Fast 12 set Saturday at Indy, details on the fastest day at Indy in nearly 3 decades with my takeaways

INDIANAPOLIS — Fast Friday may have failed to live up to its billing a day ago, but that didn’t stop the opening day of Time Trials to set the field for next Sunday’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) from delivering the fastest speeds that we’ve seen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1996.

Rinus VeeKay turned the days fastest lap and the 3rd quickest qualifying four-lap average in the 106 year history of the event by setting a time of 233.655 mph in his No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet. The third year driver has qualified in the top 4 in each of his previous 2 years and here he is again with the fastest qualifying speed as of now since 1996.

“I was, myself, pretty impressed with that 234.7,” VeeKay said of his 1st lap. “That was a surprise. Pleasant surprise. Yeah, I think it’s a good job to get into the Fast 12 and a shot to race for the pole tomorrow.

“Those are historic numbers, and I think we bumped a lot of guys out of those charts today. Everyone out there. I think everyone was on their A game, and it’s all about who improves most this year, so I think we did a great job and hopefully I can move up to P2 in those history standings.”

Pato O’Ward turned the 5th fastest 4-lap average (233.037 mph) in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet while his Arrow McLaren SP teammate of Felix Rosenqvist (232.775 mph) was third to round out the provisional front row.

That’s great news for the bowtie camp to come out this strong. Each of the last 7 pole winners here at Indy were on the front row during the opening day of qualifying. Chevy currently has a front row lock out.

Honda did take 7 of the next 9 spots with 5 of the 7 belonging to the Chip Ganassi Racing fleet. All their drivers made their ways in with Alex Palou (232.774 mph), Tony Kanaan (232.625 mph), Jimmie Johnson (232.398 mph), Marcus Ericsson (232.275) and Scott Dixon (232.151 mph) being 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 10th respectively.

Last year, they put all 4 cars in the Fast 9 and if we capped it at 9 again this year, they’d have at least put 4 in there again. Prior to this stretch, they had missed the Fast Nine five times in the 7 year span prior. From 2012 through 2016 though, they failed to make the Fast Nine four times in a five year span. They put two cars in the Shootout in 2017, two in 2018 but were shutout again in 2019. In 2020 Scott Dixon was their lone bullet in their chamber as he’d start second.

Ed Carpenter Racing will have a representative going for the pole in the Shootout for the 10th straight year as they also put Ed Carpenter (232.397 mph) through in his No. 33 Dallara-Chevrolet. The only other Chevy in the Fast 12 was Will Power (231.842 mph) who was 11th out of 12 on Saturday.

Power, has 64 career NTT INDYCAR Series poles but none in the Indy 500.

Joining Ganassi in representing the Honda’s is Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean (232.201 mph) and Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing’s Takuma Sato (231.708 mph). Sato went back out and bumped his way in prior to the first rain storm.

Qualifying Draw Was Key

I wrote about this in my 5 burning questions on Friday. This was likely going to be a key factor in who makes the Fast 12 or not, especially with the start time moved up by an hour. With the track heating up as the sun bakes it, we see speeds decrease as the day goes on.

The entire provisional front row were in the top 4 of the qualifying line. 5 of the top 6 made it through. How many of them would have made it if not for their qualifying draw?

Josef Newgarden lucked out by the lightning coming from the sky on Saturday. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

McLaughlin Dropped Like An Anchor, Newgarden Should Buy A Lottery Ticket

Scott McLaughlin’s first 4-lap average was close. He was 15th. After a brief rain shower and lightning delay, he and Sage Karam made reattempts. McLaughlin went unfortunately slower. He fell from 15th to 26th losing 11 spots in the process.

Meanwhile, his teammate Josef Newgarden was about to do the same. He was next on track and on his way to do a run that likely was going to be similar to McLaughlin’s. Luckily for him, lightning struck and a caution flew. He couldn’t complete his run and back down pit lane he’d come. By virtue of a weather caution, he was able to go back on his initial time and would stay in the Middle of Row 5.

Chevy Closes The Gap But Not With Penske

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.

