Marco Andretti headed an Andretti Autosport one-two-three-four on the first day of Indianapolis 500 qualifying, as Team Penske struggled, while Fernando Alonso could only manage 26th on the grid.
Indy 500 qualifying rules allow each driver a guaranteed four-lap run of the 2.5-mile oval, with their average speed over these laps counting towards their grid positions, with the top nine advancing to Sunday’s ‘Fast Nine’.
With the order for these guaranteed runs randomly drawn, Andretti was the 28th driver of the capacity field of 33 to make his run, clocking in at 231.351mph – a speed which would ultimately not be beaten for the remainder of the session.
Andretti’s team-mates 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2016 victor Alexander Rossi were both within 0.100mph of the #98 Honda powered machine in hot conditions at the speedway, as James Hinchcliffe’s sole run was enough to see off Scott Dixon’s efforts.
Hot weather and a lack of cloud cover – legacy of the event being moved from its traditional May slot due to the coronavirus pandemic – stymied attempts by the field to improve their initial times, although Dixon was the exception, the #9 Chip Ganassi Racing machine posting its best of 231.155mph on his third run.
Rookie Rinus Veekay was the sole Chevrolet representative to make it through to the Fast Nine for Ed Carpenter Racing – the Dutchman’s 231.114mph effort good enough for sixth as ex-Formula 2 ace Alex Palou also made it through to Sunday in his first attempt at the 500.
Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing duo Graham Rahal and 2017 race winner Takuma Sato were the first two drivers to run when the session started at 11am local time – both optimising their sole runs to seal the final two places in the Fast Nine.
Team Penske endured a miserable afternoon – with all four of Roger Penske’s entries mired in the midfield as Chevrolet could not match Honda.
Reigning series champion Josef Newgarden could only manage 13th with a 230.296mph effort, with the next best from the 18-time winning squad being that of Will Power down in 22nd place – defending race winner Simon Pagenaud will start 25th.
It is the first time since Power joined Penske that he has not made the Fast Nine and the first time since the team returned to Indianapolis in 2001 that there has not been Penske representation on the first three rows of the grid.
Three-time winner Helio Castroneves fared even worse in his annual guest appearance for Penske, 28th being the Brazilian’s worst ever qualifying result in his 20th 500.
Double Formula 1 world champion Alonso was the 13th driver to run with the Spaniard’s 228.768mph average being his sole attempt of the day in his Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet machine – team-mates Pato O’Ward (19th) and Oliver Askew (21st) both out-qualified Alonso.
Alonso, in his third crack at winning the 500 to complete the Triple Crown will start on the ninth row, with Pagenaud and James Davison keeping the #66 company.
Oval specialist and three-time polesitter Ed Carpenter improved to 230.211mph on his second attempt which was good enough to climb five places to 15th on the grid.
Ex-F1 drivers Marcus Ericsson (Chip Ganassi) and Max Chilton (Carlin) took 11th and 30th respectively, as Colton Herta’s Andretti affiliated Harding-Steinbrenner machine just missed out on the Fast Nine in 10th position.
Get unlimited access to the world’s best motorsport journalism with Autosport Plus