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.
After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.
Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.
The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.
Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.
Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.
Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.