SPEEDWAY — The elite speed was mostly established early by the contenders for the Indianapolis 500 pole position, but the Saturday drama came later in the back of the pack as a record number of qualifying attempts were made on the first day of qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
All but a handful of the top speeds were established before the final hour of qualifying commenced. Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist was one of those handful, however, as he set the top speed of 233.947 mph in the last 90 minutes of the time allotted.
Rosenqvist was one of a quartet of Arrow McLaren drivers in the top 12 qualifying spots, the threshold to qualify for pole position qualifying Sunday. Alexander Rossi (233.528, second), Tony Kanaan (233.347, sixth) and Pato O’Ward (233.252, eighth) all made the cut.
“Super proud of the whole team for executing. That last run we did was just phenomenal. Almost in a 234 average. That was pretty mind-blowing how we found so much speed,” Rosenqvist said.
Arrow McLaren was an IndyCar contender from the time McLaren entered the series full-time under its current badge for the 2021 season. Kanaan, racing an Indy 500-only program, has observed why the team thrives.
“It's a really good environment. They give you the freedom. (Team director) Gavin (Ward) is really good picking up who is good at what,” Kanaan said.
Chip Ganassi Racing also put its entire contingent in the top 12. Alex Palou (233.398, third), Scott Dixon (233.375, fifth), Takuma Sato (233.322, seventh) and Marcus Ericsson (233.030, 10th) will all compete for the pole.
Dixon is competing for his third straight pole position. Ericsson is trying to position himself to win back-to-back 500s. Palou leads the IndyCar points race.
“It's great to have four cars again in the Fast 12. I think it's pretty tough to do it, especially nowadays, how tight the field is,” Palou said.
The biggest surprise of the day was that A.J. Foyt Racing put both of its drivers in the top 12. Santino Ferrucci (233.147, ninth) and rookie Benjamin Pedersen (232.739, 11th) gave the Foyt team its best day of the season.
Two of those three teams are Chevy powered. Eight of the top 12 had Chevy motors. Ganassi's four drivers are the only ones powered by Honda.
Among the other Chevys was the lone Ed Carpenter Racing top-12 qualifier as Rinus VeeKay (233.395, fourth) is a pole contender.
The rest of the IndyCar elite teams had underwhelming days. Team Penske was only able to get Will Power into pole contention as his speed of 232.719 narrowly got him under the line in 12th.
Penske’s Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden, both of whom were late in the first-round qualifying order, withdrew their original qualifying spots. The gambit didn’t pay off as neither made the top 12 with later attempts.
“There's no place to hide. We're just not fast enough. We really weren't. It's unfortunate. I feel terrible for our team because I'm front and center of being able to witness the amount of effort that has gone into this place. It is just not from a shortage of effort,” Newgarden said.
Andretti Autosport was completely shut out of the top 12. Kyle Kirkwood will start highest of the Andretti cars in 15th spot.
Down at the bottom of the speed chart, the goal was to get into the top 30 to avoid Sunday’s high stakes last-chance qualifying round, where one driver will be bumped from four.
Avoidance of the bottom four was one reason there were a record 84 first-day qualifying attempts made.
It was a humiliating Saturday for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, one week removed from having Christian Lundgaard on the pole for the GMR Grand Prix where he finished in a team-high fourth spot.
Three of RLL’s drivers failed to make the top 30. Graham Rahal made four attempts and never cracked the 230 mph mark. Rahal was the slowest car of the day.
Lundgaard also made four attempts, including the final attempt of the day, but his best speed of 231.056 didn’t cut it. Jack Harvey made three attempts and barely cracked 230.
The RLL survivor was Indy 500-only entry Katherine Legge. Her initial speed of 231.070 held up throughout the day.
Those RLL drivers will be joined by Dale Coyne Racing rookie Sting Ray Robb, whose best speed in four attempts was 230.740, in the bottom four.
Sunday’s action will begin with a practice session for the top-12 competitors at 11:30 a.m. and then another session for the last-chance qualifiers at 12:30 p.m.
Top-12 qualifying to narrow pole position contenders down to the Fast Six begins at 2 p.m. Last-chance qualifying begins at 4 p.m. The run for the pole position begins at 5:15 p.m.
Gates open at IMS at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
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