With 33 entries required for this Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, there won’t be the usual kind of pressure during PPG Armed Forces qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But the pressure removed from qualifying at Indy? Not a chance, especially if the gusty wind that challenged the drivers on Friday returns for the weekend.
The other relevant element for qualifying is the balance of the field, both for this “500” season and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. Failing to earn a top-12 starting position means missing out on valuable championship points, and there are 13 instances in the current standings where drivers are separated by four points or less. Two drivers are tied.
Then there is the element of so many drivers being able to win the 106th race on Sunday May 29. Only 14 times in history has a winner started in the back half of the field, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Jack Harvey (#45 Hy-Vee Honda) has been around long enough to know that being the 15th this year is a lot to ask considering the competition.
Harvey and others may not mind being pushed around, but the combination of the aforementioned factors creates a situation that will rattle the nerves.
“Yeah, (that format) takes some of the pressure off,” said Harvey, who sweated through Bump Day in 2018 to earn a starting position in the back row. “However, where you put the pressure back on is that it is so difficult to (pass cars) at the moment that you have to qualify as far back as possible.
Harvey said Indy should now be considered in the same category as other circuits in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES program.
“If you want to have a good chance of (winning the race), we have to start (near the front),” he said.
Three-quarters of all Indy winners have started in the front four rows, including the back six. Ryan Hunter-Reay (19th in 2014) was the last winner to start in the back half of the peloton.
The other stress of the weekend will come from the need to qualify three times for any driver with designs to win the NTT P1 Award, which comes with 12 points, $100,000 and bragging rights to be the fastest – and arguably the bravest – driver in this event.
“(Qualifying weekend) will be a bit different, but I can assure you that the level of stress for me and the intensity of qualifying (remains),” said Graham Rahal, who drives the No.15 United Honda. Rentals for RLLR. “It’s always the same thing: you want to go ahead and ride as well as possible during the laps, which seems easy, but it’s not at all, especially these last two laps which are tricky.
“Hopefully we can do that.”
Rahal: Turning the page
Rahal said his public rift with Romain Grosjean of Andretti Autosport (#28 Honda DHL), which stems from Rahal’s comments after their contact last month during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park , belongs to the past.
“I said what I said, and I can guarantee you Monday morning (after that) my mind was on something completely different,” Rahal said Friday. “I’m not someone who will dwell on the past.”
Rahal noted that the two veteran riders raced wheel-to-wheel in the GMR Grand Prix last week without issue.
“So it’s not continuing,” Rahal said. “We just turned the page.”
Ganassi and Indy celebrate 40 years together
Chip Ganassi, whose Indianapolis-based NTT INDYCAR SERIES team has won the ‘500’ four times – the owner has a fifth counting his association with Patrick Racing in 1989 – had an interesting reaction on Friday when he saw a photo of his rookie qualification at IMS in 1982.
“Look at that hair,” he laughs.
This marks the 40th anniversary of Ganassi’s racing debut, and he made four more starts as a driver before beginning his path to becoming one of the most successful team owners in motorsport history. It seems so far away, he says.
“I had my last class (at Duquesne University in his native Pittsburgh) for a week, and this weekend I was here for opening weekend,” Ganassi said. “Then I missed the start because I was qualifying here at Indy.”
Ganassi started 11th for this race and finished 15th. His best Indy result was eighth on his second attempt, in 1983.
Ganassi was part of what turned out to be a strong rookie class that included Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Hector Rebaque, Herm Johnson and Jim Hickman, who took home the Rookie of the Year award. Then, the start of the race was marred by the controversial accident of Kevin Cogan, AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti.
“Quite an experience,” Ganassi said.
Mears enjoyed his participation in “The Club”
Rick Mears, the third driver to win a fourth Indianapolis 500, said Friday that last year’s gathering of the other four winners – Foyt, Al Unser and Helio Castroneves, which featured in the documentary ‘Pennzoil Presents The Club’ – was “a great opportunity” for all.
“The timing, especially to be able to be there with Al still with us, was awesome,” he said. “To be able to spend that kind of time – even though we’ve been together over the years, you never get that opportunity (to talk). Calendars go in different directions and on race weekends you are always busy.
“(Penske Entertainment) did a great job of organizing it, keeping it very relaxed…it just made for a good calm day.”
Mears said it was the first time he had seen Foyt relax “since the last time he was in a race car.” It was in 1993.
Mears showed his relaxed side by joking that he didn’t want Castroneves to win a fifth ‘500’.
“I’m not going to be supportive,” he said while trying to keep a straight face. “No, actually, I told him the other day…if you win that fifth, we’re gonna kick you out of the club, and you’re gonna be on your own (with) no one to hang out with. So be careful.”
- Team Penske is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its first “500” victory, a race won in 1972 by the late Mark Donohue. Donohue’s sons, David and Michael, will be at the IMS this weekend along with three crew members from this entry: Karl Kainhofer, Don Cox and John “Woody” Woodard.
- Penske team president Tim Cindric only joined Roger Penske’s racing team in 2000, but he has a unique connection to the Donohue win. His father, Carl, helped build the engine for the car.
- Racing rookie Christian Lundgaard (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s #30 Honda PeopleReady) said he had watched all the past “500” he could find on YouTube, and particularly noticed the win for ‘Alexander Rossie in 2016. “How he managed to save that much fuel as a rookie,” he said. “It’s a way to learn as much as possible.”
- Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Carvana Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) found his first “500” to be a unique experience, especially the pranks the drivers play on each other. “In 19 years of Cup driving, I’ve never got out of my motorhome and looked around with either caution or concern, and I’ve done that every day I’ve been here,” a- he declared. “It’s a different world.”
- Johnson asked if anyone thought Conor Daly (Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet) might have been “mistaken” to get more attention. “They keep telling me that those things in the hot tub (were things) the kids were playing with, and I can’t think of a bigger kid there (than Daly),” he declared. Daly replied that he wouldn’t have wasted his $600 spa on the first day of practice, which was Tuesday. “I see guilt all over (Johnson’s) face,” Daly wrote on social media.
- Continuing what has been tradition, the Indianapolis Colts rookie class came to IMS on Friday to take in the sights and sounds.