INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Indianapolis 500 Time Trials

Will We See Another New Team Earn The Pole?

We’ve seen an odd trend for Indianapolis 500 qualifying lately and that’s the sense that we’ve seen five different drivers from five different teams earn the pole for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in the last five years. We’ve also had five different drivers win a pole in five races run in 2021 too. 

From James Hinchcliffe (SPM) in 2016 to Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport) in 2020, we’ve had new drivers each year. Scott Dixon (Ganassi) in 2017, Ed Carpenter (ECR) in 2018 and Simon Pagenaud (Penske) in 2019 were the others in this span here. On the season, you get Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta, Alex Palou, Scott Dixon and Romain Grosjean on the season. 

If this continues, who’s next?

Well, AJ Foyt Racing (JR Hildebrand, Dalton Kellett, Charlie Kimball, Sebastien Bourdais), Paretta Autosport (Simona de Silvestro), Carlin (Max Chilton), Top Gun (RC Enerson), Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Sage Karam), Dale Coyne Racing (Ed Jones, Pietro Fittipaldi), Meyer/Shank Racing (Jack Harvey, Helio Castroneves) or Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Santino Ferrucci) would be the only ones left.

Foyt’s won 45 Indy Car poles hasn’t won one since 2014 at Long Beach. Their last Indy pole came by Billy Boat in 1998. RLL has 33 poles, the last coming last year at the World Wide Technology Raceway, but their last Indy pole came in 2004 from Buddy Rice.

Carlin has one career pole by Conor Daly last year in Iowa. Dale Coyne Racing has 3 career poles, none at Indy on the oval with their last one other than Romain Grosjean’s last week on the road course coming in 2018 at Phoenix. Same for DRR with two poles, none at Indy with their last coming in 2002.

Paretta and MSR have never won Indy Car poles before.

If this trend continues, RLL is the favorites among them. All three cars were in the top nine of the no tow list on Fast Friday  

Will We See Speeds Over 230 mph?

There’s a good chance of that but it all depends on the conditions. The speeds so far this week have been in range with 27 of the 35 drivers over 230 mph on Fast Friday and 20 of the 35 over 230 mph on the no tow list too. But, the temperatures this weekend will be in the upper 80s with sunny skies. That will make this track very treacherous. Can you sustain four laps over 230 mph in those conditions?

We have had 3 pole winners in the last 5 years eclipse the 230 mph barrier on their four-lap average. Overall, we’ve seen nine of the 104 prior years with the pole speed being over 230 mph.

1996 – Tony Stewart 233.100

1992 – Roberto Guerrero 232.482

2017 – Scott Dixon 232.164

2003 – Helio Castroneves 231.725

1995 – Scott Brayton 231.604

2002 – Bruno Junqueria 231.342

2020 – Marco Andretti 231.068

2014 – Ed Carpenter 231.067

2016 – James Hinchcliffe 230.760

How Much Will Weather Be A Factor?

The first couple of days of practice were run with much cooler conditions than we’re going to see this weekend. We saw mostly overcast skies with the occasional peaks of sun and temperatures starting in the high 60s and going to the low 70s. Thursday is when the heat really got ramped up with sunny skies and temps soaring into the 80s. That’s going to remain that way through the weekend. 

We already know qualifying for the Indy 500 is as difficult as it comes. You’re so on edge, that the difference between the pole and a crash going for one is like racing on the knife blade. 

Throw in the heat now with a slick track and you’re going to get some treacherous conditions to qualify in this weekend. 

Who Has The Preferred Package?

Chevrolet had the preferred power in this race in 2018 and again in 2019. They’ve swept the front row both years. In 2018, they led nearly 150 of the 200 laps run. 2019, they combined to lead 155 of the 200 laps and took six of the top nine starting spots. Last year, it flipped. It was all Honda.

In 2020, Honda swept the front row and took 11 of the top 12 starting spots. They’d lead 179 of the 200 laps and sweep the top four finishing spots and take 8 of the top 10 finishers overall.

How much can Chevy close the gap and how much can Honda gain or even lose was a big question entering this month. As we came into Fast Friday, it appeared that the Honda vs. Chevy battle is as close as it’s been in several years. But, Fast Friday showed Honda still had the pace

Honda had 12 of the top 14 speeds on Fast Friday including taking nine of the top 12 on the four lap average chart.

