INDIANAPOLIS – It should come to no surprise to anyone, but Saturday’s opening day of qualifying for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network) was dominated by both Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing.
Among the top six provisional qualifiers, five hail from either the ECR or Penske camps.
Spencer Pigot was the quickest of them all with a four-lap average of 230.082 mph in his No. 21 Chevrolet. Pigot, was the second qualifier of the day. More on that later.
For him, he hasn’t won a pole in any series since 2015 and is doing his best rain dance tonight in hopes that we don’t qualify on Sunday. If qualifying for the Fast Nine is rained out, the Pigot will be on the pole for next Sunday’s 200 Lap race.
Second was Will Power in his No. 12 Chevrolet. Power, circled the track with a four-lap average of 230.081 mph. He was the ninth qualifier of the day. Third was Simon Pagenaud (229.854 mph) in his No. 22 Chevrolet.
If you didn’t notice, it’s the exact same front row as last year with the exception of Pigot replacing his boss Ed Carpenter on the Inside of Row 1.
Fourth was Josef Newgarden (229.749 mph) who gave Penske three of the top four speeds on Saturday. Fifth and sixth went to Colton Herta (229.478 mph) and Ed Jones (229.440 mph) respectively. Carpenter (229.349 mph) gave ECR all three of their cars in the top seven chiming in P7 himself.
For these six drivers (ECR/Penske), they had four of the top five speeds on the no tow chart on Friday and all said that while they knew they’d duke it out with each other on Saturday, it was all about their positioning in the qualifying draw for why they qualified where they did on a steamy hot afternoon in Indianapolis.
“I think clearly we were fastest that one lap,” said Jones after turning a lap of 231.015 mph in his first lap. “The wind picked up on our run and cost us our time. If we would have run first thing in the morning like Ed (Carpenter) or Spencer (Pigot) when the conditions were prime, we would have been fine. Just a bit bummed by that. The team did a great job to get all three cars in. Hopefully we can compete for the pole.
“I want to go back out. I want to get pole. I’m not doing full time. It’s just getting on pole for the ‘500.”
Alexander Rossi and Sebastien Bourdais were the only other two drivers to get into the Fast Nine on Saturday as these nine drivers will compete in the Shootout on Sunday afternoon for a run at the pole.
Here are the main storylines from a wild day on Saturday.
Forecast For Sunday Made Teams Stress About Top 9 On Saturday
For the six ECR and Penske cars, they could have realistically shut down for the day after their first runs. Everyone knew that no one had anything for them. But, with the treat of rain on Sunday, it means that Saturday’s results could set the first 3 Rows for next Sunday’s 200 Lap race.
So, do you trust the forecast and risk it, or do you stand pat and keep calm.
Pagenaud, said that he’d roll the dice and not likely go out unless they somehow get bumped out of the top nine.
“I don’t think we need to go back out later,” said Pagenaud. “It was a very strong performance. It was handled perfectly. I think it was quite perfect. Overall, very happy, I think we have a shot at the pole tomorrow.”
Power, is hoping it doesn’t rain on Sunday too. He has 56 career Indy Car poles which ranks second all-time, but out of all of those poles, he has none at Indy.
“I feel like the conditions are only going to get worse,” Power said on his qualifying attempt and if he’d go out later. “I wish I could have just gotten a little bit more. It’s always been like this with qualifying around here. I so badly want a pole. I sure hope there’s a Fast Nine tomorrow. I seriously would love a pole here. It would complete the whole thing.”
With the treat of rain on Sunday, would he go back out, especially with points on the line for the Fast Nine?
“That’s a great question and something we’re really thinking about,” Power continued. It’s a tough call man. It wasn’t even registering but yes. Anything you can take you take it.”
For Carpenter, he’s won the pole in three of the last six years here but was fine with settling for P6 for the first run.
“It was alright,” Carpenter said of his run. “The balance wasn’t perfect but I’ve had worse around here. The dropoff was a bit more than I had hoped for but I think we could probably do a little better. I would have liked to be a little closer up Spencer (Pigot). We’ve been pretty comparable all week. I think it will be good for the Top Nine. We will have to see.”
Chevrolet Superior To Honda Again
Last year, Chevy drivers dominated Indy 500 qualifying. They had seven of the top nine speeds and 11 of the top 13 overall. Heading into this weekend’s two-day show, the bowties looked the part again.
They had four of the top five speeds on Fast Friday for the no tow list. In qualifying itself on Saturday, they had six cars in the Fast Nine.
On q-trim, Chevy’s still had the advantage.
Herta Puts On A Show
We all knew that the Chevy’s had the top speed and looked honestly to sweep the provisional top two Rows. But, Colton Herta had other thoughts in mind.
The young 19 year old rookie originally made himself the fastest car in the first sweep through among the Honda drivers. But, it’s wasn’t just that, it was his skill and bravery too.
At the hottest part of the day when the track was at its worse, Herta went the fastest. Then, he risked it in the 4 o’clock hour to go back out again and he not only improved, he broke up the Penske party up front.
Herta, went from P8 to P5 which made him in my mind the most impressive driver of the day.
Drama Filled Day
Saturday was as advertised. Normally, we don’t see qualifying all the way through a session at Indy. After the field goes through once, you typically have a lull where some drivers go back to the garage for adjustments then come back out for another try later.
With today being as hot as it was, you would have thought we’d go a bit without a car on track. Instead, it was the far opposite.
We saw qualifying literally all day as the field was so close, it was constant bumping for 30th. We saw Fernando Alonso attempt to make the field five times as he was bumped a couple times in fact but could never get far enough up to remain there.
You have sleeper teams like Clauson Marshall Racing and DragonSpeed making it in while teams like McLaren and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports are out.
This day was as good as it gets.
Tight Speed Differential
Only two cars got over 230 mph in the four lap average department on Saturday. Six more got into 229 mph. From Pigot (230.083 mph) to Rossi (229.268 mph), the top eight were separated by just .815 mph.
But, just look at the gaps elsewhere.
Bourdais (228.800 mph) narrowly beat Marco Andretti (228.756 mph) by just 0.044 mph. Pippa Mann (227.244 mph) just barely topped Fernando Alonso (227.224 mph) by 0.02 mph.
Those gaps are extremely small margins.
The bubble to get into the Fast Nine this year was nearly 229 mph. That’s impressive. What about the bubble to get into the show in general? It was 227.244 mph.
Can you imagine having to average 227 mph just to get into the top 10 Rows?
21 Pigot 230.083
12 Power 230.081
22 Pagenaud 229.854
2 Newgarden 229.749
88 Herta R 229.478
63 Jones 229.440
20 Carpenter 229.349
27 Rossi 229.268
18 Bourdais 228.600
Row 4: Marco Andretti, Conor Daly, Helio Castroneves
Row 5: Marcus Ericsson R, Takuma Sato, James Davison
Row 6: Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon
Row 7: Oriol Servia, Charlie Kimball, JR Hildebrand
Row 8: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Santino Ferrucci R, Matheus Leist
Row 9: Jack Harvey, Jordan King R, Ben Hanley R
Row 10: Zach Veach, Felix Rosenqvist R, Pippa Mann
Patricio O’Ward, Max Chilton, Sage Karam, James Hinchcliffe, Fernando Alonso, Kyle Kaiser