Top 5 Storylines for this weekend’s Indy 500 Time Trails

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s now time for Indianapolis 500 Time Trials. A full week of practice (3 days) is officially behind us, as we turn our focus to the annual qualifying weekend here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With that being said, here are the top storylines heading into qualifying this weekend.

_DMP5056Simon Pagenaud pulls out for qualifying in 2018 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – INDYCAR Media Site

Format

With just 33 cars going for 33 spots this year, there’s no bumping. That in turn means no need for a Last Row Shootout anymore. So, Saturday’s opening day of Time Trials format will be qualifying for all 33 spots, with at 4:50 p.m. ET, spots 10-33 being locked into the field and their positions set. They do not need to requalify anymore on Sunday.

The fastest nine drivers from Saturday will requalify from 1:15-2:15 p.m. ET on Sunday (NBC) and set the top 3 Rows for next Sunday’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). It’s just one attempt now for these drivers too, with the qualifying order being based from the slowest (9th) on Saturday to fastest (1st) being last.

By 2:15 p.m. ET on Sunday, we will know the starting positions of the 33 drivers for this year’s field.

Can Chevy sweep front row for 3rd straight year? Odds say no

Chevrolet shocked everyone with sweeping the front row for the prestigious race in 2018. They backed that up with doing it again in 2019. Will the bow ties get a lockout of the front row for next Sunday’s Indy 500 for a third straight year?

It doesn’t appear that way.

The top no tows on Fast Friday were the biggest thing to watch and the biggest thing that stuck out to me was this weekend is Honda’s pole to lose now.

The top nine no tow speeds went to Honda drivers. Chevy was just off in comparison to them.

Since Chevrolet came back to IndyCar in 2012, they’ve won seven of the eight Indy 500 poles. James Hinchcliffe gave Honda their only pole in the last eight years back in 2016 for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Andretti Autosport are the ones to beat, but Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing are sleepers up there with Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato being third and seventh respectively on the four lap averages. Spencer Pigot was in the top 10 of the no tow list.

Pole Speed

Part of qualifying weekend is pure speed. IMS and speed go together like peanut butter and jelly. There used to be an allure of reaching speeds in excess of 150 mph here. In 1962, they finally did that. Then, it became a race for 170 mph. They did it in 1968. Could they get to 200? They did so in 1978. In every year with the exception of two, the pole winning speed since 1978 has eclipsed 200 mph.

From 200 it was 210, then 220, then 230. But, with speeds getting very dangerous in the 230 mph barrier, times have slowed some. Between 1992 and 1996, the pole speeds were over 230 mph three times in a span of five years. But, in the 23 years since, we’ve seen cars get over 230 mph just five times.

Granted, two of those five times have occurred since 2016, but I think that we add to that this year with pole speeds expected to rise well over 230 mph this weekend. They were at 229.992 mph on a four lap run last year. In fact, the entire top five qualified in the 229 mph range in 2019. Now, we have the Aeroscreen which weighs the car down more but added boost levels to counter that too.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was the quickest no tow lap on Friday with a speed of 232.124 mph. He had the fastest four lap averages too with that time totaling 231.263 mph.

With the top 10 four lap averages on Fast Friday all being over 230 mph, I expect this to be the ninth time in the 104 year history of this race that the pole speed is in excess of 230 mph. Just how far we go north of that is the question?

Fastest pole speed ever at Indy

  • 1996 – Scott Brayton (233.718 mph *later passed away in a practice crash, Tony Stewart 233.100 was on pole that year, but Arie Luyendyk 236.986 mph is the record)
  • 1992 – Roberto Guerrero (232.482 mph)
  • 2017 – Scott Dixon (232.164 mph)
  • 2003 – Helio Castroneves (231.725 mph)
  • 1995 – Scott Brayton (231.604 mph)
  • 2002 – Bruno Junqueria (231.342 mph)
  • 2014 – Ed Carpenter (231.067)
  • 2016 – James Hinchcliffe (230.760 mph)

Margin 

The speeds are all close. The four lap average from sixth to 18th is just 0.869 mph. That’s over the course of four laps. That equates out to just .217 mph per lap. That means the margin from getting into the Fast Nine or not is going to be miniscule.

So, with track position being so crucial for next Sunday’s race, there’s going to be a fun fight all day to get into the Fast Nine. That’s going to lead to a wild day on Saturday with everyone laying it out on the line in qualifying.

I think it’s safe to say the pole for next Sunday’s race is Andretti Autosport’s to lose, but filling out the Fast Nine is difficult to predict. I think there’s a reasonable shot that all seven Andretti cars will be in the mix, so will all three at Rahal and Ganassi. Ed Carpenter Racing and Team Penske will factor into this somehow.

That’s 20 cars for nine spots in to the Fast Nine.

While I can see Honda sweeping the front row and possibly the entire Fast Nine, I just don’t think it will happen. There’s seven combined Penske/ECR cars. Someone is going to sneak in.

Honda may got 1-2-3 but the fight for sixth through ninth is going to be fun to watch on Saturday.

Qualifying will be treacherous

With so many drivers having to lay it all out on the line, we are going to see some near misses on crashes, or even some wrecks itself this weekend. Then, factor in the added boost levels and how it’s affecting the tire wear over the course of a four lap run and you’re going to get some madness this over both days this weekend.

The guys have to hang it all out on the line even though the car wants to wreck. Think of driving a car at 230+ mph on ice. That’s going to be the difference in making the Fast Nine or not. It can in turn be the difference of winning next Sunday’s race or not too.

Track position is going to be a factor next weekend in the race itself. All the drivers have said that. It’s unanimous. The Aeroscreen is causing these cars to be a handle to drive.

So, with passing proving to be difficult, qualifying well and having that clean air at the start next Sunday can be the key to drinking the milk after 500 miles of racing on Aug. 23. The last three winners have come from the top four starting spots after all.

So, with knowing that and knowing how hard it is to drive these cars in qualifying trim now too and lap times falling off as the laps go on during a qualifying run, this is going to make qualifying fun again despite no bumping to make the field taking place.

Weather this weekend

The weather has been great for this week of practice. We’ve had no interruptions for the liquid menace. This weekend, there’s a chance of precipitation in the forecast but it doesn’t look like all day wash outs as we should get qualifying in.

Top Stat

We’ve had five straight years with a different pole winner, but Ed Carpenter has put his No. 20 Chevrolet on the pole in three of the last seven years. He’s also had a top two qualifying spot for the Indy 500 in five of the last seven years as well including three straight.

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