The NTT INDYCAR SERIES and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are, once again, shaking up qualifying for this year’s 106th Indianapolis 500, scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 29th on the historic 2.5-mile oval.
This year’s tension-packed two days of qualifying are set for Saturday, May 21st and Sunday, May 22nd, with the positions of 13-30 set on Saturday. The final row’s last chance qualifying, if necessary, takes place on Sunday afternoon prior to first Top 12 and then Firestone Fast Six qualifying, as Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes a page from INDYCAR’s road/street course time trials to adapt and adopt for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
PPG Armed Forces Qualifying Weekend begins on Saturday, first with pre-qualifying practice for an hour and a half, starting at 9AM ET, followed by qualifying from noon until 6PM ET. Following Friday night’s draw for qualifying spots for both primary and secondary, backup entries for each car and their team, drivers will have at least a single opportunity to bring their cars and drivers to pit road to turn the four most exciting laps in motorsports.
Once every car in the qualifying lineup for Saturday has been presented and obtained at least one opportunity to qualify, teams will be able to choose from two lanes for their second and subsequent attempts. Cars in the priority Lane 1 have to withdraw their previously qualified time – if the car has one – but get priority access to the oval ahead of the Lane 2 qualifiers, which are cars that have already qualified but wish the opportunity to improve their position, without giving up their original times.
If Indy’s qualifying list amounts to more than 33 cars – and it’s stuck on 32 right now – once cars are outside of the Top 30, they are considered to not have qualification speed, as only positions 1-30 will be locked in during the first tension-filled day of time trials.
Sunday’s action begins with Last Chance Practice – if necessary – from 11:30-12:30PM ET, followed by Top 12 practice from 12:30-2PM. At 3PM the track is handed, if necessary, to those attempting to get in the show for the 31st through 33rd positions. Starting at 4PM Top 12 Qualifying commences, with the slowest of the 12 fastest cars on Saturday going first, with this inverted qualifying setting positions 7-12. As in the recent past, championship points will be awarded for those advancing to the Top 12 qualifying session. The Indy 500 pole winner receives 12 points, while the 12th fastest driver earns a single point.
All eyes will be, as they are on street and road courses, on the Firestone Fast Six reverse-order qualifying, which takes places fro 5:10-5:40 PM, with each entry guaranteed one attempt and the fastest driver earning the coveted NTT P1 Award for pole position, along with $100,000 and bragging rights for nearly a full week.
Tinkering with Indy 500 qualifying has become a regular exercise for INDYCAR. “Indianapolis 500 qualifying weekend always is special,” said J. Douglas Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “This format will give our fans even more opportunities to see INDYCAR’s word-class drivers compete on racing’s biggest stage. While winning the race is the ultimate prize, capturing pole position for the ‘500’ is one of motorsports’ most prestigious honors and almost a race within a race. I cannot wait to see this expanded format on the final Sunday before Race Day,” he admitted.
Jay Frye, INDYCAR’s president, understands the breadth of talent heading to IMS for the 500 and the need to showcase drivers’ immense capabilities. “The timing is right,” he said, “to implement a new and dramatic way to expand one of the most intense weekends on our calendar. Winning pole position for the ‘500’ is an incredible feat, and with this new format, it will be even more challenging.”