Indy 500 Qualifying Day 1 Notes & Quotes

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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

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”