Friday was fast for the 16 Honda-powered entries in the Indianapolis 500 field, who claimed the top nine speeds set without an aerodynamic draft while preparing for this weekend’s qualifying sessions. And for the 17 Chevrolet runners, the switch to high turbocharger boost and big hike in horsepower on Fast Friday did not offer the same flattering speeds.
As drivers ventured out to perform qualifying simulations with a minimal number of cars on track, a gap between Honda and Chevy emerged as the no-tow report favored teams using Honda Performance Development’s 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engines. For Team Chevy and its 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6s built by Ilmor Engineering, its best no-tow output belonged to A.J. Foyt Racing’s Charlie Kimball in 10th.
To the surprise of many, Chevy’s defending champions at Team Penske were farther down the no-tow list, holding 12th, 18th, 21st, and 28th with its four entries. Ed Carpenter Racing’s trio of cars, another Chevy stalwart that always performs at Indy, were 19th, 25th, and 27th.
The situation was significantly improved on Thursday when teams used race-day boost and focused on chassis setups for the 104th Indy 500. After Honda’s 1-2-3 on the speed chart, Chevy-powered entries secured fourth, seventh, eighth, and 10th, which bodes well for the 200-lap race. Whether the Chevy teams will claim a significant number of starting positions inside the Fast Nine is a question that can only be answered on Saturday.
“I think qualifying will probably be tough for us, but we’re going to fight to get everything out of it,” said Josef Newgarden, Team Penske’s defending NTT IndyCar Series champion. “I think we have the capability to start somewhat towards the front. I don’t know that we had a lot of expectations coming into today. I’m not sure we knew where we stacked up in pure qualifying performance. Definitely on pure pace now, we’ve got a fight on our hands. I don’t think we’re probably where we want to be.”
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, whose No. 9 Honda was fastest overall on Thursday in high-downforce race trim, and second fastest on Friday in qualifying configuration according to the no-tow report, was struck by the absence of front-running Chevys.
Asked if he felt Honda, which posted the top nine no-tow speeds on Friday, had a horsepower advantage, the New Zealander said, “I sure hope so. It seems a little strange so far. It’s always hard to know where each manufacturer is. It’s hard to tell what Chevy’s up to.”
Both manufacturers are known to unleash extra power for their drivers in Indy 500 qualifying. In the past, Chevy has leapt forward in the run for the pole, and with history as a guide, Dixon isn’t ready to count the Bowtie out on Saturday and Sunday.
“Always proud to be powered by HPD and Honda, and hopefully we’ve got the upper hand this year,” he said. “But it’s always going to be tough. We have plans you watch for that everybody does in previous years, so you know when each manufacturer turns (things) up. Same with teams, and how much they trim (downforce) and things like that. Some are a little more aggressive than others, but we’re definitely a little shocked by the speed difference so far. But who knows? Anything’s possible, man. It’s one of those years that nothing’s normal, so maybe that will feature as well.”
Newgarden, and his Penske teammate, 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, struggled with understeer in mock qualifying runs performed in hotter and less optimal conditions than the leading Hondas. A late run for Newgarden showed improvement in overall speed, and despite where he ends up in qualifying, the two-time series champion is feeling better about how his car should perform on race day.
“I thought our speed there at the end was good, considering the track temp,” he said. “I think we can fight to get in that top 10. I that’s probably a realistic goal. We’ve got to be realistic in looking at our speeds from a no-tow, pure lap pace. I think top 10 is going to be a fight, but we’re going to fight with the Shell car. I think we’ve got that capability and the most important thing is to start as far up as possible and then if we can get ourselves nicely close to that top 10, I think we can fight really well and win this race.”