Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Team Penske Flexes Muscle on First Day of Indianapolis 500 Qualifying

By Kirby Arnold, Special Contributor

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Team Penske continued its show of strength Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, its three drivers recording the fastest speeds on the first day of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

Will Power led the field with a four-lap average of 233.758 mph, followed by Scott McLaughlin (233.332 mph) and Josef Newgarden (233.293 mph) to comprise an all-Penske parade at the top of the speed chart.

Alexander Rossi of Arrow McLaren was fourth-fastest at 233.069 mph and Kyle Kirkwood, 232.764 mph for Andretti Global, was fifth and the fastest of Honda-powered entries.

The most celebrated Kyle at Indy this year, NASCAR star Kyle Larson, qualified sixth fastest for Arrow McLaren at 232.563 mph.

Besides the Penske dominance, it also was a Chevrolet show. Nine of the 12 cars with a chance to win the pole Sunday are powered by Chevrolet.

Rinus Veekay and his Ed Carpenter Racing team made a monumental recovery to qualify 11th fastest and secure a place in the fast-12 session. Veekay crashed on his first qualifying attempt  and after a three-hour thrash by the Carpenter crew to rebuild the car, impressively posted a speed of 232.419.

“It would be a really cool story but I like boring stories more,” Veekay said. “Such a heartbreak to start the day. The crew put the car back together in less than three hours. It’s such a great job by the guys. They are the real winners.”

While Chevrolets were a common sight up front, the same could not be said for the Honda powered machines.

The last-chance shootout Sunday to determine the final three starting spots, and who among the 34 entries won’t make the race, will be an all-Honda affair. For the second straight year it will involve Graham Rahal.

Rahal, bumped last year before he replaced injured Stefan Wilson in the 500 with another team, posted the 33rd fastest speed Saturday at 230.233 mph in his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda.

“It’s a tough scenario right now,” Rahal said. “After last year, I’m the man who’s picked for the job to try to put it together tomorrow.”

Takuma Sato was the best of the Rahal team’s four drivers, ninth fastest overall at 232.473 mph. Christian Lundgaard qualified 28th and Pietro Fittipaldi 30th, locking themselves in the 500 lineup in those positions.

“I think Takuma is an anomaly,” Rahal said. “Takuma’s got a hell of an engine compared to the rest of us. The other three cars are the same, and there’s one that’s different. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

However, Chevrolet didn’t escape the day without a hiccup. Make that six hiccups.

Six Chevy-powered entries suffered a “plenum event” during qualifying attempts, ruining runs by Pato O’Ward, Conor Daly, Christian Rasmussen, Ed Carpenter, Agustin Canapino and Larson. The plenum is part of the intake assembly on the engine that transfers fuel-air mix to the cylinders, and all of the problems occurred when drivers downshifted.

Canapino was audibly anguished over his radio after a strong qualifying run was wiped out late in the day.

Chevrolet officials weren’t sure of the reason for the issues but said there were no problems earlier in the week when teams practiced with lower turbo boost. There also were no engine issues during practice Friday when boost was turned up to qualifying levels.

“We are pushing as hard as we can to give our teams the most horsepower and performance as we can,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s vice president of performance and motorsports.

“The good news is there was no harm to the engines. We put those drivers at a deficit when they were trying to make four fast laps. We feel terrible. We race in seven, eight, nine series around the world and when we have an issue we feel bad.”

Campbell said Chevrolet officials would study data and work overnight at dyno facilities around the world to find a solution.

“It’s definitely related to how hard we are pushing these engines,” he said. “This is judgment weekend for us. We want to bring big power.”

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