INDIANAPOLIS — I don’t know what it is about this place but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course layout never fails to produce some wild qualifying outcomes. Friday’s two round knockout qualifying session was further proof.
Out of the top five qualifiers, you have a pair of 21 year olds, a 20 year old who’s also making his first NTT IndyCar Series start, a rookie and Will Power.
Furthermore, if you take out Power, the top nine starters have won a combined nine times with two each by Pato O’Ward (1st) and Alex Palou (6th), one by Rinus VeeKay (9th) and the other four by Colton Herta (5th). That’s it.
Simon Pagenaud starts 12th. Ryan Hunter-Reay in 13th. Josef Newgarden qualified 14th but has a six spot grid penalty and will instead roll off 20th. Helio Castroneves will come from 23rd. Scott Dixon starts 26th.
Just look at how the starting lineup looked this past May here.
Two rookies made the Fast Six. The top two in the current points at the time failed to even make it out of the first round of the three round knockout qualifying format then. Friday saw three of the top five guys in points not even qualify in the top 10.
Five time pole winner here on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in Will Power qualified only start 12th. Alexander Rossi rolled off one row behind him in 14th. Six time series champion Scott Dixon started 16th. O’Ward was 18th.
At that time, six drivers in the top nine of the starting lineup had yet to even win a race. One of the three that have has visited victory lane only once. One of the remaining two had won just four times.
In the end, second year driver Rinus VeeKay scored his first career victory. Does another second year driver in O’Ward win Saturday to sweep the year on the road course with sophomore winners?
The thing is, this track is usually won in the end though by veterans. 9 of the 10 races here were won by a driver to have won an INDYCAR championship. VeeKay is the lone exception.
Does that change how Saturday’s race looks? If so, Power may be the one to beat.
Still, Saturday’s qualifying session saw the top five separated by just .0484-seconds.
“That’s about the tightest session I’ve ever seen, I think,” Power said. “As you know, if you’re just a little bit outside the window, you’re going to be way back there. Yeah, 2/10ths moves you about eight spots in that last session. You had to be right on the game, on the ball.”
That’s how challenging it is in this series. It’s causing some wild moments in qualifying.