Rinus VeeKay leads speed assault on opening day of qualifying for the 106th Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – The opening day of qualifying for the 106th Indy 500 produced speeds unseen in more than a quarter-century at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, setting up a memorable showdown for the pole position.

Before the rain hit Saturday afternoon, rising NTT IndyCar Series stars Rinus VeeKay and Pato O’Ward were the fast two drivers to qualify and led the 12 drivers who advanced to the second round of qualifying Sunday afternoon at the 2.5-mile oval. That session will produce the six fastest drivers for a final round of four-lap runs to determine the pole position for the 106th Indy 500.

NBC coverage will begin on Peacock Premium at 12:30 p.m. ET with a 90-minute practice, and NBC will have the Fast 12 and Fast Six qualifying sessions starting at 4 p.m.

HOW TO WATCH POLE QUALIFYINGSunday schedule for Peacock and NBC

QUALIFYING SPEEDS, DAY 1: Click here to see the four-lap averages Saturday

If the pace Saturday was any indication, it could be one of the most memorable pole shootouts in recent memory with drivers enjoying a qualifying weekend-only turbo boost that equates to 90 horsepower.

VeeKay’s average of 233.655 mph in the No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet was the third fastest in Indy 500 qualifying history. It also marked the best four-lap average since fellow Dutchman Arie Luyendyk went 236.986 mph in the second round of qualifying in 1996 (late pole-sitter Scott Brayton had gone 233.718 mph a week earlier).

O’Ward (233.037) and Arrow McLaren SP teammate Felix Rosenqvist (232.775) rounded out the top three speeds and were more than 0.4 seconds behind VeeKay over the 10-mile qualifying run. On his first lap, VeeKay, 21, went 234.702 mph.

“I think we have a great car and can definitely challenge for the pole,” said the Ed Carpenter Racing driver, who started third last year. “We can find some extra for Sunday. The car is very solid. Really good job by the team. The car is very fast. I’m just very excited and Very happy with the first lap; 234 is the fastest I’ve ever done.

“That is cool to have two Dutch guys in the top three in history. It’s cool that I can be part of that.”

After a few years of Honda dominance in Indy qualifying, Chevy swept the top three speeds Saturday as the Fast 12 nearly was equally split among the two manufacturers in IndyCar. Five Chevrolets and seven Hondas will square off Sunday for the pole position.

Chip Ganassi Racing put all five of its drivers in the Fast 12, led by defending series champion Alex Palou (fourth), Tony Kanaan (fifth) and Indy 500 rookie Jimmie Johnson (sixth).

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, who posted the fastest four-lap average in Saturday morning practice, will have a shot at starting his Indy 500 debut from the pole. But after a brush with the Turn 2 wall Friday afternoon, Johnson said he still is getting comfortable with his No. 48 Dallara-Honda, though he believes “there is more speed in the car.

“I have to think that Dixon and some of these guys with much more experience will have the upper hand,” he said. “I think the front row could be like a pole for me just with my experience level. Clearly my experience from NASCAR has helped me tremendously here, but these guys still do it every day all the time. And those fine details is where the pole is going to sit.”

But the NASCAR legend at least has gotten past the need “to have a conversation with my right foot” about holding the accelerator wide open into Turn 1 in qualifying (after lifting and using a touch of brake while qualifying for the Brickyard 400 over nearly two decades).

“After (Saturday) morning (practice), the conversation didn’t go well, even with that huge lap time I ran,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t as committed as I could have been. And we had a nice long conversation before qualifying, and (the right foot) stayed down.”

The outcome wasn’t as good for IndyCar’s other powerhouses. Team Penske landed only Will Power (11th) in the Fast 12 and made a strategic error that nearly dropped its other two cars deep in the starting order.

After withdrawing the speeds of Josef Newgarden (14th) and Scott McLaughlin (15th) in an attempt to make the Fast 12, qualifying was delayed for 90 minutes by lightning and rain.

Despite the track being cooler, McLaughlin went much slower (230.154 after a 231.543 earlier) dropped 11 spots to 26th in the starting lineup.

Newgarden was on pace for a similar drop but the two-time series champion caught a major break when qualifying was paused on his second lap for another rain delay. Nearly an hour later, IndyCar called the session with an hour remaining, and the track too wet for drying.

It was a disappointing outing for Andretti Autosport, which landed only Romain Grosjean in the top 12. The Indy 500 rookie and Formula One veteran capitalized on an advantageous qualifying draw of fifth to post the ninth-fastest speed.

“We played conservative,” Grosjean said. “Definitely could have been more on the edge, but for the first run, it’s good to have that in the bank. We saw what (VeeKay and O’Ward) were doing (on speed), and we knew were had too much downforce.”

Much further down the order were contending teammates Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta.

After his Andretti team made a major setup error by adding downforce (“Horrible,” the No. 27 Dallara-Honda driver told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns), Rossi attempted to improve his speed later but fell from 17th to 21st.

“I’m proud of the guys,” Rossi said. “I said we had to get brave, and it was worth the risk in my mind. It didn’t quite pay out. Somehow we completely missed the balance this morning for the first attempt. It’s very frustrating because I feel like the car is good.

“So we got it right there, just the second and third runs here are always hard to find the same pop of speed, and that’s what happened to us. It is what it is at this point. We’ll go off 21st and try to do what we did in 2018.”

The 2016 Indy 500 winner finished fourth in ’18 after starting from the last row in 32nd.

Coming off an impressive victory in the GMR Grand Prix last week, Colton Herta’s momentum was derailed by engine problems Saturday. After changing out the Honda in his No. 26, Herta qualified 25th.

“Hoping it still needs to be broken in a little bit,” Herta said with a laugh to NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “It sucks that we’re 25th. I’m not going to lie. But I’m happy with the effort that my guys put in to get me back out here. That was the biggest thing because we were going to start 33rd if not for them. Yeah, not as quick as we thought. That’s a little surprising.”


Day 1 Qualifying Speeds for the 106th Indy 500

Results of PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying Saturday for the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway with rank, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 02:34.0730 (233.655 mph)
2. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 02:34.4820 (233.037)
3. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 02:34.6558 (232.775)
4. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 02:34.6565 (232.774)
5. (1) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 02:34.7555 (232.625)
6. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 02:34.9070 (232.398)
7. (33) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 02:34.9076 (232.397)
8. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 02:34.9890 (232.275)
9. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 02:35.0378 (232.201)
10. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 02:35.0716 (232.151)
11. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 02:35.2784 (231.842)
12. (51) Takuma Sato, Honda, 02:35.3679 (231.708)
13. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 02:35.4356 (231.607)
14. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 02:35.4541 (231.580)
15. (23) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 02:35.5019 (231.508)
16. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 02:35.6590 (231.275)
17. (11) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 02:35.7684 (231.112)
18. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 02:35.8451 (230.999)
19. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 02:35.8707 (230.961)
20. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 02:35.9713 (230.812)
21. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 02:36.0022 (230.766)
22. (24) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 02:36.2064 (230.464)
23. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, 02:36.2875 (230.345)
24. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 02:36.3002 (230.326)
25. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 02:36.3620 (230.235)
26. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 02:36.4167 (230.154)
27. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 02:36.7741 (229.630)
28. (14) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 02:36.9269 (229.406)
29. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 02:37.2628 (228.916)
30. (6) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 02:37.4655 (228.622)
31. (30) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 02:38.5531 (227.053)
32. (45) Jack Harvey, Honda, 02:38.6944 (226.851)
33. (25) Stefan Wilson, Chevrolet, no time (no speed)