5 burning questions for the 107th Running of the Indy 500 Time Trials

Should We Bump 1 Car?

This is the fourth time in the last six years that we’ve had bumping. However, this is the fewest entries since 2015 when bumping has occurred.

In 2018, there were 35 cars for 33 spots. A year later, 36 cars showed up. 35 more cars were here in 2021. Now, it appears the field is set at 34 with Honda already saying that they had no interest in an 18th engine package while Chevrolet seems to run out of options for an 18th package on their end.

With that said, does it make any sense to bump one car?

This year, that one car is a full-time one. Among the four in the Last Chance Shootout, each are full-time. It could have lasting effects for each.

In this day-and-age, I caution that this is the right thing to do. I get it, bumping is bumping and it makes qualifying weekend more exciting. However, does bumping one car make it all that much better?

Yes, six times since 2012 have we not seen any bumping whatsoever including two of the last three years. I get the tradition of 33 cars on race day. But, does sending one car home really make all that much of a difference?

It has lasting implications for the one that doesn’t make it. More times than not, the car and driver that gets bumped, doesn’t end up coming back.

The series is after growth and sending someone home likely is a death sentence for not only the driver, but that team too.

In the five years since 2012 that we had bumping, only two drivers are still around. That’s Pato O’Ward and Enerson. Neither are with the teams that they missed the show with.

In 2013, there were 34 cars for 33 spots. RLL brought out a third car for Michel Jordain Jr. He wasn’t quick enough. Jourdain would never return. RLL didn’t come back with a third car for the next three years.

In 2015, there were 34 more cars for 33 spots. Buddy Lazier missed the show. The only reason they elected to come back the next two years was to fill the field. If there were bumping, they’d likely not have came back. In 2018, when there was, they skipped and haven’t returned since.

Dale Coyne Racing (Pippa Mann) and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Hinchcliffe) both missed the show in 2018. Both were back in 2019, however, that was Mann’s last. Both her and her sponsor haven’t returned. Hinchcliffe raced for SPM for one more year but was let go after the 2019 season.

In 2019, three cars were bumped, two of which from Carlin. The other Fernando Alonso at McLaren. That McLaren team merged with SPM for 2020 and Carlin scaled back from two cars to one a year later. They’d never run a second car again and by 2022, they were out of the series completely.

2021 was the last time we witnessed any bumping. It was Enerson and Top Gun as well was Charlie Kimball and Foyt. Top Gun came back for the road course race that year but never again while Kimball and Foyt’s fourth haven’t been back.

Kimball’s long-time sponsor hasn’t returned either.

My fear is, whomever misses the show next month, won’t be here in 2024. That seems to be the route this is going and in an era to where money is so tough to come by, is it worth it sending one car home?

Think of where this field would be if Foyt made the 2021 show with Kimball. Same for Top Gun. Same for Carlin in 2019 if at least one of their cars made it.

I don’t think you lose those teams. Top Gun could be full-time by now. Carlin could still be here full-time. Foyt could still be showing up with an Indy only entry.

I get the pressure and storylines around a big team showing up for the Last Row Shootout, but is the risk woth it if they don’t make it? What’s the long-term gain? Do you really want to risk losing a large sponsor and cost a full time driver a future in this series?

If there were 35+ cars I’d be more open. But one car? It’s a fun storyline tomorrow, but is it worth the lasting impact?

Will Power during practice for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Who Has The Preferred Package?

With just two engine manufacturers, their dominance usually ebbs and flows here at Indy. One year, one has the top engine. The one that was down, spends the next 11 months trying to improve. Usually, they do so. The cycle goes on and on. Now, after Honda thumped Chevrolet last May, how does Chevy respond?

Chevrolet had the preferred power in this race in 2018 and again in 2019. They’ve swept the front row both years.

Then in 2020 it was all Honda. This time Honda swept the front row and took 11 of the top 12 starting spots. In 2021, it was more Honda dominance in taking 7 of the 9 spots into the Fast 9 and 9 of the top 11 overall.

