Today’s Indianapolis 500 time trials were strange, and not just because they were run without fans.
The two-day qualifying format of recent years has generally been divided into a Bump Day and a Pole Day, with the first day setting the field and the second determining who will lead it to the green. This year’s race features 33 entries for 33 spots, however, leaving nothing to fight for in today’s all-day session that would have otherwise ended in bumping. A shorter window also meant that drivers weren’t given the chance to run under “Happy hour” conditions, the later hours of the day when a setting sun and shade from massive grandstands cool the track to create conditions that lead to faster laps.
All of this means that the lead goal for every team today was qualification in the Fast Nine, the group of nine entries that will get a chance to compete for pole on Pole Day tomorrow. Drivers could make a second run at any time the track was open, but first runs were determined by a random draw yesterday, which, coupled with the lack of running in the twilight hours, meant that those who drew best were given the coolest track conditions for their first runs. This provided a direct benefit for the first two out, Rahal-Letterman Lanigan’s Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato, who locked themselves into the Fast Nine with at eighth and ninth on the timing sheets.
Rahal and Sato were part of a strong performance for Honda as an engine manufacturer. Honda teams locked down fifteen of the top twenty starting positions, including eight of the nine positions in tomorrow’s Pole Day shootout. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay, beneficiary of an ultra-high qualifying draw of fourth, will be the only Chevrolet in that group.
A surprising run by Dale Coyne Racing rookie Alex Palou is the only other surprise in the Fast Nine, otherwise filled by Ganassi’s Scott Dixon and the Andretti Autosport contingent of Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, and James Hinchcliffe. Dixon owned the fastest single lap of the day, at an average speed of 232.183 MPH, but Andretti’s four-lap average of 231.351 MPH led the day overall.
Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson will start tenth and eleventh. They, like everyone else below the Fast Nine, have been locked into their starting position for the race itself.
Full results for the day can be found on IndyCar’s website.
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