INDIANAPOLIS – The week of pre-qualifying practice for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is in the books and there’s more questions than answers that emerge going into the two days of qualifying (a format of which requires an infographic to explain).
A few quick observations and questions from the week just passed to follow:
Last year Honda went into qualifying knowing the qualifying would feature race downforce in a last-minute switcheroo from INDYCAR’s competition department and it pretty much hampered what little chances they had. The frustration still lingers 12 months later.
Alas, it’s been a good week for Honda leading into qualifying and as the story has gone this year, whether the practice pace actually translates in qualifying remains to be seen.
Realistically a good day for Honda would be getting four of five of its cars into the Fast Nine. A great day would be six or seven. A tough-ish day would be three or worse.
There’s seven or eight realistic targets from the Honda camp based on no-tow speeds: all five Andretti Autosport cars, perhaps one to two Schmidt Peterson Motorsports cars, and based on his most impressive week of running, the welcome underdog story of the month in Gabby Chaves at Dale Coyne Racing. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal also has a decent shot but didn’t find as much speed as he or the team would have wanted, trimmed out. The remaining three Coyne drivers are respectable and should target the midpack; A.J. Foyt Enterprises has had a tough week of it.
IS THERE MORE LEFT IN THE PENSKE/GANASSI TANKS?
Despite topping Friday’s final practice, and being second in the no-tow charts, Will Power and the rest of Team Penske have focused much more on race setup than outright pace. Power along with teammates Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud have also all ran a lot of laps.
The Chip Ganassi Racing team hasn’t had the strongest of weeks. Charlie Kimball was good early but fell off a bit on Friday; Scott Dixon has been midpack and Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton a little behind. Ganassi, for whatever reason, hasn’t blown the hottest at Indy some recent years – remember challenging qualifying weekends in 2012 and 2013? But mind you, Dixon is the defending polesitter here and can’t be counted out. You figure at least two and probably at least one Ganassi will make the Fast Nine.
CLEAN SO FAR
Thus far only Spencer Pigot has had an accident, and that came under abnormal circumstances. Really good weather and generally safe running have thus far been the story lines; the field has more than 8,000 completed laps this week.
Does that change on Saturday? Quite possibly.
MORE TO COME
Saturday’s qualifying won’t mean anything except who can run for the Fast Nine. Sunday’s is slightly more important.
After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.
Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.
Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.
Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.
Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.
After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.
The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.
Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.
It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.
Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.
Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.
Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.
Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.
Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
Max Anstie – E
Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
Haiden Deegan – E
Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
Mitchell Oldenburg – W
Michael Mosiman – E
Jeremy Martin – E
Tom Vialle – E
Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
Chance Hymas – E
Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
Max Vohland – W
Cullin Park – E
Chris Blose – E
Derek Kelley – W
Enzo Lopes – W
Pierce Brown – W
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.