To win the 105th Indianapolis 500 next Sunday, May 29th, you’re gonna have to get past 6x. Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was quickest around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Fast Friday, in Saturday qualifying and in the Fast Nine Shootout on Sunday. Granted, he and his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) Honda-powered Dallara drew the No. 1 qualifying slot for Saturday’s initial 10-mile white-knuckle ride around the greatest four corners in American motorsports and the Kiwi took advantage of that opportunity.
It wasn’t as though he didn’t give notice being “the one to beat” for a fourth pole position and bragging rights until next Sunday, when the race is held. Dixon led two of the practice sessions leading up to qualifying, including Fast Friday, when power is increased in anticipation of qualifying, adding about 80-90 horsepower to the Honda and Chevrolet 2.2-liter twin-turbocharged engines used in all Indy cars. The additional horsepower is strictly for qualifying weekend.
In fact, Chip Ganassi Racing is showing its preparation this May, with all four of its cars making the Fast Nine Shootout on Sunday to determine the first thee rows in Indy’s field of 33 cars. Sunday also determined who made the race from 30th through 33rd and who will have to sit out the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. While CGR placed 2008 winner Dixon P1, it also has the No. 48 of 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan lining up fifth, first-year CGR racer Alex Palou (No. 10) standing sixth and the No. 8 of Marcus Ericsson holding the ninth position outside row three.
The battle to take the final three spots had five combatants and one of them was certainly a surprise: 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power of Team Penske was unable to get up to speed after leading all drivers in the first full practice session. The No. 12 made it into the race by the skin of its teeth, slotting 32nd and flanked by Sage Karam and Simona de Silvestro, who grabbed the final stating spot for Paretta Autosport, leaving A.J. Foyt Racing’s Charlie Kimball and RC Enerson’s Top Gun Racing out in the cold. The five drivers vying for those three spots all drive Chevrolet-powered cars.
Honda took seven of nine Fast Nine starting spots. It was Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay and Carpenter who made the Fast Nine for Team Chevy. Not a Team Penske car in sight until you get to rookie Scott McLaughlin, who earned the No. 17 starting position yesterday – and he isn’t even the fastest rookie in the field, as that honor goes to Pietro Fittipaldi in the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda-powered car, in 13th position on the inside of row five. Team Penske’s two-time INDYCAR champ Josef Newgarden lines up P 21, Simon Pagenaud, the 2019 victor here, who swept the month of May that year, is 26th and Power is 32nd.
Qualifying at Indy goes to the best-prepared, biggest cojones and the luck of the draw. Honda cars had the first eight jabs at qualifying on Saturday and took advantage of it. First Dixon, then 2020 pole man Marco Andretti (who didn’t have the results he was hoping for and ended up in 25th grid spot), then 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, also with Andretti Autosport and starting 7th, followed by three-time winner Helio Castroneves with Meyer Shank Racing (P8) and Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan racer Ed Jones (qualified P11), 2016 pole sitter James Hinchcliffe (P16) and Stefan Wilson (P28) from Andretti Autosport and Kanaan – before any Chevy got the chance to qualify in the heat of the day.
There are nine former winners in this 105th running of the Indy 500 and the reigning victor, Takuma Sato qualified 15th with his Rahal Letterman Lanigan-entered Honda-powered Dallara, while teammate Graham Rahal is 18th and Santino Ferrucci, who had a nasty practice crash as he tempted the walls, came back to nab the 23rd starting spot. Two-time winner Juan Pablo Montoya stands 24th in Arrow McLaren SP’s Chevy-powered No. 86; his teammates Pato O’Ward (P12) and Felix Rosenqvist in P14 had a better go at qualifying but then, they both drive these cars on a regular basis, unlike Montoya.
A.J. Foyt Racing secured starting spots for three of its four Chevy-powered combatants, with only Kimball unable to get the needed speed to earn a starting spot. JR Hildebrand’s No. 1 leading the group in 22nd, followed by four-time INDYCAR champ Sebastien Bourdais in 27th and Dalton Kellett the final car locked in on Saturday with P 30 on the 33-car grid.
Once the drama of qualifying was completed on Sunday afternoon, the 33 qualified cars had a two-hour practice session to put their heads – and their cars – back into race mode. The top 10 of that group gives a look at readiness for next Sunday and race preparation for this long and difficult race: Palou, Ericsson, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly (qualified 19th), Kanaan, Dixon, Sato, Rahal, Wilson, Rosenqvist and Marco Andretti. Winning practice doesn’t count for much but the preparatory steps this afternoon and on Carb Day this Friday could be a good indication of who’s ready to race – and who’s hanging onto their cars for dear life.