The drivers have all said that the top three or four spots on track that you can definitely pass much easier than you could last year but spots fifth on back was as difficult as ever. Does this give Honda an advantage again?

“I mean, I think we can all look at the chart and see who is more dominant,” O’Ward told me. “My Chevy has been good to me so far. I think we’ve been doing a good job with what we have. Tomorrow obviously the goal is going to be getting to the Fast Nine.

“Yeah, it’s just…

Alexander Rossi cut him off, “Honda with a capital H,” empathetically on who has superior power right now.

Who Wins The Pole? Who Makes The Fast Nine? Who Goes Home?

There’s three main questions heading into this weekend’s Time Trials to set the field for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) — who has the advantage between Honda and Chevrolet, who will win the pole and which two drivers go home?

Right now, all three answers can be summed up into one.

Honda has the clear advantage in qualifying trim and it honestly doesn’t look very close. In 2018 and 2019, Chevrolet swept the front row. Last year, Honda returned the favor as well as placing 12 cars in the top 14 of the starting lineup.

This offseason, Chevrolet vowed to return to glory here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With starting position still meaning something on the 2.5-mile track, it was imperative for the bowties to improve on their pace with the Honda’s.

During race running this week, it appeared to be pretty even. But, following Fast Friday, Honda separated themselves from the pack again.

Honda had the entire top five of the overall speed chart in the six hour session including 10 of the top 11 speeds overall. While some may say, well what about the no tow?

Well, Honda went 1-2 on that chart including taking eight of the top nine speeds. This looks like their pole to lose.

In terms of who gets into the Fast Nine, I don’t think you can discredit any of the four Chip Ganassi Racing cars. They were quickest in each of the last three days of practice and had all four cars in the top five of the speed chart on Friday. They also had 4-7-8-12 on the no tow list too.

Andretti Autosport has Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi as Fast Nine contenders in my opinion. Rossi, was quickest on the no tow and fourth on the four lap averages. Herta, was sixth on the no tow list and second on the four lap chart.

Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing looks good too. They had 2-5-9 on the no tow and 6-8 on the four lap averages. They put two cars in the Fast Nine last year.

For Chevrolet, Penske looks like they’re in trouble again while Pato O’Ward appears to have the best bowtie. He was seventh in the first two days of practice, 14th on Thursday but sixth on Friday. He also had the third best no tow time and third best four lap average.

ECR has put at least one car in the Fast Nine for eight straight years now. They were 10-14-18 on the no tow list though on Friday after having arguably the top Chevy cars all week.

Penske is the story though. They had at least one car in the Fast Nine for 10 straight years. Do they really go 0-for-2 since with four good bullets in their chamber?

Ganassi has missed the Fast Nine five times in the last nine years but they look to land all four in the Shootout this year.

Now, lets go to the bottom of the speed chart. RC Enerson looks to be a lock at the bottom. Who joins him? Charlie Kimball was three mph off of 33rd on Fast Friday. He was also only 26th, 33rd, 29th and 34th respectively on the speed charts this week too. I think he’s in trouble. So could Sebastien Bourdais. He was just 33rd, 6th, 34th and 33rd this week in the speed department and only 31st on the no tow list. They also have the worst qualifying draw at that too.

Max Chilton will likely be in the Last Row Shootout after being 31st, 26th, 33rd and 23rd this week. He was 33rd on the no tow list. Could Sage Karam be too. He’s qualified 31st in each of the last two years and was only 29th on the no tow list on Friday. Yes, his “race” car has speed, but his qualifying speed may be lacking.

Without further ado – here’s my list.

Fast 9

  1.  9 Dixon
  2. 48 Kanaan
  3. 10 Palou
  4.  8 Ericsson
  5. 15 Rahal
  6. 30 Sato
  7. 26 Herta
  8. 27 Rossi
  9.  5 O’Ward

Bump Speed: 229.5 mph to get in

Last Row Shootout

31. 24 Karam

32. 14 Bourdais

33. 11 Kimball

34. 59 Chilton

35. 75 Enerson

Bump Speed To Get Into Top 30: 228.7 mph

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