INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for 2022 Indianapolis 500 Time Trials

Will We See Speeds Over 230 mph/What’s It Going To Take To Get Into The Fast 12?

There’s a good chance of that but it all depends on the conditions.

We have had 4 pole winners in the last 6 years eclipse the 230 mph barrier on their four-lap average. Overall, we’ve seen 10 of the 105 prior years with the pole speed being over 230 mph.

1996 – Tony Stewart 233.100

1992 – Roberto Guerrero 232.482 mph

2017 – Scott Dixon 232.164 mph

2003 – Helio Castroneves 231.725 mph

2021 – Scott Dixon 231.685 mph

1995 – Scott Brayton 231.604 mph

2002 – Bruno Junqueria 231.342 mph

2020 – Marco Andretti 231.068 mph

2014 – Ed Carpenter 231.067 mph

2016 – James Hinchcliffe 230.760 mph

The speeds on Friday were over 230 mph even in the wind so I expect some low to mid 230s on Satudray and Sunday. The thing is, the temperatures this weekend will be hot and cold. You’ll see upper 80s on Saturday to low 70s on Sunday. It will certainly help the speeds on Sunday but not necessarily on Saturday.

Last year, in order to even get into the Fast 12, you had to eclipse the 230 mph barrier. Pato O’Ward was 12th at 230.864 mph on his four-lap average. 13? 230.846 mph (Pietro Fittipaldi). The entire top 21 qualifiers eclipsed the 230 mph barrier.

In 2020, it was a 230.539 mph to get into the top 12. What’s it going to take this year?

Will Power practicing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

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 2020, Honda swept the front row and took 11 of the top 12 starting spots. Last year, it was more Honda in taking 7 of the 9 spots into the Fast 9 and 9 of the top 11 overall.

How much can Chevy close the gap back up and how much can Honda gain or even lose was a big question entering this month.

By adding 3 more spots, you add the potential for more teams/manufacturers to the mix.

Take last year as an example. Out of the 9 cars in the Fast 9, 4 were from Ganassi, 2 from ECR, 2 from Andretti and 1 from Meyer Shank. Expand to 12 you add AMSP and a Coyne car as well as another from Andretti.

If you go back to 2020, out of the 18 Fast Nine spots, 6 of them came from Andretti, 5 Ganassi, 3 from ECR, 2 at RLL, 1 at DCR and 1 at MSR. It’s basically the same teams and most are Honda’s.

By expanding, you get Chevy a chance with Penske and AMSP joining the front with ECR. That’s the balance we’re looking for since more times than not recently, you get split fields in qualifying.

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 last year showed Honda still had the pace.

Honda had 12 of the top 14 speeds on Fast Friday in 2021 including taking nine of the top 12 on the four lap average chart.

What about this year? Well Honda took 4 of the top 5 speeds but Chevy had 5 cars still on the top 12 too. With the wind factor, I still don’t think you truly know yet who has the leg up.

Graham Rahal practices his No. 15 Dallara-Honda at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Which Lap Is The Most Important?

In this era, the difference between a pole and not for the Indy 500 comes down to a game of feet. Yes, a four lap run that lasts 10 miles over a span of 2 1/2-minutes comes down to inches in the end.

So, with four laps at your disposal, which one is the most important one to land right? While some may think that it’s a trick question, it’s really not.

Heck, it starts when you roll out of pit lane.

You may have noticed over the years that the Honda’s looked like they were crawling on the out lap which led to a slower warm up lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Chevrolet’s had the opposite game plan. They were flat out early.

Its paid off for Honda.

The strategy was, Honda didn’t want to scrub off speed from their tires by going hard early. They knew that their first laps were going to be their hot laps and the speed would fall off over the course of their four laps. In order to minimize that, why run hard on the warmup lap? Save the lap for the fourth lap.

So, they’d run in the 210’s on the warmup then shoot up to over 230 and some even over 231 mph on Lap 1. As long as they’d stay in the 230 mph range on Lap 4, they were good. If they’d run hard on the warmup, they could fall below 230 on the final lap which would help the Chevy’s.

For the Chevy cars, they didn’t have too much of a fall off over the course of their four laps. They needed to go hard early and put up a big lap on Lap 1 with warmer tires. Their problem was, their big lap was barely over 230 with the Honda’s over 231.

That was the difference in the varying strategies.

