By Kirby Arnold, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – There’s no qualifying stress like the battle to make the Indianapolis 500, where one of the NTT IndyCar Series’ all-time best qualifiers finds himself fighting just to make this year’s race.
Team Penske’s Will Power, whose 62 career pole positions are one short of Mario Andretti’s all-time record, failed to qualify Saturday among the 30 fastest that locked themselves into the field for the May 30 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He must come back Sunday and take part in a five-car battle for the final three spots in the 33-car field.
All five drive cars are powered by Chevrolet, which as a group had lacked speed to match the Honda teams.
Power, Sage Karam of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Simona de Silvestro of Paretta Autosport, Charlie Kimball of A.J. Foyt Enterprises and RC Enerson of Top Gun Racing all posted speeds outside the top 30 on Saturday.
Power’s struggle was a stunning development that rekindled memories of 1995, when Team Penske’s cars driven by Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi failed to qualify for the 500. Team Penske, whose other cars have lacked front-running speed, gives technical support to the Paretta Autosport car driven by de Silvestro.
“We gave it our best shot,” Power said on the NBC Sports Network telecast. “If we give it a conservative run, we should be OK (on Sunday). But if something goes wrong, you’re out. It’ll certainly be an intense day.”
Power, whose four-lap average speed of 229.052 mph earlier in the day didn’t crack the top 30, ran again in the final hour trying to bump A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ Dalton Kellett from the 30th spot. Needing to beat Kellett’s 229.250, Power was just short at 229.228.
de Silvestro made two futile late attempts, the last one when she wheeled onto the track with less than 10 seconds remaining before the 5:50 p.m. deadline. Her team is the first in Indy history owned by a woman – Beth Paretta – driven by a woman and crewed mostly by women.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” Beth Paretta said on the telecast. “If we gave up easily, we wouldn’t be here. Any of us. Nobody on this team has a give-up attitude.”
The final minutes of Saturday’s qualifying dripped with drama as the teams made desperate attempts to bump Kellett, which would have locked them into the race.
Needing to better Kellett’s speed of 229.250, Karam made two laps before aborting his run, de Silvestro fought a couple of loose moments and managed 228.395, then Power 229.228, both not fast enough. Kimball and Enerson both waved off runs after two laps.
Kellett’s team then made the biggest gamble of the frantic final minutes, withdrawing his previous speed in order to re-qualify. His four-lap average was 228.323, nearly a mile per hour slower than his earlier speed, but it kept him in the 30th position because he qualified in the position he had given up.
That playing-with-house-money gamble worked, barely.
Seconds before the gun sounded to end qualifying, de Silvestro drove onto the track and was fast enough on her first lap – 228.397 – but couldn’t manage 228 in her remaining three laps.
With that, Kellett finally could relax knowing he was locked into the field.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s what the fans love. It might not have been my favorite afternoon.”