Rinus VeeKay (pictured above) is the fastest Chevrolet driver in the 104th Indianapolis 500 field. Alex Palou had never seen an oval until last April, yet bested 26 of 33 drivers in his first official laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And Dalton Kellett went faster than Simon Pagenaud, Fernando Alonso and Helio Castroneves.
In the opening round of qualifying for the August 23 classic, the rookies almost stole the show from the veterans.
After crashing twice in his oval-track debut at Texas, VeeKay was run over by Colton Herta on a restart in the Iowa opener, finally finishing 14th in the second show of the doubleheader. Thus, nobody saw Saturday’s shocking show of speed coming.
“We had a great run this morning and we knew the temperatures were rising and not everyone was going to improve. We only got jumped by (Scott) Dixon in the end, and it was good,” said the 20-year-old native of the Netherlands who wound up sixth overall. “There was a lot of waiting, which I didn’t like; but I’m very happy now.”
Palou, who scored a podium at Road America in July and brought strong road racing credentials to Dale Coyne’s team, has been silky smooth all week in the Goh Honda, and threw down the seventh-best speed in the heat of the day.
“That was awesome to complete a qualifying run here at Indy and to be starting in the Top 9 for my first Indy 500,” said the 23-year-old Spaniard. “My team gave me a great car and I think we will be able to fight. I don’t know about fighting for the pole, but we’ll study tonight and see if we can go for it.”
Veteran engineer Eric Cowdin has been impressed with Palou since his first laps in spring training at COTA.
“I bet he’s had less than 200 total laps around here but he’s really taken to this place,” said Cowdin. “He’s very calm and precise, and it’s been a pleasure working with him. He’s got a helluva future.”
Considering he’d never won in three years of Indy Lights, not much was expected out of Kellett, yet he did a nice, tidy job, averaging 228.880 mph in A.J. Foyt’s K Line Chevy.
“Really excited, really happy that we got that solid run in,” said the young Canadian. “Went off the order third, so the track was nice and cool. The car felt great for all four laps. It was good to get lots of practice in the heat yesterday when it was slippery, moving around, but I ended up getting a solid platform for this morning after a couple changes. Looking at the times, maybe we could have been a bit more aggressive on our mechanical balance, but we’ve really had the focus this week for the race, which is what we’re looking ahead for and devoted most of our time to, so I think being conservative in qualifying was always our plan.
“But very happy to get that run in, and looking forward to (more) practice on Sunday.”
“Honda has more horsepower and the weather killed the Chevys, but I thought our rookie did a helluva job,” said Foyt, who is also running Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball. Kellett will start 24th, right next to Kanaan.