Saturday, August 15, 2020

104th Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Preview

Three practice days are in the books and now the 33 drivers entered for the 104th Indianapolis 500 will hit the track to set the grid for the race. For five hours and 50 minutes, these drivers will jockey to see who will crack the top nine and get to return tomorrow for a run for pole position while the other 24 drivers will settle into their respective grid positions and strategize how to tackle the start of race day. 

What can be taken away from these practice days? Who is a favorite for pole position, who could be in the Fast Nine and who will be bringing up the rear? Let's go over what in preparation for another qualifying day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Who is in Play For the Fast Nine?
Five of the six Andretti Autosport cars and the current IndyCar championship leader. 

Leading the way is Marco Andretti, who has been in the top three all three days and he topped Friday practice overall at 233.491 MPH. Andretti was fourth on the no tow report on Friday. Scott Dixon was also in the top three on the all three practice days and he was second on the no tow report yesterday.   

Ryan Hunter-Reay was in the top three of the no tow report all three days and Hunter-Reay topped it on Friday at 232.124 MPH. Jack Harvey had the second best no tow report average behind only Hunter-Reay with Harvey's no tow results being fifth, first and eighth.

Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe have been in the top five of the no tow report on two of three practice days. Hinchcliffe was in the top ten for all three while Herta dropped to 17th yesterday. Hunter-Reay, Harvey and Hinchcliffe were the only drivers in the top ten of the no tow report all three days. Alexander Rossi topped the no tow report on day one before dropping to 24th on day two but rising to third on Friday.

Zach Veach has been good with no tow report speeds of 11th, 16th and seventh but Veach's overall showings are 27th, 15th and 15th.

Takuma Sato was in the top ten of the no tow report for two of three days and he was second overall on Thursday. Graham Rahal has been 14th, ninth and 16th on the no tow reports. Spencer Pigot is flirting with Fast Nine speed. Pigot was tenth and ninth on Wednesday and Thursday. He had been outside of the top twenty overall on the first two practice days but jumped to fifth overall on Friday.

Where are the Chevrolets?
Slightly lost and frustrated about it. Honda took nine of the top ten overall on Friday and the top nine no tow report speeds on the final practice day.

Leading the way for Chevrolet is the sleeper team of A.J. Foyt Racing. Charlie Kimball was sixth, 12th and tenth on the no tow report. Tony Kanaan was 12th and 11th the first two days before dropping to 27th. 

Ed Carpenter Racing's pace appeared to be encouraging. Conor Daly was ninth, fourth and second overall, but Daly's best no tow result was ninth on Wednesday, dropping to 21st and 27th the next two days. Rinus VeeKay was eighth and fourth on the no tow report the first two days. Ed Carpenter was sixth on the no tow report on day two, but he was 20th and 25th the next two days and his best overall showing was 20th. 

Team Penske has been shocking slow. Will Power has made every Fast Nine session, but Power was 23rd, 23rd and 11th overall over the practice days and his best no tow report speed was 21st. Josef Newgarden cracked sixth overall on day one, but Newgarden's best no tow result was 12th on Friday. 

Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud's best overall result was 12th, but Pagenaud was outside the top twenty the next two days. His best no tow showing was 18th on day one and day three. 

Who Should be Happy With Where They Are At?
Fernando Alonso should be happy the car is quick. Alonso was fifth and eighth overall on the first two practice day with the Thursday session cut short due to his accident in turn four. Alonso was eighth on the no tow report on Thursday. His results dropped to 25th overall and 31st on the no tow on Friday.

Speaking of Spaniards, Álex Palou was eighth, fifth and sixth overall, and Palou has been the top rookie on each day. He was one of four drivers in the top ten overall all three days with Andretti, Dixon and Daly. Palou's no tow speeds are encouraging, and consistent in 13th, 15th an 14th, by far the best Dale Coyne Racing driver each day. 

One of Palou's teammates, James Davison, has been 21st, ninth and 26th overall, and has looked strong. Davison no tow results show room for improvement. He was 31st, 30th and 24th, the worst average no tow result of the drivers to register on all three days.

Arrow McLaren SP's rookies have been holding their own. Oliver Askew jumped up to tenth overall on Thursday while Patricio O'Ward was seventh overall on the no tow report Thursday. O'Ward was 13th on the no tow report on Friday while Askew's best no tow result was 13th on Thursday.

Who Will be Happy There is No Bumping This Year?
Ben Hanley and DragonSpeed because the team was not able to shake electrical gremlins over the first two days of practice and was not able to officially participate in practice. DragonSpeed was allowed a 30-minute shakedown session after practice each day. Hanley was 33rd on Friday.

