What to watch for in Saturday’s Indy 500 qualifying

Qualifying weekend is here for the Indianapolis 500. Take stock of the items to follow as the two-day process to set the field of 33 with the primers below:

Chevy vs Honda

Every Indy 500 since the new 2.2-liter turbo V6 formula debuted in 2012 has presented us with an annual moratorium on which auto manufacturer has done a better job in finding horsepower, fuel economy, and reliability gains, and Fast Friday gave us a strong indicator on the power side of the three pillars.

Based on the no-tow speeds from yesterday, Team Chevy is the one to watch after Chevrolet-powered drivers placed first through sixth, with reigning 500 winner Josef Newgarden topping everyone with an unaided lap of 234.260mph for Team Penske through A.J. Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci at 233.280mph.


Takuma Sato, first among the Honda drivers, was seventh at 233.139mph for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Arrow McLaren’s Callum Ilott was eighth for Chevy, and ninth through 12th were Andretti Global/Meyer Shank Racing Honda drivers.

Eleven of the top 16 drivers had Chevy motors. Of the bottom 18 drivers, 13 had Hondas. Separate from the best single-lap no-tow performances, Team Chevy also generated eight of the 10 best four-lap qualifying simulation averages, including P1-5.

The difference between Chevy’s best with Newgarden and Honda’s best with Sato was only 1.121mph, but it’s much larger than anyone expected. In 2023, Honda ended Fast Friday on top with a 0.563mph edge over the best Chevy and went on to snare the pole.

Never say never, but it would take some major miracles for Honda to turn the tables on Chevy in the run for P1 on Sunday. The question for Saturday is how many Hondas will make it into the top 12 and have a chance to vie for pole.

Chevy runners ruled the roost on Fast Friday. Motorsport  Images

The draw will reveal all

The first handful of qualifying runs today will tell us everything there is to know about the Chevy vs Honda dynamic. Out first is Andretti’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was ninth on Friday’s no-tow, best among his teammates, and Honda’s second-best runner.

Out second is Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who was second on Fast Friday for Chevy. Third up is Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Kyffin Simpson for Honda. And then it’s a wall of seven Chevy drivers with Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay, Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Romain Grosjean, McLaren’s Kyle Larson, Grosjean’s teammate Agustin Canapino, McLaren’s Ilott, Penske’s Will Power and teammate Newgarden.

In the first 10 qualifying attempts, we’ll have three instant contenders for pole from Penske, a front-row savant in ECR’s VeeKay, a strong pairing from McLaren, and two midfield runners from JHR. Only Kirkwood, in the relatively cool settings in the early outings, will show what Honda has brought to the party.

The majority of Honda’s best hopes had poor qualifying draws and are set to make their first runs in the heat of the early afternoon as Meyer Shank’s Felix Rosenqvist (24th), Ganassi’s Alex Palou (25th) and Scott Dixon (27th) and Andretti’s Colton Herta (29th) are going long after they’d prefer.

The speeds put up by Chevy’s best early on Saturday could hold for most — if not all — of the day. Don’t be surprised if the late Honda runners return for Happy Hour attempts to improve their averages.

Familiar front-runners, Chip Ganassi Racing Hondas have been fairly quiet thus far. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Where’s Ganassi?

The last three Indy 500 pole positions have gone to Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon 2021-22, Alex Palou 2023), but the team’s been missing from the sharp end of the speed charts. It’s only qualifying, so there’s no need for their fans to panic, but when rookie Marcus Armstrong is the team’s best heading into time trials with the 23rd-best no-tow lap, there’s clearly something adrift within the five-car camp.

Dixon and Palou (24th and 25th) still represent Ganassi’s best chances of breaking into the top 12, but when all five of its drivers are slotted between 23rd and 32nd with Simpson, it’s hard to ignore the surprising year-to-year fall off.

Who might be in trouble?

Only one driver will fail to qualify for the 108th Indy 500, and with IndyCar’s qualifying procedure that carried the top 12 over to run for pole on Sunday and the slowest three — the last row — plus any extra entries over to Sunday for the Last Chance Qualifying session, we do have a selection of drivers who’ve woken up with legitimate reasons to be worried.

Referring to the no-tow list, there’s a steep drop in speeds after Agustin Canapino in 26th. The Argentinian’s 231.909mph had the look of a shelf where the eight drivers below were clearly struggling for qualifying pace, starting with the RLL tandem of Pietro Fittipaldi (231.586mph) and Graham Rahal (231.236mph).

RLL’s Sato was quick and RLL’s Christian Lundgaard wasn’t bad (21st), but with memories of the team’s brutal Indy 500 experience last year, it might be too early for anyone at RLL to exhale. Having Fittipaldi in 27th and Rahal in 28th isn’t terrible, but it’s too close for comfort after Rahal was bumped in 2023.

Ganassi’s Linus Lundqvist in 29th is paying the price for crashing on Thursday and having a non-optimized car to continue with. Countryman Marcus Ericsson dealt with the same exact limitations as his Andretti team was forced to build a new car for him, and like Lundqvist, the countless hours of massaging drag out of the bodywork and mechanical components in their primary cars were lost when the crashes happened.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Conor Daly was a surprise in 31st, and from there, Ganassi’s speed woes were on display with Simpson in 32nd. The fact that he is the third driver to roll out for qualifying could be a major factor in keeping him from being relegated to the LCQ.

The two slowest drivers were another surprise in Dale Coyne Racing’s Katherine Legge and Nolan Siegel, who crashed hard and will join the other drivers who had accidents and have been forced into non-optimized cars. Coyne’s cars have been quick at Indy for a long while, which makes being at the bottom of the chart a worrisome affair.

With just 30 minutes of morning practice to get his confidence back and find some missing speed, Siegel’s the one obvious driver with a target on his back. The teenager is loaded with talent, and he’ll have to show it to make it into the show on Sunday.

Beware of changes

We’ll close on one more engine-related topic, and that’s on all the motor changes we’ve seen over the last week since the Indy GP. Honda lost two motors in Ganassi cars at the GP and Chevy changed two in McLaren cars. Chevy pulled another one from a McLaren — Larson’s car as a preventative thing — and Honda lost two more on Friday with two more Ganassi cars — Palou and Simpson — and a change in Fittipaldi’s No. 30 RLL Honda as the high frequency of kerblammos continue.

We don’t often see motors break in qualifying, but at the rate things have been going, it would be a shock to get through the weekend without more changes being required.

Story originally appeared on Racer