- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
- 0 Shares
INDIANAPOLIS -- The new qualifying format for the Indianapolis 500 certainly delivered in terms of quantity.
A record 71 qualification attempts were made Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as fans were treated to virtual nonstop activity at the venerable old Brickyard. It was a big day in terms of quality, too, with the fastest speeds recorded at IMS in 11 years, topped by Ed Carpenter's 230.661 mph run.
Yet there was something strangely unsatisfying about ending the first day of Indy 500 qualifying without knowing who will start on pole position. That won't be known until Sunday afternoon, when a made-for-television, nine-driver shootout will determine the first three rows of the grid.
With bragging rights, pit stall selection and championship points on the line Saturday, nine drivers made at least three qualifying runs as they tried to put themselves among those who will vie for the pole on Sunday. Carpenter's position in the top spot was never seriously threatened, but there was some excitement in sorting out the order at the bottom of the nine fastest.
Carpenter set the mark at 230.114 mph just 17 minutes into Saturday's seven-hour qualifying session and stayed there for some four hours until Will Power upped the ante to 230.323 with his second attempt of the day.
Four drivers then managed to best Power's speed, topped by owner-driver Carpenter, who found 230.661 mph in his Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet a little more than an hour before the final gun.
Ed Carpenter Racing's second driver, JR Hildebrand, survived sitting on the Fast Nine bubble for when the day ended and will join his team boss in the Sunday pole shootout.
"I was hoping to only have to do that once today," said Carpenter, who is the defending Indianapolis 500 pole sitter. "It's stressful qualifying here, so the less you have to do it, the better. We ended up having to do it twice to have some security.
"It was an exciting day, with five different teams represented in the top nine," he added. "That's probably more than I was expecting going into the day, and I'm proud to have both our cars in the top nine."
Andretti Autosport placed three cars in the pole shootout (Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti), while Kurt Busch and Ryan Hunter-Reay ended 10th and 11th and will be the last drivers to qualify in the reverse-order Sunday session that determines places 10-30 on the grid.
By withdrawing his earlier speed of 230.011 mph, Andretti's Hunter-Reay was waiting in the "priority" qualifying line near the end of the day when Josef Newgarden bumped him out of the top nine. But Hunter-Reay was able to muster only 229.899 mph on his last-ditch run.
"We made the wrong call," Hunter-Reay said. "I'll have to go back and look at the data because we changed the gearing and a lot of other stuff. At this place, you can go out 15 minutes later and the track has completely changed -- that's the way it is. We'll have to come back tomorrow, and we still have more work to do, which is frustrating after being in the top nine all day today."
The day ended with drivers feeling relief or consternation, depending on where they had qualified.
"That was the most stressful qualifying I've ever lived through in my whole life," said Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud, who made three runs and ended up seventh fastest at 230.070 mph Saturday. "I hope the fans enjoyed it, because it was really nerve-racking for the drivers."
"Four laps around this joint with the car in this trim ... you really work for it," added Hinchcliffe, who returned to action Friday after missing the first five days of Indy 500 practice due to a concussion he suffered in the Grand Prix on May 10. Hinchcliffe turned in the fourth-fastest speed Saturday during his second attempt.
"Wow! Nine drivers over 230 ... that's pretty amazing!" Castroneves exclaimed.
Meanwhile, Ganassi Racing struggled for speed, with three-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon pacing the team in 15th place at 229.283 mph. Ryan Briscoe was 17th, Charlie Kimball 19th and defending Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan 23rd.
"We're a mile and a half off right now, and we are more trimmed out than a lot of the cars out there, with the exception to the Penskes," Dixon observed. "I think fundamentally we are missing something right now.
"The unfortunate part is you work probably six months of the year trying to find the combinations that you want to run, what we think will get the best speed out of it," he added. "We have to try and reinvent the wheel, and, hopefully, that will help us find some speed."
No additional entries materialized Saturday evening in the hour-long eligibility window to declare the intent to try to qualify on Sunday, so there will not be a special session to determine positions 31-33 on the back row of the grid. Positions 10-33 will be set in a session starting at 10:15 a.m. ET, with the Fast Nine pole shootout scheduled for 2 p.m.
ABC's live coverage of Pole Day will begin at 1 p.m. ET.
Ed Carpenter set the qualifying pace for next weekend's Indy 500 with a blistering run of 230.661 mph. But will he win the pole? Tune in Sunday, writes John Oreovicz.