See, your Firestone tires fall off over the course of the four lap qualifying run. You’re going to go slower on Lap 2 than Lap 1 and slower on Lap 3 than Lap 2 and so on. In saying that, do you need a bigger banker lap early or a faster lap later?

“The big first lap is probably been our focus over the last few years,” Josef Newgarden told me. “Everyone wants to see what that 1st lap is because that gives you margin or cushion for the rest but you can’t fall off either. You’ve got to be consistent. A big 1st lap is always important but consistency is also really important.”

Take last year as an example. Scott Dixon turned a first lap of 232.757 mph. Colton Herta’s opening lap was 232.356 mph. The second lap of Dixon was 231.879 mph. Herta’s was 231.672 mph. That little bit then was the difference.

Herta, was quickest on Laps 3 and 4 and it was honestly by a wider margin than expected. But, Dixon did just enough on Laps 1 and 2 to earn his fourth career pole for the Indianapolis 500.

In 2020, Marco Andretti beat Dixon for the pole on his fourth and final lap. Last year, Dixon won it on his first lap.

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.

So, which is the most important one?

“I think the last one,” Scott McLaughlin said to me. “The last one is very important. It’s the one that has the most drop off and the most risk. Whether you hold it flat, continue to hold it flat or breath off the throttle. It’s very hard to be accurate when the tires are getting to be worn as the run goes on. I think the last lap for me but I think the second most important one is the opening lap in terms of your opening lap to the green flag.”

Dixon also won it from some frightening changes to his car made overnight. See, Herta went out Saturday afternoon for a second run strictly for data for today’s Fast Nine session. He did so about the time of when he’d be running on Sunday.

It paid off for him.

“Yeah, I mean, the biggest thing that changed was just the gearing,” Herta told me. “The gearing changed. We were using different gears. That seemed really good for the conditions.

“Yeah, it was helpful. 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.”

For Dixon, they made changes to his car against his will and ones that he honestly didn’t want to know about.

“He makes me nervous a lot of the time,” Dixon said of his engineer. “I sit across from him every day. He shakes a lot, which makes me shake now.

“Some of the times when we’re going through the process, actually last week, too, where we kept missing calculations by a little bit. He’s like, Today we’re going to change this, we’re going to change that, change this. I’m like, Remember, our car yesterday was pretty good. Are you sure you want to change? He’s like, I think it’s going to be a bit better. I’m like, All right, I don’t want to know anything else now. Don’t tell me.

“I knew they were going to monitor the other cars rolling up to go out, see if anybody made any changes. We felt we had a fairly good idea of trim levels. We were already starting fairly aggressive to some of the teammates. When they’re adjusting, I knew they’re only going one way, that was more out. I didn’t hear the final number.”

Both drivers said that they laid it all out there. Herta was disappointed to miss out on the pole by seven feet, but he also is happy that he gave it everything he had and was just happy to have an opportunity in the Fast Nine.

“Glad it’s over,” Dixon said.

Does Having Teammates In The Fast 9 Help Get 1 A Pole?

A trend is showing lately that in order to win the pole for the Indy 500, you likely needs teammates in the Fast 9 with you. In 2020, Andretti Autosport had four of the nine cars in the Shootout. Chip Ganassi Racing had one.

Marco Andretti of AA beat the lone Ganassi representative on pole day.

Last year, Dixon had friends with him. Ganassi this time put all four cars in the pole shootout. Andretti had just two. Dixon, beat AA driver Colton Herta for the top spot.

So, how important is it to have teammates with you?

“I think all information helps,” Dixon said of this in 2020. “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.”

Is Qualifying Draw The Most Underrated Important Thing?

The great equalizer in Saturday’s first day of qualifications may just be the draw for the qualifying order. See, temperatures are going to soar into the upper 80s by time the afternoon hits here in Indianapolis on Saturday. But, the start of qualifying is now at 11 a.m. ET. It’s going to be cooler at the start than later but with rain moving in during the afternoon, you could also catch a cloud too.

With the track heating up as the sun bakes it, we see speeds decrease as the day goes on though as well. Then you have the rain factor. There’s a chance of rain later on in the day. That could cut things short.

So, for the guys qualifying early in the order, they could have won the lucky lottery ticket.

It’s forecasted to be in the upper 70s at the time we start qualifications. A few hours later, the ambient temps will rise to the mid 80s. Forget about gaining speed at that time.

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