The luck of the draw was on display Saturday as the drivers who drew early qualifying numbers were rewarded with the best conditions of the day to set their speeds.
Rinus VeeKay went out second and set the fastest four-lap qualifying average on Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With a staggering opening lap of 234.702mph, the Dutchman’s No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy continued rocketing around the 2.5-mile oval at 233.655mph to lead the day and earn his place in Sunday’s Fast 12 qualifying session where he and the next 11 drivers on the speed chart vie for pole position. Thanks to the 234.702mph tour, VeeKay also the recorded third-fastest qualifying lap in Indy 500 history.
“I was pretty impressed with the 234.7mph,” VeeKay said. “I was surprised. It was good to get into the Fast 12 and race for the pole tomorrow.”
He brought the speed thanks to Chevrolet’s impressive power offerings with its 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 which swept the top three spots as Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, who rolled out third, earned second with a 233.037mph average in the No. 5 car and his AMSP teammate Felix Rosenqvist was close behind at 232.775mph.
“A really strong day for us. I’m really happy with our car balance,” O’Ward said. “I’m glad our first run was quick enough to get us into the Fast 12. Tomorrow is all about who can get the quickest two times, as we’ve got to make it into the Fast Six and then battle for the front row. I’m excited to see what we can accomplish. We’re running really well in our car and the No. 7 car is also really strong. I want to say thank you to Arrow McLaren SP and Chevrolet for giving us such strong cars.”
Best among the Hondas was defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou who produced a 232.774mph—just .001mph shy of matching Rosenqvist—in the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing entry. Set in hotter conditions, it was an admirable effort by Palou who led a Ganassi P4-5-6 as Tony Kanaan in the No. 1 Honda (232.625mph) and Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Honda (232.398mph) gave a proper account of the team’s potential.
VeeKay’s teammate and team owner Ed Carpenter was next in seventh with the No. 33 Chevy (232.397mph); Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson took eighth with the No. 8 Honda (232.275mph) and Andretti Autosport’s lone Fast 12 representative, Romain Grosjean, impressed as a rookie with ninth (232.201mph). The Fast 12 was completed by Ganassi’s Scott Dixon—surprised to be the slowest of his five-deep team—who went later in the afternoon (232.151mph), the only Team Penske driver in 11th (Will Power at 231.842mph) and Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing’s Takuma Sato (231.708mph) who drew the ire of Marco Andretti and IndyCar on his first run.
The 5h50m qualifying session was stopped twice — the first coming with modest rainfall while Sage Karam was attempting to improve his qualifying position. After that hour-long delay was resolved, Karam ran again, as did Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, before heavier rain fell, leading IndyCar to cut the day short by one hour. The call locked positions 13 through 33 for the race, and per the qualifying rules, those drivers are done until Monday’s two-hour practice session opens.
If there was one qualifier who lost out more than the rest on Saturday, it was Penske’s McLaughlin who earned P15 on his first run but fell to P26 after pulling his speed to make a second qualifying attempt. Elsewhere in the paddock, it was the surprising lack of pace that left the Andretti team wondering how four of its five cars missed the Fast 12, and in the extended seven-car Andretti family, both Meyer Shank Racing drivers also came nowhere close to transferring to Sunday.
The three-car Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing stable was alarmingly uncompetitive as Graham Rahal (21st) was well clear of teammates Christian Lundgaard (31st) and Jack Harvey (32nd).
Stefan Wilson was the only driver unable to start a qualifying run due to a mechanical error; he’ll start 33rd and last with no speed posted. Adversity reigned in other corners of Gasoline Alley as Colton Herta and more had days to forget.
On a more positive note, A.J. Foyt Racing’s JR Hildebrand found some of the speed and chassis balance he was lacking all week on the way to 17th (231.112mph) and Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott, who took a second shot at qualifying later in the afternoon, produced 19th as a rookie (230.961mph).
Action resumes on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET with a 90-minute practice session for the Fast 12 ahead of the Fast 12 and Fast Six sessions at 4 p.m.