This year, Chevy closed the gap considerably. They had the top 3 speeds on Saturday and put 5 cars through to the Fast 12 Shootout.

However, Penske only had 1 of the 5 cars. Ed Carpenter Racing advanced 2 of their 3 cars through and will have a representative going for the pole in the Shootout for the 10th straight year. Both full time Arrow McLaren SP cars are in and in fact, both are on the provisional front row.

Penske has only Will Power (11th). Scott McLaughlin went back out and dropped though from 15th to 26th. Josef Newgarden will be 14th.

Rinus VeeKay set the 3rd fastest Indy 500 qualifying lap on Saturday. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Speeds Were High

The 2021 pole speed for the Indy 500 was set by Scott Dixon. He went 231.685 mph. That speed wouldn’t have been good enough to make the Fast 12 on Saturday. It would have been 13th.

Takuma Sato’s four-lap average of 231.708 mph was the bubble spot for the final position into the Shootout which ironically enough would have landed him the pole in all but 4 years here.

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

Andretti/Rahal Cars Struggle

On Fast Friday it appeared that the Andretti Autosport and Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing cars would struggle. The RLL cars didn’t even come out until Happy Hour while the Andretti cars turned very minimal laps. That transferred over to Saturday.

Alexander Rossi was pissed that the team put too much downforce in his car on his first run and on that first attempt he did so as the 24th qualifier. He notes the draw was a factor in this too. He went out to requalify but didn’t have the speed to make it in.

Colton Herta was in a similar situation. He had engine problems on his first run and only went 230.235 mph later. Marco Andretti was slowed up by Takuma Sato on his out lap and too had engine problems. He was at 230.345 mph.

Romain Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco had the least amount of drama on their runs with Grosjean making the Fast 12 as the lone Andretti representative in it.

Rossi starts 20th, Andretti 23rd, DeFrancesco 24th and Herta 25th.

RLL has Graham Rahal in 21st but the other two cars on the last row with Christian Lundgaard in 31st and Jack Harvey 32nd.

Big Names Coming From The Back

If you scan the back part of the field you may notice some very large names coming from the back of the pack. Row 7 saw both Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal. Row 8 has Marco Andretti. Row 9 has Colton Herta, Scott McLaughlin and Helio Castroneves. Row 10 has Juan Pablo Montoya.

That’s some hard chargers coming from 20th on back.

Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan chat on pit road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

How Much Does Teammates Help In The Fast 9?

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.”

VeeKay a year later agreed.

“I think for me it’s going to be definitely an advantage,” he told me. “Ed will be running before me, I think, so we can all see how his car does and maybe we have to make a little tweak to my car.

“I think it also shows for the team it just brings up the morale and shows that we just have everything — have our stuff together, have our stuff right. I think confidence-wise for the team this really helps.”

What about someone like Grosjean who won’t have the luxury of a teammate?

“My engineer would tell me to just go with the feeling which I did today. It worked pretty well. It’s definitely not advantageous, but I think it’s not disadvantage.

“We know what we’re doing, and we should have a good car tomorrow. I think the condition is going to be different, but luckily, we have a practice session, so that should help us to get everything ready for quali.”

Strange But True

Stefan Wilson is entering rare territory. His car failed to even make it out of Gasoline Alley on Saturday for qualifying. As a result of that, he will start in one of the fastest fields in the 106 year Indy 500 history with an official qualifying lap of 0.000 mph. It’s not uncommon for a driver to start the race without making a qualifying lap. Its happened before. Alex Tagliani spun in Turn 4 during his qualifying run in 2016 and had a qualifying speed of 0.000 mph but he at least made a qualifying attempt.

Wilson did not.

You could say James Davison in 2017 when he filled in for Sebastien Bourdais after Bourdais crashed hard on this day in Turn 2. That was a backup car that Davison who didn’t even qualify raced.

Outside of that, you have to go back to the early years of this race. Between 1911 and 1914, the starting lineup was determined by postmark dates. However, the caveat to that is, in 1911 you had to do .25-miles at 75 mph at some point during the month. From 1912-1914, you had to do a full lap of 75 mph still.

Wilson has done that in practice but he literally never qualified still.

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