Fast Friday, random draw set up intriguing Indy 500 qualifying session

Indy 500 Fast Friday
Walt Kuhn/IndyCar

INDIANAPOLIS — About an hour before he won the Fast Friday Lotto at the Brickyard, Graham Rahal laid out the stakes for scoring a decent Indy 500 starting position at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“If you have an early qualifying draw, you’re going to make the top nine,” Rahal said. “If you have an afternoon one like we had last year, you’re going to be hard-pressed to get in no matter how quick or how good you are. The morning draws are going to be huge right now.”

If the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver is correct, no one will be positioned better for a starting spot in the 104th Indy 500 than his team when time trials begin Saturday at 11 a.m. ET (NBC Sports Gold, 3-5 p.m. ET on NBC).

FRIDAY’S SPEEDS: A rundown of who led Fast Friday

QUALIFYING ORDER: Here’s how the crucial draw shook out

Rahal was awarded the top spot in Indy 500 qualifying order, and teammates Takuma Sato (second) and Spencer Pigot (seventh) also were given favorable spots in a draw that was conducted shortly after practice in the IMS garage.

A representative from each team selected a coin with a qualifying number (event manager Delaney Collier was the lucky charm who picked for the three Rahal Letterman Lanigan drivers) that could play a major role in determining their fate in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

That capped a day in which Hondas mostly dominated the speed charts of a “Fast Friday” practice.

With temperatures hitting the high 80s, track conditions were extremely difficult as teams tried to get a handle on a slick track while wrestling with a massive boost of 50 horsepower and resultant lap speeds that hadn’t been seen on the 2.5-mile oval in nearly a quarter-century.

Indy 500 Fast Friday
Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti was fastest at 233.491 mph, the fastest lap on the last full practice day before Indy 500 qualifying since Arie Luyendyk (239.260) on May 10, 1996.

But then Andretti drew the 28th position in qualifying order, which will put him a few hours into the qualifying session and a hotter midday forecast for Saturday.

The top nine qualifiers Saturday will advance to Sunday’s one-hour session to determine the pole position.

“We have the speed for the top nine, but we have to hope we’re not sliding too much,” Andretti said.

“In the middle of the day, the heat of the day, we put together a really solid four laps. That is the heat of the day, right? That’s the positive to take into tomorrow, that if it is going to be hot, we already did that today.”

Surprisingly down the speed chart Friday were Team Penske’s Dallara-Chevrolets, which were led by the No. 12 of Will Power in 11th.

After proclaiming midway through practice that his team basically had no hope of outqualifying Honda, Power changed his tune after drawing 10th in the qualifying order.

“The first run really counts,” he said. “If you drew in the first top 10, you’re in pretty good shape, especially for us who are just trying to crack into the top nine. I was really happy about that.”

So was teammate Josef Newgarden, who drew the ninth slot but also was more optimistic about being able to charge through the field from outside the Fast Nine in the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC).

Though much of the chatter through three days of practice has been that this year’s heavier aeroscreen will make passing more difficult and make track position (and thus starting spots) critical), Newgarden said if he can get close to the top 10 “we can fight really well and win this race next weekend.

“You need both (track position and handling),” he said. “You always want as good of track position here as possible. It just makes your day easier. Whenever you’ve got to fight from real deep in the pack, it’s just a challenge. If you could choose, you would choose to start up front, P1 and then also have a great car in traffic.

“We have the capability to start somewhat toward the front but yeah, probably more important is our race car and how we handled in traffic. We worked on that a lot the last couple of days, so we’ll be able to put it to good use next weekend.

“I don’t know that we had a lot of expectations coming into today. It’s so difficult to judge on two days of practice. Indy is a really deceiving place. It’s a cat and mouse game. It’s all about tows in practice and a lot of it is irrelevant. I’m not sure we even knew where we’d stack up from a pure qualifying standpoint. I think we got an assessment of where we were in race running. I think we’ll have good race cars to take the fight to everybody, but it was definitely on pure pace (Friday).”

Indy 500 Fast Friday
Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Dallara-Honda will be first to qualify Saturday (Walt Kuhn/IndyCar).

The team with the most pace was Andretti Autosport, which had four of its six cars in the top 10 on Fast Friday.

The draw didn’t work out as well for the team, though. Alexander Rossi will be going out 12th ahead of teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay (14th), Zach Veach (15th), James Hinchcliffe (20th), Colton Herta (30th) and Andretti.

