INDIANAPOLIS — Marco Andretti has been saying all week that the fourth and final lap of the qualifying runs here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would make or break you. It paid off for him on Saturday and did so again for the Fast Nine Shootout on Sunday.
Andretti, pushed a four-lap average of 231.068 mph to become ninth pole winner in the 104 year history of the prestigious Indianapolis 500 to qualifying with a four lap average over the 230 mph barrier.
He was trying to beat Scott Dixon and it was the fourth lap that did it.
Andretti was at 231.826 mph on Lap 1 compared to 231.768 mph for Dixon’s. But, on Lap 2, Dixon (231.163 mph) narrowly beat Andretti’s 231.146 mph. On Lap 3, Dixon was quicker again at 230.941 mph versus 230.771 mph for Andretti. They were virtually equal there.
On Lap 4?
Andretti 230.532 mph against 230.337 mph for Dixon. That equates out to 231.068 mph for lap run for Andretti and 231.051 mph for Dixon. That’s a difference of .17 mph over four laps.
“I’ve been saying it since we started: lap three and four, that’s going to make the difference,” Andretti said. “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.”
That’s why Andretti is the pole winner and Dixon is second. He did so in tricky conditions with a more windier day on Sunday than we saw on Saturday. He used advice given to him from his grandpa Mario Andretti on how to remain calm despite tricky conditions here in Indy.
“Wind will scare you but it won’t crash you,” Andretti said of the quote his grandpa says. “He was right today. I don’t know if he’s right totally. We were able to keep it going the right way today.
“He has a lot of quotes in-house. As soon as I came out of the motorhome today, we were expecting winds. That’s when I kind of had a laugh, too.”
It’s the second career front row starting spot for Andretti here (2013) and the sixth pole of his NTT IndyCar Series career — his first since Belle Isle in 2018. It’s also the seventh time in the last nine years he’s started in the top 10 for the Indy 500.
For Dixon, the current Indy Car points leader narrowly missed his fourth career pole and first since here in 2017. But, Dixon started second in the season opener at Texas and went on to lead 157 of 200 laps en route to a dominating victory. He hasn’t won this race since 2008 and could very well have his best shot now than he ever has.
Takuma Sato earns his best career starting spot here to round out the front row. The first qualifier of the Fast Nine turned in a four lap average of 230.725 mph in his No. 30 Honda. The only other time that he started in the top 10 was in 2017, the race that he won.
Andretti Autosport entered the Fast Nine with four bullets in their chamber but it was four different teams represented in the top four with rookie Rinus VeeKay (230.704 mph) earning a surprise Inside of Row 2 qualifying effort. The Dutch driver gives the No. 21 Chevrolet a fourth straight top 2 Rows starting spot.
The added teams for Andretti could have helped give Andretti enough info to get the pole as he was the fourth guy out on the team among the four in the Shootout. But, Andretti tried to block some of that out and focus on himself.
“I mean, I always find I do better just focusing on what my entry and my car needs,” said Andretti on if it was a benefit to have teammates in the Fast Nine. “We kept it really close to home. My grandfather, good advice yesterday, let them beat you, don’t dial yourself out. You already know what you have, do it again. Let them try to dial themselves out chasing, right? Good advice.
“We kept it close to home. I knew it was going to be tougher today with the wins.”
For Dixon, did it hurt him not having any teammates in the Fast Nine? Would it have been more beneficial to have Felix Rosenqvist and/or Marcus Ericsson to be in the Shootout and go out and give him advice on the track before like Andretti had?
“The thing with Andretti is they have four of them kind of with Hinch and Hunter-Reay, Rossi, all those guys,” said Dixon. “I’m sure they were relaying or at least seeing the car run.
“The problem is you never really know how similar the cars are. Definitely the 10 and the 9 are pretty similar, but then the 8 and the 10 are quite different in some ways. It’s hard to go off what you hear sometimes.
“You kind of just got to stick to your own guns. Sometimes it can be useful whether it’s track conditions and just general track grip. If you think it’s up, you can try to trim a little bit more. Maybe that’s what Marco and those guys did at the end.
“Looked like Rossi was probably the most aggressive on their side. His run honestly didn’t look very good, especially with the (indiscernible) throughout. Maybe they didn’t trim out any more.
“I think all information helps. We would have loved to have two Ganassi cars in the Fast Nine. Just wasn’t the case. They’ll be strong in the race, for sure.”
Dixon, didn’t have to requalify like he did on Saturday. His first qualifying run was solid enough to get into the Fast Nine. Still, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver went out three more times in what it seemed like was a practice for Sunday.
“I think we kind of learnt that we were just not aggressive enough on the first run,” Dixon said on if he learned anything from those three extra attempts. “That’s kind of all it was. We kind of rebalanced for run two. Run three we kind of trimmed out a little bit more.
“It was one of those situations where each run, we decided because the track conditions were going to be a little bit different on Friday, that we only did I think two runs, maybe three. We typically gear up for six on a day like that. We felt like maybe yesterday afternoon was better for the Fast Nine situation.
“I think it always helps whenever you can run. I think conditions were especially different today from what we’ve seen during the week.”