With new twists added to its qualifying procedure this weekend as 33 drivers attempt to earn a spot in the Indianapolis 500, a new cadence will be seen on Sunday as the Firestone Fast Nine has been split into a two-round knockout affair with the Fast 12 followed by the Fast Six where the pole winner will be identified.
Saturday’s qualifying procedure will be the easier of the two days to follow as the drivers ranked 13th through 33rd on the speed chart will be locked into place and done for the weekend. The same two-lane systems used for many years remains unchanged. It’s Sunday where the 12 fastest drivers from Saturday will continue and run through a few processes that are new.
Those 12 cars will be placed in a pre-qualifying impound where crews are allowed to make final wing angle and wing endplate angle changes along with tire pressure changes before their drivers make a single qualifying run.
“The top 12 are going to go out, run slowest to fastest based on their Saturday speeds, and once they complete each of their runs, they’ll be impounded and once the 12th car lands, work can be done for five minutes on the cars in the Fast Six,” NTT IndyCar Series president Jay Frye told RACER.
Some drivers and teams have expressed concerns about the short turnaround between the Fast 12 and the Fast Six and how heat soak could diminish engine performance. With the Bowtie’s 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engine known to run hot while making peak power, Chevy-powered teams, in particular, will be looking for all the cooling they can find between runs to keep the motors within optimal parameters.
“Electronic cooling fans are permitted at all times,” Frye added. “So when they’re impounded, they can use those. That’s in the five-minute window. Procedurally, the Fast 12 cars go, and once they’re all done, they’ll have that five-minute work window and once the five minutes are up, we’re going to take the Fast Six out behind the pace car and go run two laps, gladiator style, with the pace car going 100 miles an hour, we’ll make two laps around the track, and that’s the best way we can help the cars to get more air through the radiators and do a reset.”
Frye is confident the combination of electric air blowers and the pair of parade laps will equalize engine temperatures for the Fast Six ahead of the pole-setting session. During the five minutes of work allowed before the cooling laps, teams can add or remove sidepod entry and exit shutters to increase or decrease cooling as desired and add fuel. The tires used during the Fast 12 will remain on the cars.
“So, if you think of it, if you went out first and you’ve been sitting there with more time to cool down than if you went out 12th, whoever came in 12th is gonna have a harder time cooling as much as the person who went first, so this allows a reset,” Frye said. “After their laps, they’ll come back down pit road. So you have another five-minute work window, that they’ll be able to do things before they run in the Fast Six.”
Once the Fast Six complete the parade laps, their teams can make more shutter changes, add more fuel, and install new tires for the pole run. Drivers will once again go out with the slowest first and the fastest last for a single four-lap blast where the polesitter for the 106th Indianapolis 500 will emerge.