INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The rain held out long enough for a full Indianapolis 500 qualifying round on a soupy day that saw blistering speeds — some of the fastest in racing history and the fastest in 26 years – and controversy at Andretti Autosport.
Rinus VeeKay put his Chevrolet atop the pylon with a four-lap average speed of 233.655 mph around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He propelled fellow Chevy driver Pato O’Ward into second place at 233.037 as the two budding IndyCar stars were the first two drivers to qualify for the May 29 race.
Arie Luyendyk set the four-lap qualifying record in 1996 at 236.986, and VeeKay’s average was third fastest all-time behind Luyendyk and Scott Brayton’s mark of 233.718. O’Ward’s average was the fifth fastest in history, with Tony Stewart fourth in 1996.
Jimmie Johnson qualified for his first Indy 500 and again showed incredible speed. During an early Saturday morning practice, Johnson lapped 233.961 mph – 14th fastest in track history. The seven-time NASCAR champion has consistently emerged as a legitimate contender to win the Indy 500, which would be his fifth victory at the Indianapolis oval; Johnson has won four times in NASCAR.
“I had some quiet moments before I left, I was able to look around and really enjoy the moment,” Johnson said, “and what a special time it was, I’m so happy to be here. Things are looking good so far.”
Everyone seems pretty quick at Indy, where Saturday’s schedule was moved forward because weather forecasts predicted a possible washout. Gusts of 41 mph on “Fast Friday” a day earlier created dangerous conditions, and IndyCar feared the rain would ruin Saturday, the first day of qualifying.
The schedule adjustment created a seven-hour window for 33 drivers to complete a four-lap qualifying race. Had the 33 failed to do so on Saturday, the entire session would have been wiped out. But the weather held for 2.5 hours and all 33 cars were credited with a race during that window which could be interrupted by rain.
Positions 13-33 were to be settled on Saturday, and a shootout on Sunday will determine the pole.
Shortly after Johnson’s morning run, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon posted the 13th fastest lap in history at 234.093, and Ed Carpenter closed the session as the leader at 234.410 mph – the fastest Indy 500 practice lap since Luyendyk set the track record. of 237.498 mph in 1996.
Carpenter’s lap was the eighth fastest ever.
Andretti Autosport had a difficult start. Marco Andretti had to cut short his qualifying run and angrily accused two-time winner Takuma Sato of ruining his attempt because Sato failed to get off the track after his run moments earlier.
“It was a nightmare. A nightmare! We’re going to have to do it again!” the third-generation rider shouted over his radio.
The team then asked IndyCar to reject Andretti’s attempt and give him a clean run.
“I’m on the brakes during my warm-up lap! I don’t think that’s very fair, it should never happen,” fumed Andretti. “I’m pretty disgusted. You should never have to avoid hitting another car on a qualifying lap.
Sato said he was never told Andretti was on the right track and when he saw him in his mirrors he decided to stay on his line rather than potentially inadvertently move onto the Andretti’s way.
But as the team pressured IndyCar, owner Michael Andretti leaned on the pit wall in disbelief as Colton Herta’s engine appeared to fail during the Herta race. Winner on the road barely a week ago, Herta was making his qualifying attempt when his Honda engine suddenly died.
He called off his race and returned to the pits, and later confirmed that his engine would be changed.
Then 2016 winner Alexander Rossi failed to crack the top 12 in his race and needs another shot to qualify for Sunday’s pole competition.
“We added support,” said Rossi, who called the decision “horrible”.
The clip in his voice echoed all Andretti, who was left little reassurance when IndyCar disqualified Sato for interfering in Marco Andretti’s race. His petition to have his run ruined by Sato thrown out was not granted.
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