“I think the temperature is going to make a huge difference in terms of overall performance,” Rossi said.

Said Hunter-Reay: “Unfortunately, it’s going to come down to the lottery of picking the right number. If you pick early, you go at 11 a.m., it’s going to be a totally different racetrack from the guys that go later at 2:30.”

Among other notables who joined Rahal with a qualifying draw in the top 10: 2017 winner Takuma Sato (second), Indy 500 rookies Rinus VeeKay (fourth) and Pato O’Ward (eighth) and 2008 winner Scott Dixon, whose No. 9 Honda will go out sixth.

The five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion said he was “a little shocked” by the speed disparity between Honda and Chevrolet.

“It seems a little strange so far,” Dixon said. “It’s always hard to know where each manufacturer is. They all adjust accordingly to their own programs, so I know we’ll have hopefully some more tomorrow as well. It’s hard to tell what Chevy is up to, but always proud to be powered by Honda, and hopefully we’ve got the upper hand this year.

“But honestly it’s always going to be tough. The race is where it really counts.”

Tony Kanaan at peace with IndyCar career end: ‘I’ll always be an Indianapolis 500 winner’


INDIANAPOLIS – Few drivers in Indy 500 history have been as popular as Tony Kanaan.

Throughout his career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that began with his first Indy 500 in 2002, the fans loved his aggressiveness on the track and his engaging personality with the fans.

The Brazilian always got the loudest cheers from the fans during driver introductions before the Indy 500.

Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 would be his last time to walk up the steps for driver introductions. Kanaan announced earlier this year that it would be his final race of his IndyCar career, but not the final race as a race driver.

He will continue to compete in stock cars in Brazil and in Tony Stewart’s summer series known as the “Superstar Racing Experience” – an IROC-type series that competes at legendary short tracks around the country beginning in June.

Kanaan was the extra driver at Arrow McLaren for this year’s Indy 500 joining NTT IndyCar Series regulars Pato O’Ward of Mexico, Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, and Alexander Rossi of northern California.

He had a sporty ride, the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that paid homage to McLaren’s first Indianapolis 500 victory by the late Mark Donohue for Team Penske in 1972.

Because Kanaan has meant so much to the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series, the 2013 Indy 500 winner was honored before the start of the race with a special video.

It featured Kanaan sitting in the Grandstand A seats writing a love letter to the fans of this great event. Kanaan narrated the video, reciting the words in the letter and it finished with the driver putting it in an envelope and leaving it at the Yard of Bricks.

Lauren Kanaan with daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Bruce Martin Photo).

Many in the huge crowd of 330,000 fans watched the video on the large screens around the speedway. On the starting grid, Kanaan’s wife, Lauren, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Kate Beckinsale, watched with their four children.

Kanaan’s wife is an Indiana girl who was a high school basketball star in Cambridge City, Indiana.

Kanaan proposed to Lauren in 2010, and after a three-year engagement, they were married in 2013 – the year he won his only Indianapolis 500.

She has been Kanaan’s rock, and this was a moment for the family to share.

After receiving an ovation and the accolades from the crowd, Kanaan walked to his car on the starting grid and exchanged hugs with people who were important in his career.

One of those was Takuma Sato’s engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing, Eric Cowdin.

Tony Kanaan shares a moment with former engineer Eric Cowdin (Bruce Martin Photo).

Kanaan and Cowdin shared a longtime relationship dating all the way back to the Andretti Green Racing days when Kanaan was a series champion in 2004. This combination stayed together when Kanaan moved to KV Racing in 2011, then Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-2018 followed by two years at AJ Foyt Racing.

Kanaan returned to run the four oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 in the No. 48 Honda that was shared with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2022, Johnson ran the full IndyCar Series schedule, and Kanaan drove the No. 1 American Legion entry to a third-place finish in his only IndyCar race of the season.

Kanaan knew that 2023 would be his last Indy 500 and properly prepared himself mentally and emotionally for his long goodbye.

But one could sense the heartfelt love, gratitude, and most of all respect for this tenacious driver in the moments leading up to the start of the race.

Tony Kanaan gets emotional during an interview after the Indy 500 (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“The emotions are just there,” Kanaan said. “I cried 400 times. This guy came to hug me, and I made Rocket (IndyCar Technical Director Kevin Blanch) cry. I mean, that is something.

