INDIANAPOLIS – It’s now time for Indianapolis 500 Time Trials. A full week of practice is officially behind us, as we turn our focus to the annual qualifying weekend here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With that being said, here are the top five storylines heading into qualifying this weekend.
Simon Pagenaud pulls out for qualifying in 2018 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – INDYCAR Media Site
The fans asked, IndyCar listened. This past February, the NTT IndyCar Series revealed the new qualifying procedures for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500. The scenario that the fans have been wanting, is happening.
On Saturday, only spots 10-33 will be guaranteed. On Sunday, only spots 1-9 and 31 on back will have to requalify. It’s back to where it needs to be.
Now, I get where this could be a bit confusing, but lets dig deeper.
Saturday may seem like a “what’s the point” but here’s why it will be dramatic. See, teams want to be in the Fast Nine with a shot at the pole on Sunday. Alexander Rossi is a prime example of doing this last year. With how close lap times are in the series now a days, a more than capable driver who may be 20th or worse can easily get into the Fast Nine with some minor adjustments.
So, you’ll see that drama unfold. Also, you’ll see the drama unfold for the race to get off the 11th Row.
If you can get into the top 10 Rows, you’re guaranteed into the show. If you’re 31st or further back, you’re going to qualify as much as you can on Saturday to get off the bubble.
That’s a drama filled day still.
Then, it’s onto Sunday to set the field with two one-hour drama filled sessions.
Teams will have overnight to work on their cars and get them dialed in. So, if you were slightly off on Saturday, you have time to get your car right for Sunday.
Then, you get the agony of defeat in the first hour with three drivers going home.
Last year, James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann were bumped and didn’t make the field. There were plenty of tears flowing and drama. It’s good TV. Unfortunately, ABC didn’t air any of it due to it being on a Saturday and only having 10 minutes to show.
This year, NBC will air this new session as well as the Fast Nine on network TV and will have post session time to capture the drama that has unfolded.
After the Last Row Session, it’s onto the Fast Nine to set the first 3 Rows. Again, more drama action packed network TV time.
Helio Castroneves practices at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – INDYCAR Media Site
Can Penske Get ‘500 Pole?
Team Penske is in their 50th year here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Across the last 50 year, Penske has won the ‘500 race record 17 times. But, they’ve also won a race record 17 poles as well.
Despite scoring more poles than anyone else in ‘500 history, Penske hasn’t started on the Inside of Row 1 here since 2012.
Will their six year drought end on Sunday?
First off is Saturday. They need to get their cars into the Fast Nine by 5:50 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon. So far, they look the part. They had two of the top five speeds on the no tow list on Friday afternoon.
Scott Dixon leads a group of cars in practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – INDYCAR Media Site
Honda vs. Chevy
Everyone assumed all week that the race for the pole this weekend would go through Chevrolet. After all, Chevy drivers swept the front row for the 2018 race and put seven cars in the Fast Nine a year ago. Heading into Fast Friday, Chevy had the top five speeds on the no tow list and seven of the top nine again.
But, during Friday’s final practice session before qualifying, Honda stormed to the top. They had eight cars in the top 13 on the no tow list and five in the top 10. But, Chevy did have the top two speeds on the no tow and four of the top five overall on that chart.
Ed Jones speeds out of pit lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – INDYCAR Media Site
Part of qualifying weekend is pure speed. IMS and speed go together like peanut butter and jelly. There used to be an allure of reaching speeds in excess of 150 mph here. In 1962, they finally did that. Then, it became a race for 170 mph. They did it in 1968. Could they get to 200? They did so in 1978. In every year with the exception of two, the pole winning speed since 1978 has eclipsed 200 mph.
From 200 it was 210, then 220, then 230. But, with speeds getting very dangerous in the 230 mph barrier, times have slowed some. Between 1992 and 1996, the pole speeds were over 230 mph three times in a span of five years. But, in the 22 years since, we’ve seen cars get over 230 mph just five times.
Granted, two of those five times have occurred since 2016, but I think we will barely miss that mark this weekend.
The top no tow speeds so far are 229 mph. Ed Jones was the only once to eclipse the 230 mph mark. With Saturday being the hottest day of the week, good luck getting over 230 mph. Then, when speeds for the top nine become official on Sunday, with weather being a factor, do they get to qualify? If not, they’ll revert to Saturday’s speeds. If they do, it’s in the heat of the day, can they really go faster?
If we see a 230 this weekend, it will be a low 230.
Kyle Kaiser gets airborne following a practice crash on Fast Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – INDYCAR Media Site
Bumping, Is McLaren Or Juncos Going To Make It?
It’s been a rough week for McLaren. They’re facing a harsh reality over here in IndyCar. The first two days saw them with mechanical as well as electrical problems. Then, later on in Day 2, Alonso crashed on the north end of the track.
That forced the team to miss the entire day of practice on Thursday. By cmparison though, Felix Rosenqvist crashed in Happy Hour on Wednesday but his Chip Ganassi Racing team had him a car on the track by the drop of the green flag on Thursday. Alonso crashed on track nearly five hours prior to Rosenqvist and they never were able to get to pit road on Thursday.
Heading into Fast Friday, Alonso had only completed 96 laps. 24 of the 36 cars had completed at least 200 laps in the same time frame. For a new team trying to learn each other still, to only have 96 laps on track and a new race car doesn’t bode well.
Alonso, practiced for only 77 laps on Friday with a top speed of 229.328 mph. That lap though was with a tow. His top no tow lap was just 226.869 mph, which was 30th quickest.
That has them in trouble.
What about Juncos?
They entered the week in trouble when two sponsors pulled out last minute. But, they ended up making the most of it and had some very quick speeds. They were on track to make the field rather easily. Unfortunately, Kaiser crashed in Turn 3 on Fast Friday, leaving the team’s status for qualifying in doubt.
They had a spare tub but didn’t know if they could have the budget for all new spare parts. Some teams in the garage are helping with parts, but do they have enough time and enough of a budget to get the parts together and installed to make a run at the fastest 33?
The speeds are all close. The quickest speed on Friday was 231.704 mph. The slowest speed on Friday was 226.538 mph. That’s only an 8-tenths of a second gap. But, if you look at the gap between first to ninth, we’re only talking an inch. What about 30th to 36th? Again, going to be close.
That’s margins of just inches in making the race or not.
That’s going to make qualifying so intense because the difference between the Fast Nine or out of the field completely is less than a second.
Saturday looks good but Sunday could be a problem. There’s a chance of rain on Sunday which could really damper this new format. See, if we don’t get any running in on Sunday, then the field is set based on Saturday’s times. That puts extra emphasis on Saturday because you want to really be in the top 33 instead of 34-36 when the final gun sounds at 5:50 p.m. ET.
So far this week, the last two days have been interrupted by weather.