Hélio Castroneves has been woeful. Castroneves was tenth overall on day one but he was 16th and 19th the next two days and he has been 25th, 28th and 28th on the no tow report. His average no tow result is second worst among the drivers to register a time on all three days. If this was a year with bumping, Castroneves could be sweating more than he ever had in his previous 19 Indianapolis 500 qualifying sessions.

Rookie Dalton Kellet has not been the slowest guy on either day but the best Kellett has been overall is 28th. His no tow results were 29th, 22nd and 26th. 

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing had to sweat bullets last year with Sage Karam and I think the team would have one car in the bubble fight this year. Karam was not able to register a no tow lap on Wednesday and was 31st on Thursday and 30th on Friday. JR Hildebrand showed respectable no tow results in 15th and 17th on the first two days, but Hildebrand has been 32nd, 29th and 30th overall.

Max Chilton's overall results would suggest Chilton and Carlin would again be fighting to make the field of 33. Chilton's overall results were 29th, 32nd and 32nd. His no tow results are slightly better, ending up only 28th on day one, jumped to 19th on day two before dropping to 32nd on Friday.

Who Has Not Been Mentioned Yet?
Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson and Santino Ferrucci.

Neither of Ganassi's Swedish drivers have shown the pace of Dixon. Rosenqvist was 14th, 24th and 20th overall. His first two no tow report results were 30th and 32nd, but he got up to 15th yesterday. Marcus Ericsson showed reasons for encouragement on Friday. Ericsson got up to tenth overall and fifth on the no tow report. He had been 24th and 25th overall the first two days and 19th and 29th on the no tow report.

Ferrucci has been middle of the road on both charts. His overall results have been 19th, 21st and 23rd with his no tow speeds at 26th, 27th and 20th. 

What is the Qualifying Order?
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will lead the way. Graham Rahal rolls out first ahead of Takuma Sato. Rookies go early with Dalton Kellett and Rinus VeeKay scheduled to go out third and fourth. Jack Harvey and Scott Dixon are fifth and sixth ahead of the third RLLR car Spencer Pigot in seventh. Patricio O'Ward is the third rookie scheduled to take the track in the first eight cars.

Josef Newgarden and Will Power round out the first ten qualifiers. Sage Karam follows the Penske duo and precedes Alexander Rossi. Fernando Alonso will be the 13th qualifier ahead of Andretti Autosport drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Zach Veach. Marcus Ericsson goes out 16th. 

The middle qualifier will be Oliver Askew ahead of Felix Rosenqvist, Ed Carpenter, James Hinchcliffe and Ben Hanley.

All three Dale Coyne Racing cars will go out in arrow with James Davison the first to take to the track ahead of Álex Palou and Santino Ferrucci. 

Conor Daly, Charlie Kimball and Simon Pagenaud will be the next three qualifiers. 

Marco Andretti has a later than desired spot in 28th ahead of Tony Kanaan and Colton Herta. 

The final three qualifiers are Max Chilton, Hélio Castroneves and JR Hildebrand.

What is the Weather Forecast?
The good news is it appears the rain will hold off, but Saturday will one of the warmer qualifying days perhaps in Indianapolis 500 history. 

Temperatures will crack 72º F at 9:00 a.m. and continue to climb to 79º F at the start of qualifying at 11:00 a.m. Sunny skies will remain throughout the afternoon with temperatures increasing to 82º F at noon and another two degrees to 84º F at 1:00 p.m. 

There could be some cloud cover over the first two-plus hours of the session, but temperature could be as high as 88º F at the end of the session. Wind speed for today remains consistent at 5 MPH from the North.

The increased heat, along with the extra weight of the aeroscreen, will make it difficult to hold a consistent speed over a four-lap qualifying run. Drivers were struggling with grip during yesterday's practice session and one lift can ruin a qualifying. One bobble could write off a race car. 

The weather for Sunday calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 82º F. Wind speed is expected to pick up to around 10 MPH from the Northwest. 

What is the Qualifying Weekend Schedule?
Today, there will be two 30-minute practice sessions. Half the field will go out at 8:30 a.m. ET with the other half going out at 9:00 a.m. ET. 

First day time trials begin at 11:00 a.m. and run through 4:50 p.m. The top nine at the end of the final qualifying run will advance to tomorrow's Fast Nine session. Tenth through 33rd at the end of today will occupy those positions coming to the green flag for the 104th Indianapolis 500 next week. 

Tomorrow, the Fast Nine competitors will get a 30-minute practice tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. with the Fast Nine session scheduled to begin at 1:15 p.m. 

After the Fast Nine, there will be a two-hour practice for the entire field of 33, starting at 3:30 p.m.