Last year, Chevrolet swept the provisional front row on opening day of Time Trials but a day later (Pole Day), the Honda’s adjusted and took 4 of the top 6 starting spots instead.

Now, who has the advantage heading into this weekend’s Time Trials?

“I think we’ve done the work and I think Chevy has improved a bit, and I’m really hoping all three of us are in that top 12, and if everything goes really well, fighting for a pole,” Will Power, the all-time winingest pole winner in INDYCAR history said.

Chevrolet looks the best so far. They have 8 of the 12 Shootout spots. Ganassi is the only Honda team represented. In fact, all four cars in the Last Row Shootout are Hondas.

“Team Chevy did a phenomenal job today,” Josef Newgarden said. “I don’t think we were lacking anything there. Really proud for the whole group.”

What about the Honda side?

“Yeah. It’s great to have four cars again in the Fast 12. I think it’s pretty tough to do it, especially nowadays, how tight the field is,” said Alex Palou.

“Yeah, we feel confident. That doesn’t mean that we feel like it’s going to be easy to get into the Fast Six or fight for pole. But we feel confident that we have speed. It’s just going to take four amazing laps, no mistakes, try and get a consistent third and fourth.

“Yeah, I have confidence in my car, but at the same time I’m not underestimating anybody on the Fast 12.”

Tony Kanaan, who’s driven for both, says each have their own advantages.

“I think it’s pretty tight,” he said. “I’m talking about it because I’ve driven a Honda a year ago, then I switched. I really think both manufacturers have advantages and disadvantages in some areas.”

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

Which Lap Is The Most Important One?

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 2021 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.

The man Dixon is trying to tie in all-time Indy 500 poles, Rick Mears, says that the laps have evolved around here.

“That would vary all the time with the setup,” he told me. “One year you’d have tires that maybe the fronts would go off more than the rears, and vice versa the next year. That was always part of the plan that you started working on early in the month to get a feel for what kind of change you were going to get through the first four laps to adjust everything.

“You might need to start the car out so loose you can’t drive it the first lap to get it to kind of come into its own in the middle, and then it’s the opposite direction at the last lap.

“It was something that’s always changed.

“I think today the cars are more consistent in that respect. It’s not as big a change.

“I used to run for laps and never run one corner the same way twice in four laps. I was having to adjust the pattern and everything due to what the car was telling me from a previous time through.

“It was just a continuous adapting, so it was always about — I think it’s more consistent today, but still, like you’re saying, attention to detail and the finer things, and everything is just a lot tighter.

“It’s relative, but still a little different today.”

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 need 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.

In 2021 and again in 2022, Dixon had friends with him. Ganassi this time put all four cars in the pole shootout the last two years. Andretti had just two in 2021 and one lone representative in 2022. Dixon, beat AA driver Colton Herta for the top spot in ’21 and teammate, Alex Palou, last year.

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.”

This year, the only two drivers without a teammate is Rinus VeeKay (ECR) and Will Power (Team Penske). The other 10 are among three teams. Who has an advantage?

Two teams have all four cars in for each. The other has both. Is there an advantage to have two or four or none?

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. While temperatures are going to be relatively cool on Saturday with conditions in the low 70s, the first hour though is going to be much cooler than later. The start of qualifying is now at 11 a.m. ET. It’s going to be cooler at the start and way better conditions to qualify in.

With the track heating up as the sun bakes it, we see speeds decrease as the day goes on though as well.

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

Last year, among the 12 drivers to make the Shootout, five of them qualified in the first six drivers on opening day of qualifying. Half of the 12 qualified in the first 12 spots.

In 2021, five of the nine in the Fast 9 came from a top 10 qualifying draw.

In 2020, five of the nine came from the top 12 and six of the nine from the top 14.

Qualifying Draw For Shootout In Aeroscreen Era

2022: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 10th, 13th, 18th, 19th, 23rd, 25th, 32nd

2021: 1st, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 10th, 19th, 28th, 30th, 32nd

2020: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 12th, 14th, 20th, 23rd, 28th

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