Marco Andretti leads Honda onslaught in Indy 500 qualifying

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Marco Andretti led a top speed sweep for Andretti Autosport in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 as the Honda-powered team claimed the first four spots on the leaderboard and eight of the top nine.

“Money,” Andretti said after posting a four-lap average of 231.351 mph.

The top nine drivers advance to a Sunday shootout that determines the first three starting rows for the Aug. 23 Indianapolis 500. Honda drivers claimed eight of those positions after all 33 cars had made a qualifying attempt.

Chevrolet has struggled with speed since Friday’s boost in horsepower and the Andretti group established its fleet the fastest at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But straight speed isn’t enough as qualifying requires drivers to string together four consistent laps in varying conditions — some drew early qualifying slots in cooler temperatures while others went out after it had climbed to 85 degrees at the speedway.

It was believed drivers qualifying in the warmer temperatures would struggle, but Andretti disproved the theory when he went out 28th. He was the only driver to crack 232 mph on a lap.

Andretti leapfrogged teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe.

“Honda brought it this year,” Andretti said. “I was able to just go out and do my job and, man, when it all comes together it is just beautiful.”

Andretti has known his car was fast since the track opened Wednesday, but did not want to get ahead of himself in his quest to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in his 15th attempt.

“The biggest hurdle when you come to Indy is speed,” Andretti said. “We had it. But then you start to wonder — is Chevy sand-bagging? Is it too good to be true? Man, Honda brought it. We’ve got the speed down. We’ve just got to execute.”

Andretti received praise from his father, Michael, the team owner.

“He blew me away,” Michael Andretti said.

The Andretti camp finished the first round with five drivers in the top 15. Teams can make multiple attempts before the session ends and Colton Herta, who was 10th, indicated he’d probably try again to make the fast nine.

Chevy teams had to decide if they wanted to make another run at chasing the Honda drivers or settle for where they landed. Rinus Veekay, a 19-year-old rookie for Ed Carpenter Racing, was the only Chevrolet driver in the top nine at fifth.

The Chevrolet camp struggled Friday when a horsepower boost pushed speeds toward 233 mph. Team Penske is the anchor team of the Chevy group and all four of its cars had a hard time keeping pace with the Honda drivers.

The race was originally scheduled for its traditional Memorial Day weekend date but pushed to August because of the pandemic. Teams are not accustomed to these temperatures and the heat has been one of Chevy’s biggest issues.

The manufacturer thought it caught a break with reigning series champion Josef Newgarden and former race winner Will Power both drew early qualifying slots, giving them a shot to make their runs during cooler temperatures. It should have worked but Newgarden was the second fastest Chevrolet at 13th at the end of the first round.

Power had one of the worst qualifying efforts of his Indianapolis career and is currently slated to start 22nd. The Australian started 23rd in his 2008 debut.

“Probably one of my slowest cars ever. It just blows my mind,” Power said. “We ran less downforce than Josef and we were slower. That’s it. I reckon that’s it.”

Power said the four-car Penske organization will now focus on race preparation and accept the sub-par starting spots.

“Now we can get back to race focus,” Power said. “We are better in race trim, for sure.”

Fernando Alonso, also in a Chevrolet, failed to find much speed. The two-time Formula One champion is attempting to close out motorsports’ version of the Triple Crown but his Arrow McLaren SP entry has been behind since Alonso crashed late in Thursday’s practice.

Alonso’s qualifying time of 228.768 mph was 12th out of 13 drivers when he made his attempt. Because there are only 33 entries this year, Alonso is not in danger of being bumped out of the race as he was in 2019.

“We just wanted to put together a solid run with no drama and put the car in the show,” the Spaniard said. “We were not as quick as we wanted and we had to accept that.”

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