Marco Andretti was the fastest qualifier for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 pole position battle, cracking 232 mph Saturday to lead a dominant showing by Andretti Autosport drivers.
The 33-year-old grandson of 1969 Indy 500 winner Mario Andretti turned the fastest four-lap qualifying average at 231.351 mph (372.323 km/hr) around the 2 1/2-mile (4km) oval with a fast lap of 232.177 mph to begin the run.
“We’ve got the speed,” Andretti said. “We’ve just got to do it one more time tomorrow.”
Saturday’s nine fastest qualifiers advanced to Sunday’s final session to decide the starting order in the front three rows for the August 23 race, postponed from May 24 by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Balance was great. Power, Honda brought it this year. We just need to execute now,” Andretti said. “It’s going to come down to everybody doing their job.”
The “Fast Nine” was paced by four Andretti Autosport racers: Andretti, Americans Ryan Hunter-Reay on 231.330 mph and Alexander Rossi at 231.268 mph and Canada’s James Hinchcliffe on 231.195 mph.
Joining them in qualifying order were New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, Dutch 19-year-old rookie Rinus VeeKay, Spanish rookie Alex Palou, American Graham Rahal and Japan’s Takuma Sato, whose average of 230.792 mph edged American Colton Herta by 0.017 mph for the last spot in the top nine.
Cars that qualified 10th to 33rd on Saturday’s speed chart, including defending champion Simon Pagenaud of France and two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso of Spain, were locked into spots in the last eight rows as the field was filled.
Past winners Will Power of Australia and Tony Kanaan of Brazil were 22nd and 23rd respectively, on the inside and middle of row eight.
Pagenaud was 25th, on the inside of row nine, on 228.836 mph, with Alonso in the middle of row nine in 26th on 228.768 mph.
There were no spectators at Indianapolis Motor Speedway just as there won’t be on race day due to safety concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
– Dixon sends a message –
Dixon, who won the year’s first three races and leads in the hunt for his sixth career season title, had the fastest single lap Saturday at 232.356 mph.
It came on the first lap of a run at the end of the day that averaged 231.560 mph through three laps before he backed off at the end, content to save the rest for Sunday when the pole is at stake.
“We were just checking a few things for tomorrow, trying to get the right balance,” Dixon said. “You might be fighting over such small amounts tomorrow.”
Dixon’s late run sent a message that the Andretti cars might not be sweeping the front row, a feat achieved only once at Indy, by Roger Penske Racing in 1988.
“The car is there with a shot,” Dixon said. “I think we’ll have a good shot tomorrow. I predict (Andretti) will come out with some more for tomorrow.”
Andretti, who has won only twice in 236 starts over 15 IndyCar seasons, expects a Sunday pole shootout with his teammates and Dixon.
“Scotty just showed what he can do for three laps. It’s going to be close,” Andretti said. “We can play tomorrow. That’s the fun part.”
Andretti finished second in his 2006 Indy 500 debut. His only front row start was from the outside in 2013.
Michael Andretti, Marco’s father and team owner, was shocked to find four of his entries atop the speed chart.
“I felt pretty good last night,” he said. “But I didn’t expect it to be this good.”
As for his son’s chances at taking the pole, Andretti noted Marco’s run came in the heat of the day, just as Sunday’s pole run is likely to happen.
“If he’s out when it’s cool or with everybody else, he has got a shot,” Michael Andretti said.