INDIANAPOLIS — They don’t call him the “Ice Man” for no reason. Dixon, admitted that even as a six time champion, he was nervous on Saturday morning as he was the first qualifier of the day on opening day of Indy 500 Time Trials. He’s not done that before in his career and here he was shaking while trying to put on his socks and uniform to go out and qualify.
His four lap average though was the quickest on the day and netted him the final qualifying spot in Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout. To win the pole, he’d have to beat the kids of the series as 21 year old Colton Herta held onto the quickest four lap average going into the last qualifying run of the month while 20 year old Rinus VeeKay was P2.
Dixon, is 40 years of age. Combine VeeKay and Herta’s ages and you get 41. The Ice Man lived up to his billing. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver turned in a four-lap average of 231.685 mph in his No. 9 Honda to score his fourth career Indy 500 pole. He joins Rex Mays (1935, 1936, 1940, 1948), AJ Foyt (1965, 1969, 1974, 1975) and Helio Castroneves (2003, 2007, 2009, 2010) as four time pole winners here. Only Rick Mears’ six Indy poles rank higher.
“I’d prefer going last, for sure,” Dixon said in comparing the two runs and his nerves for each. “But then I didn’t after I saw the ECR and Herta run. I was definitely pretty nervous.
“I don’t know. It’s definitely a roller coaster of emotions for everybody. I’m actually really relieved that that’s all over.
“I think the difficult part for all of us is just having that confidence. You got to remember last time we all drove the car was yesterday probably around a similar time. You’ve had a lot of time to think. Unfortunately most of the time it’s not great thoughts. You’re thinking of things going wrong sometimes, but trying to stay positive. Then you’re trying to chase weather conditions as well. Definitely was a little warmer today, a lot more sun on the track than what we had. We were going more aggressive than what we had done yesterday.
“You’re just trying to stay as calm as possible. For me, I think probably for all of us, the best situation for us is actually just being in the car and doing what we really enjoy, what we love. The nerves are all about just that competition level is just through the roof right now.”
This was Ganassi’s sixth pole though as only Roger Penske (18) has more in that category.
Dixon, won this pole on his first lap. He bested Herta on Lap 1 (232.757 mph to 232.356 mph). The second lap he was ahead (231.879 mph to 231.672 mph). Herta though flipped the script on the final two laps at 231.349 mph compared to 231.333 mph for Dixon on Lap 3 and 231.247 mph to 230.778 mph on Lap 4.
That first lap is what won him the pole where Marco Andretti beat him for the top spot last year on the final lap.
“To beat Dixon, I think we really had to have that first lap and second lap just a tiny bit faster. We were so close,” Herta said of his four lap run.
Herta’s four lap average was 231.655 mph, just .30 mph off over the course of four laps which equates out to seven feet.
“Yeah, felt good,” Herta said of his run. “Obviously a little frustrated we didn’t get there in the end. Happy to have the opportunity to qualify in the Fast Nine. Yeah, ended up just coming short. P2 is definitely not a bad place to start for a 500-mile race.”
While losing a pole is that defeating, he’s still happy with the result as Herta notes that Saturday’s qualifying attempt in the middle of the afternoon was a huge help to getting him in the position that he was in on Sunday.
“Yeah, I mean, the biggest thing that changed was just the gearing. The gearing changed. We were using different gears. That seemed really good for the conditions.
“Yeah, it was helpful,” Herta said of his Saturday qualifying run. “It was helpful to get the read on the downforce numbers, personally how it felt inside the car. It was fairly close. Probably a little bit cooler track temp and air temp than yesterday at 3:30, 4:00, whenever it was. Yeah, it did help.”
Herta said when he got out of his car he knew he was first, but didn’t know what his time was and he didn’t know what Dixon was doing either. He couldn’t find a live feed of the speeds but said when he heard the roar of the crowd, he knew it wasn’t good for him.
I knew I was first. I didn’t know what time I did,” he said. “I didn’t know what Dixon was doing. I couldn’t find a board to tell me. I ended up finding one later in the run. But, yeah, I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I could only tell by what the crowd was cheering it was probably bad news for me.”
VeeKay (231.511 mph) will start third in his No. 21 Chevrolet. He was the quickest teenager in Indy 500 history last year with his fourth starting spot and now here he is one upping that with being the youngest front row starter ever a year later. He said this front row start feels like a win for him.
Ed Carpenter (231.504 mph), Tony Kanaan (231.032 mph) and Alex Palou (230.616 mph) make up Row 2 while Ryan Hunter-Reay (230.499 mph), Helio Castroneves (230.355 mph) and Marcus Ericsson (230.318 mph) rounded out the Fast Nine and will all share Row 3.
This is the sixth most evenly matched field by speed at 3.362 mph difference from the fastest car (231.685 mph) to the slowest (228.323 mph). It’s also the fastest field average (230.924 mph) in the 105 year history as well as the youngest front row ever as well. The .03 margin from Dixon to Herta is the fourth closest ever behind .003 in 2012, .008 in 1970 and .017 in 2020.