph on an aborted run at the end of the day.
“It’s because of the U.S. Concrete boys and the car they put together,” said Andretti. “I was able to just go out and do my job and it … Man, when it all comes together, it’s beautiful. The balance was great. The power, I mean, Honda brought it this year, so thank you to them. I’m just super thrilled. We got to do it one more time tomorrow.”
The top nine drivers advanced into Sunday’s Fast Nine shootout, a one-hour session (1 p.m. ET on NBC) for a chance to claim pole for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing on Aug. 23 (2:30 p.m. on NBC).
Andretti led an Andretti Autosport sweep of the top four positions, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (231.330 mph), Alexander Rossi (231.268 mph) and part-time driver James Hinchcliffe (231.195 mph) occupying the spots.
The dominance was extended by Honda, who filled eight of the nine positions with the only Chevrolet being represented by NTT IndyCar Series rookie Rinus VeeKay (Ed Carpenter Racing).
“The biggest hurdle when you come to Indy is speed,” said Andretti. “So you do your first run of the month, everybody holds their breath. Are we going to be fast or are we not? And then you go through a couple of days of is Chevy sandbagging? Is it too good to be true? And man, Honda brought it. So we got the speed thing checked off. So we just need to execute now.”
While Dixon aborted the final run of the day, he remained fifth after an initial run of 231.155 mph. The five-time IndyCar champion was followed by VeeKay, rookie Alex Palou (Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh) and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing duo of Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato.
With four drivers in the mix, Andretti Autosport will attempt to become the first team to sweep the front row of the Indy 500 since Team Penske in 1988.
Colton Herta (Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport) was the first driver to miss the cut in 10th, followed by Marcus Ericsson (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Spencer Pigot (RLL with Citrone/Buhl Autosport).
Two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was the highest of the Team Penske drivers in 13th, while Will Power ended the day 22nd, ahead of defending race winner Simon Pagenaud in 25th and Helio Castroneves in 28th. This marks the first time since 2002 a Team Penske driver failed to qualify in the top three rows of the Indy 500.
Two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso had an underwhelming four-lap run of 228.768 mph, which put him 26th overall.