What to watch for in Saturday’s Indy 500 qualifying

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

Chevrolet vs. Honda

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

Based on yesterday’s no-tow speeds, the Chevrolet team is the one to watch after the Chevrolet-powered drivers placed first through sixth, with reigning 500 winner Josef Newgarden edging out all the rest. world with an unassisted lap of 234.260 mph for Team Penske via Santino of AJ Foyt Racing. Ferrucci at 233.280 mph.

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

Eleven of the top 16 drivers had Chevrolet engines. Among the last 18 drivers, 13 owned a Honda. In addition to the best non-tow lap performance, the Chevrolet team also generated eight of the top 10 qualifying simulation averages over four laps, including P1-5.

The difference between Chevrolet’s best with Newgarden and Honda’s best with Sato was only 1.121 mph, but it’s much larger than anyone expected. In 2023, Honda finished Fast Friday in the lead with a 0.563 mph advantage over the top-ranked Chevrolet and went on to claim the pole.

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

Chevrolet racers dominated the fast Friday. Motorsport images

The draw will reveal all

Today’s early qualifying sessions will tell us everything there is to know about the Chevrolet vs. Honda dynamic. First up is Andretti’s Kyle Kirkwood, who finished ninth in Friday’s no-tow race, best among his teammates and Honda’s second-best rider.

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

Over the first 10 qualifying attempts, we’ll have three immediate pole contenders from Penske, a front row savant in the VeeKay from ECR, a strong duo from McLaren, and two midfield runners from JHR. Only Kirkwood, in the relatively cool setting of early outings, will show what Honda brought to the party.

The majority of Honda’s top prospects had poor qualifying draws and are expected to take their first laps in the early afternoon heat, such as Meyer Shank’s Felix Rosenqvist (24th), Ganassi’s Alex Palou (25th) and Andretti’s Scott Dixon (27th) and Colton Herta. (29th) leave long after they preferred.

Speeds posted by the top Chevrolets early Saturday could hold for most, if not all, of the day. Don’t be surprised if the latest Honda riders return for a Happy Hour trying to improve their averages.

Familiar leaders, the Chip Ganassi Racing Hondas have been fairly quiet so far. Michael Levitt/Motorsports Images

Where is Ganassi?

The last three Indy 500 pole positions have gone to Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon 2021-22, Alex Palou 2023), but the team is missing from the top of the speed chart. It’s only qualifying, so their fans don’t need to panic, but when rookie Marcus Armstrong is the team’s best heading into the time trials with the 23rd fastest lap without a tow, there’s clearly something adrift in the five-car camp.

Dixon and Palou (24th and 25th) still represent Ganassi’s best chances of making the top 12, but when its five drivers are between 23rd and 32nd with Simpson, it’s hard to ignore the surprising drop in one year to the next.

Who could get in trouble?

Only one driver will fail to qualify for the 108th Indy 500, and with IndyCar’s qualifying procedure having the top 12 vying for pole on Sunday and the slowest three – the last row – as well as any entries extra until Sunday for the last chance. In qualifying we have a selection of drivers who woke up with legitimate reasons to be concerned.

Regarding the list of vehicles prohibited from towing, there is a sharp drop in speeds after Agustin Canapino, 26th. The Argentine’s 231.909 mph had the appearance of a shelf where the eight drivers below were clearly battling for qualifying pace, starting with the RLL tandem of Pietro Fittipaldi (231.586 mph) and Graham Rahal (231.236 mph) .

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

Ganassi’s Linus Lundqvist, 29th, pays the price for his crash on Thursday and his unoptimized car to continue. His compatriot Marcus Ericsson faced the same limitations as his Andretti team was forced to build a new car for him, and like Lundqvist, the countless hours spent massaging the bodywork and mechanical components of their main cars were lost when accidents happened. .

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

The two slowest drivers were another surprise: Dale Coyne Racing’s Katherine Legge and Nolan Siegel, who crashed hard and will join the other drivers who crashed and were forced into unoptimized cars. Coyne’s cars have been fast at Indy for a long time, making being at the bottom of the standings a worrying affair.

With just 30 minutes of morning practice to regain his confidence and regain some missing speed, Siegel is the only obvious driver with a target on his back. The teenager is brimming with talent and he will need to show it to make Sunday’s program.

Watch out for changes

We’ll finish with another engine-related topic, which is all the engine changes we’ve seen over the past week since the Indy GP. Honda lost two engines in the Ganassi cars at the GP and Chevrolet changed two in the McLaren cars. Chevrolet pulled another from a McLaren – Larson’s car as a precaution – and Honda lost two more Friday with two more Ganassi cars – Palou and Simpson – and a change in Fittipaldi’s No. 30 Honda RLL then that the high frequency of kerblammos continues.

We don’t often see engines fail in qualifying, but at the rate things are going it would be a shock to get through the weekend without requiring more changes.

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