Will Power in trouble, Scott Dixon fastest halfway through Indy 500 qualifying

Indy 500 qualification
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Halfway through Day 1 of qualifying for the 105th Indy 500, Team Penske driver Will Power was in early trouble as Scott Dixon led the way with all 35 drivers making laps.

Power was 31st on the speed chart with a four-lap average of 229.052 mph, 2.8 miles per hour off the pace of the current fastest qualifier Scott Dixon.

Before qualifying, Power said he would be happy with a top-15 speed in qualifying for the 105th Indy 500. As amazing as that sounded for the driver who sat on the outside pole and finished second last year at Indy, he did not expect to struggle this badly.

INDY 500 QUALIFYING ON NBC: How to watch this weekend

“We’ve been about that pace all week,” Power said. “We have a great race car. If we can have a good race and just get up there in that front bunch, we’ll be OK. I ran the same stuff as (teammate) Scott (McLaughlin, who qualified in the top 15) ran, and he was a mile and a half an hour quicker. I don’t know what else to do.

“Hopefully, we don’t have to be in the bumping part of it. Hopefully, we can get up a bit better than that. I was pretty much wide open the whole time and just don’t have the speed right now.”

Thirty cars will be locked in Saturday, so if Power doesn’t find additional speed this afternoon, he will be forced to compete again four other drivers in Sunday’s Last Row Shootout for the final three spots on the starting grid.

Dixon, who drew the advantageous first position in the initial qualifying order, turned a fast lap at 231.828 mph and held off an early challenge from Tony Kanaan and a late challenge by Colton Herta to remain atop the chart.

“You forget how stressful this is, an hour before you start to shake … first time I’ve gone first,” Dixon said on Peacock TV after his lap. “Hopefully that’s good enough, we’re just really fighting for the Fast Nine at the moment. Still some really quick cars.”

Saturday’s Fast Nine will battle for the pole position Sunday afternoon.

Kanaan, who wound up third on the speed chart halfway through the afternoon, gave him a scare early. He rolled out of the pits eighth and held a pole pace through three of four laps. He turned Lap 1 at 232.348, but his lead steadily shrunk to less than four-tenths when he took the white flag.

“It’s been an awesome month for us,” Kanaan said. “We have a fast car. The goal here today is to be in the Fast Nine and then tomorrow we go for it.”

Herta displaced Kanaan late with a speed of 231.648 mph.

Indianapolis native and resident Ed Carpenter ranked fourth midway through the session, fastest among the Chevrolets at 231.616 mph.

“I wish I could hear the fans,” Carpenter said. “I may not hear the fans, but I feel it. I feel it so much this year compared to last year when the fans weren’t here. It’s great to be back together doing what we love here at the speedway.”

Carpenter has been among the Fast Nine in each of the last eight years.

Hondas took seven of the top nine spots on the first attempts, but Alex Palou destroyed his No. 10 Dallara-Honda after turning the seventh-fastest lap and will be in a backup car if he makes the Fast Nine.

Last year’s pole winner Marco Andretti (229.872) rebounded from a poor early lap after changing an engine overnight. He improved four spots on the speed chart on his second attempt and seemed safe.

“Trying to find speed,” Andretti said. “It doesn’t matter what we do mechanically. A slow car is a slow car. I’m surprised because I knew we were slow, but I didn’t think we were this slow. I’m hoping and praying they find something because if not, I don’t know if this will even make the field, and sitting there running flat for four laps, pretty helpless.

Jack Harvey also put himself safety in the field after lagging last at 225.496 mph because of a badly and inexplicably blistered right-rear tire.

In addition to Palou, other slow drivers at risk of failing to qualify are RC Enerson (227.283), Simona de Silvestro (228.173), Charlie Kimball (228.401), Sage Karam and Power.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”