INDIANAPOLIS — The Fast Nine Shootout is set. On Sunday, we will know who will be on the pole for next Sunday’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). It’s an interesting crop of nine drivers going into the shootout (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) on Sunday afternoon.
Andretti Autosport has four of the nine drivers but the team has just one career pole (2005) in the race. Team owner Michael Andretti never won a pole in his Indy Car career here but his son Marco Andretti turned the quickest practice lap (233.491 mph) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1996 on Fast Friday and backed that up with the fastest four lap average (231.351 mph) in qualifying on Saturday. Can he win the pole for this year’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing?
His grandpa Mario Andretti won the pole three times (1966, 1967 and 1987). But, Andretti will go last on Sunday, does that hurt him? Some say, yes. I beg to differ.
Andretti, was the 28th qualifier out of everyone on Saturday and still put down the fastest opening lap at the time of 232.177 mph in his No. 98 Honda. His four lap average would hold up for the fastest of the day. With only nine cars each getting one shot, why would him being just a few spots later than everyone affect him that much?
He went out at 1:15 p.m. ET. The start of Sunday’s Fast Nine is 1:15 p.m. ET.
Andretti, has five career NTT IndyCar Series poles, but just one since 2014.
His teammates may have a say too. Alexander Rossi said that he has more speed in “baby girl” after he qualified with a four lap average of 231.268 mph. He qualified third for this race in 2017 and ninth last year. He also won all six of his career poles since 2017 including two last year. He says he has a good shot at the pole on Sunday as well.
Ryan Hunter-Reay had the best no tow speed on Friday and the quickest four lap average in practice on the day too and was P2 on Saturday (231.330 mph). He has never won an Indy pole and has just seven career poles, one of which on an oval. That came in Milwaukee back in 2004. Furthermore, he has just one Indy Car pole since 2015 too.
James Hinchcliffe has the second best speed in the heat I think but has one career pole to his credit. That was here though for the 100th Running in 2016.
Scott Dixon may be their biggest threat for the pole. He has three of them here at Indy but no poles in the series since his one for the 2017 Indy 500. But, Dixon to me was practicing for Sunday on Saturday. He had well than enough speed to not be in danger of dropping out of the Fast Nine after his first initial attempt. Still, he’d go out on the 2.5-mile track three more times. My thoughts is that he was doing so in the heat of the day to get more data for a run at it on Sunday. He set the fastest lap of the day at 232.183 mph on Lap 1 of his third attempt of the day but fell as the run went on. On his final attempt, he went 232.356 mph on Lap 1, then his next two laps were good enough to trend for the top spot on Saturday. Dixon, backed out of it on the last lap so he didn’t show what he had.
He would have likely been P1. He didn’t want to qualify last in the Shootout, so that was definitely a strategy play.
Dixon, said that he went conservative on the setup on the first run and they were likely experimenting with the other three in conditions more at the timing of Sunday’s qualifying round.
I think he’s onto something and that could prove to be the pole winning maneuver. Andretti said though that he thought Dixon showed what he had in that and gave them a free look.
“No. I mean, he kind of showed us,” Andretti if he’s worried about Dixon after what Dixon showed on his final qualifying run. “He showed us what you can do if you trim it out, right?
“I’ve been saying it since we started: lap three and four, that’s going to make the difference. Yeah, I think we can lay the wing down and go fast the first couple laps. But I think it’s about all four obviously, the average.
“Yeah, I mean, he’s going to be one to beat of course tomorrow.”
Half of the other four left are rookies with the other half being within the Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing camp.
Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato went out 1-2 from the qualifying draw on Saturday and that helped them make the Fast Nine. I don’t think they have realistic pace to beat the Andretti’s when they couldn’t do it with the best draw for Saturday morning. It’s going to be hotter, slicker and windier on Sunday. That doesn’t favor them.
Rahal has three career poles, two of which coming in 2009.
Sato, has nine poles, two last year, but none at Indy.