“Yeah, it was emotional.”

Kanaan started ninth and finished 18th in a race that was very clean for the first two thirds of the race before ending in disjointed fashion with three red flags to stop the race over the final 15 laps.

“Yellows breed yellows and when you are talking about the Indianapolis 500 and a field that is so tough to pass, that happens,” Kanaan said. “It’s the Indy 500. Come on. We’ve got to leave it out there.

“Every red flag, everybody goes, I’m going to pass everybody. It’s tough to pass. It’s the toughest field, the tightest field we ever had here. It was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen.

“I wouldn’t want it any different. We left it all out there. Everybody that was out left it out.”

At one point in the second half of the race, Kanaan passed Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin by driving through the grass on the backstretch.

“That was OK, right?” Kanaan said. “That is one thing I have not done in 22 years here. Even (team owner) Sam Schmidt came to me and said, ‘That was a good one.’

“That was a farewell move.”

On the final lap, it was Kanaan battling his boyhood friend from Brazil, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, for a mid-pack finish.

“Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead,” Kanaan said. “It was like, who’s playing pranks with us.

“We both went side by side on the backstretch after the checker and we saluted with each other, and I just told him actually I dropped a tear because of that, and he said, ‘I did, too.’

“We went side by side like twice. A lot of memories came to my mind, and I even said how ironic it is that we started it together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.

Tony Kanaan is embraced by his wife, Lauren, after finishing 16th in the 107th Indianapolis 500 ((Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend. My reference, a guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career, and like he just told me — I was coming up here and he just said, who am I going to look on the time sheet when I come into the pits now, because we always said that it didn’t matter if I was — if I was 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay. And vice versa.

“It was a good day for me, man. What can I say? We cried on the grid.

“Not the result that we wanted. I went really aggressive on the downforce to start the race. It was wrong. Then I added downforce towards the end of the race, and it was wrong. It was just one of those days.”

After the race was over, Kanaan drove his No. 66 Honda back to the Arrow McLaren pit area and climbed out of the car to cheers of the fans that could see him. Others were focused on Josef Newgarden’s wild celebration after the Team Penske driver had won his first Indianapolis 500.

There were no tears, though, only smiles from Kanaan who closes an IndyCar career with 389 starts, 17 wins including the 2013 Indianapolis 500, 79 podiums, 13 poles, and 4,077 laps led in a 26-year career.

Kanaan came, he raced, and he raced hard.

“That’s what we did, we raced as hard as we could,” Kanaan told NBC “It wasn’t enough.

“The win was the only thing that mattered. If we were second or 16th, we were going to celebrate regardless.

“In a way, being 16th will stop people wondering if I’m going to come back.

“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to enjoy the time with my family, with my team and doing other things as well.”

Kanaan’s face will forever be part of the Borg-Warner Trophy as the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“I won one and that is there, and it will always be there,” Kanaan said. “It was an awesome day.

“The way this crowd made me feel was unbelievable. I don’t regret a bit.”

Tony Kanaan hugs his son Max before the Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Kanaan actually announced the 2020 Indianapolis 500 would be TK’s last ride because he wanted to say goodbye to the fans.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit, the Indianapolis 500 was moved from Memorial Day Weekend to August 23 and because of COVID restrictions, fans were not allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500.

Three years later, Kanaan was finally able to say goodbye to this fans that were part of the largest crowd to see the Indianapolis 500 since the sold-out gathering for 350,000 that attended the 100th running in 2016.

“That’s it, that’s what I wanted, and I got what I wanted,” Kanaan said. “This moment was so special; I don’t want to ever spoil it again.

Tony Kanaan kisses his daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“We’ve been building and growing this series as much as we can. I’m really glad and proud that I was able to be part of building something big and this year’s race was one of the biggest ones.”

Kanaan walked off pit lane and rejoined his family. He will always be part of the glorious history of the Indianapolis 500 and fans will be talking about Tony Kanaan years from now, not by what he did, but the way he did it.

“This is what it is all about,” Kanaan said on pit lane. “Having kids, be a good person. Even if you don’t win, it’s fine if you don’t, as long as you make a difference.

“Hopefully, I made a difference in this sport.

“I will always be an IndyCar driver. I will always be an Indy 500 winner and I will always make people aware of IndyCar in the way it deserves.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

(Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network)