Rossi opens Indy 500 qualifying with 233.528mph salvo
Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi led Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou in the speed charts after 32 of the 34 cars completed their first qualifying runs at the for the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500, as Penske elected to pull two of its aces out of the qualifying line before setting a time.
Ryan Hunter-Reay kicked off the initial qualifying runs and 5h50m of action. The 2014 winner set an average of 231.613mph in his Dreyer & Reinbold Chevrolet with a first lap of 232.319mph and a fourth lap of 230.870. Colton Herta’s Andretti Autosport Honda average was 0.34mph faster.
2018 winner Will Power suffered less than 1.1mph dropoff from his initial 232.913mph and delivered a solid 232.330mph average, but his former Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves had a couple of alarming moments. His Meyer Shank Racing Honda suffered severe understeer at Turn 1 on lap three that forced him to back off before sliding up the track in Turn 2 on lap four, scraping the wall.
The sixth runner, defending winner Marcus Ericsson, was the first driver to turn a lap of 233mph – a 233.324mph – and lost only 1mph over the four laps, moving to the top of the speed charts with an average of 232.735mph. But his moment didn’t last long as Alexander Rossi’s Arrow McLaren Chevy was a 234.177 on the opening lap and, while he dropped into the 232s on his final lap, his average was an excellent 233.528mph.
Five-time Indy polesitter Scott Dixon, the 2008 race winner, had an overnight engine change – as did Ganassi teammate Alex Palou – and produced a very consistent run, losing only 0.729mph from first lap to last. It produced second, a hair quicker than Ericsson. The 2019 pole- and race-winner Simon Pagenaud in the second MSR car redefined consistency, all laps within 0.322mph, but his average was 231.687.
Rookie Benjamin Pedersen won the admiration of all with third fastest (at the time), his AJ Foyt Racing-Chevy splitting Dixon from Ericsson, but fellow Scandinavian Felix Rosenqvist made it an Arrow McLaren 1-2 with an average of 233.099mph. Teammate Tony Kanaan, prepping for his final Indy 500, clocked sixth to knock Power down to seventh, and the pair of them were demoted by three-time Indy polesitter Ed Carpenter.
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RC Enerson, for first-time Indy participants Abel Motorsports, did an excellent job to land a 231.129mph average, appearing to keep himself – for now – clear of having to battle for the last row of the grid on Sunday. His efforts were highlighted by Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s continued struggles. While Christian Lundgaard and Jack Harvey looked consistent but slow, poor Graham Rahal had a horrendous run, the car appearing to understeer in and oversteer out. His average was 228.526, a 5.3mph dropoff from first lap until last.
Rinus VeeKay, who has never started the 500 lower than fourth, grabbed second with a 233.395mph average to go second, while Pato O’Ward made it three McLarens in the top four with a 233.252mph average. Both of those efforts were particularly impressive as track temperature was now well over 100 degrees.
By contrast, Juncos Hollinger Racing’s chassis switch for Callum Ilott has not (yet) paid off, as the former Formula 2 ace was wrestling hard throughout his run, almost brushing the Turn 1 wall.
Two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato was worryingly close to the SAFER barrier at Turn 3 but he kept his throttle flat and produced sixth fastest average.
Santino Ferrucci confirmed the pace of the Foyt cars, his stars ’n’ stripes livery streaking around the track at an average of 233.147mph to snatch fourth from Rosenqvist, while teammate Pedersen was still firmly in the top 12.
Ganassi’s fourth bullet, Alex Palou, produced an opening lap of 234.248mph – stronger than Rossi’s first – but the dropoff was greater and slotted into second on average.
Kyle Kirkwood became the fastest Andretti Autosport car, slotting into 14th, just ahead of Power, while series returnee Katherine Legge was comfortably in, well ahead of her RLL colleagues with an average over 231mph. Agustin Canapino in the second Juncos Hollinger car did a similarly impressive job to take 22nd.
Team Penske elected to pull Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden out of the qualifying line. The pair had drawn 32nd and 34th in the running order for their first attempts, so as team president Tim Cindric explained to NBC, taking the cars back to the garage allowed them unlimited setup changes (as opposed to the four allowed while in the qualifying line).
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