With 33 cars, there’s 33 stories to note from the first day of qualifications for this year’s Indianapolis 500. Here’s a breakdown of where things stand after the first round of attempts:
- Ed Carpenter’s first 2-2: This race marks the first time Ed Carpenter Racing is running as a two-car operation. With Ed Carpenter consistently the quickest since the boost level has gone up from 130 to 140 kPa, and as defending polesitter, he wasn’t a surprise to make the Fast Nine. And the second car? That’s last year’s pole-winning car, driven by a guy who was owed some luck at this track. “[Waiting] was way more tense than running any 4 laps,” JR Hildebrand told TV after his run.
- Andretti goes in, out, in and 3-5: Marco Andretti became the guinea pig for the new “express line,” or Line 1, when his team withdrew his speed of 229.836 that, at the time, had been enough to slot him P6. He fell outside the Fast Nine to P10 when his time was pulled, he then waved off a third run and on his fourth crack, was quick enough to make it into the Fast Nine. Teammates Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe also pulled it off, Kurt Busch had to leave after his run and Ryan Hunter-Reay came up just short in the second-to-last run of the day.
- Penske waiting for Sunday: Will Power went to the top of the time sheets after his second run, at 230.323, and that was enough to keep him in the Fast Nine. Helio Castroneves went later and went quicker, to end the day P3. Juan Pablo Montoya, meanwhile, said his car felt slower to his teammates, and only lightly off, at 229.785, he was. The Colombian ended the day a frustrating 13th, although he did bump Busch out of the Fast Nine before going again later and going slower. Saturday paid the points, while Sunday sets the grid.
- Schmidt, Fisher, BHA star early, then late: Jack Hawksworth put in the early attention-grabbing run for the No. 98 Integrity Energee Drink squad at BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian, then it was Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton) and Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) who starred late. Pagenaud said to TV after his run, “IndyCar’s got it all right. That was the most stressful qualifying I’ve ever lived my whole life, whole career. Three attempts. We finally got it right for the last one and got into the 230s. We may have a shot tomorrow.” Hawksworth ended 12th, which means he can’t start any better than 10th, but it’s still a good result.
- Eight cars, one combined top-15 for Ganassi, KVRT: Chevrolet squads Chip Ganassi Racing and KV Racing Technology didn’t have the easiest of days. To be fair, circumstances were different. Ganassi’s four cars haven’t qualified that strong here either of the last two years but excelled on race days, albeit that was with Honda. KVRT, meanwhile, just focused on putting together clear runs. Sebastian Saavedra turned in a clean run in his rebuilt No. 17 KV/AFS car; James Davison, who only had Rookie Orientation Program under his belt before qualifying, was last qualifier on the day and was surprisingly impressive at 228.150. The breakdown was 15th (Scott Dixon), 17th (Ryan Briscoe), 19th (Charlie Kimball) and 23rd (Tony Kanaan) for Ganassi; 22nd (Townsend Bell), 24th (Sebastien Bourdais), 26th (Saavedra) and 28th (Davison).
- Villeneuve 27th: Kinda cool that the 1995 Indianapolis 500, Jacques Villeneuve (pictured above), slotted into the position of the car number he won the 1995 race with. He’s not going for points, so no big shakes that he’s not in a higher position.
- Last row unscathed: Had there been a 34th entry, Alex Tagliani, Martin Plowman and Buddy Lazier would need to sweat bullets tonight. Because there isn’t, they won’t. They can improve to as high as 10th in Sunday’s running, but that’s not a likely proposition.
- Fast field, regardless: Speeds and times from Saturday’s qualifying will be wiped out, but it was a pretty fast average. The average of 229.067 would rank close to the fastest, if not the fastest overall. As it was, 29 of the 33 cars qualified over 228 mph for the average, and last year’s pole was only 228.762. Make of that what you will.
SATURDAY’S QUALIFYING TIMES
MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field. Finishing sixth in 2015 after a late rally was Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda
- 2014: 6th Place, 3 Wins, 1 Pole, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 195 Laps Led, 10.2 Avg. Start, 10.9 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 6th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 71 Laps Led, 12.2 Avg. Start, 10.4 Avg. Finish
The old adage “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” would probably be the best way to sum up Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 2015 season, which until the final quarter of season could best be described as a forgettable nightmare.
The first three races seemed somewhat OK, with eighth, seventh and fourth place grid spots. But none of the three produced a result of note; Hunter-Reay was also caught up in the three-car, late race accident at NOLA Motorsports Park and didn’t bank any good finish until a fifth place at Barber the end of April.
A tailspin followed. Hunter-Reay started between 14th and 21st every race between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Milwaukee – a stretch of eight races – and only had one top-10 finish in that stint, eighth at the rain-affected lottery that was Detroit race two. Some seasons are just ones you want to end and by Milwaukee it was obvious that Hunter-Reay was racing just to get to the end of the year, without things getting any worse.
Things finally came good with a typically good drive at Iowa and arguably one of the drives of his career, two races later at Pocono, to end with two wins and extend his streak of winning a race in each of his six seasons at Andretti Autosport. It was no coincidence, either, that Hunter-Reay’s uptick in form came with the return of the late Justin Wilson’s presence in a fourth car.
After Pocono, Hunter-Reay also drove well to finish second at Sonoma, and by that point he’d completed an incredible late-season turnaround to jump from 14th to sixth in points. But if asked, he’d probably admit this was his toughest season yet at Andretti and arguably his toughest overall since his 2009 season, when he was in-between full-time rides and saw out the year with Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.
Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet
- 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.
Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.
Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.
The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.
As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.