SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Once again dodging quickly changing weather and track conditions, the field for the Indianapolis was mostly set on Saturday.
Rinus Veekay is the quickest driver of them all heading into Pole Day on Sunday, setting the third-fastest qualifying speed in the history at 233.655 mph.
Only Arie Luyendyk (236.986) and Scott Brayton (233.718) were faster back in 1996.
“It felt pretty fast,” Veekay recalled. “It was definitely pleased with that. It’s cool to have two Dutch guys in the top three in history. Everyone sent their A-game. It’s just about who improves most. I hope I can move up.”
The outlook at the beginning of the day was bleak that any qualifying attempts might be made, even with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway moving the start time of qualifying up by an hour.
For the drivers who drew in the early spots of qualifying, the conditions could not have been better. Cloudy, cool track temps, and minimal wind.
Despite Veekay’s performance, the overshadowing fact was that Chip Ganassi Racing put all five of their cars into the Fast 12, the only team to put all their cars in.
“It’s pretty awesome. So grateful to be a part of this organization,” said Jimmie Johnson, who was sixth fastest with an average of 232.382.
“It’s written in the race shop. The first goal is to win the Indianapolis 500 and then the championship. To be here experiencing it is really cool.”
Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, won at IMS four times in stock cars and 20 years ago qualified on pole for the Daytona 500. Johnson said there is no comparison between the qualifying for the two races.
“This is so much more intense. Plus you have four of them (laps),” he said. “There is much more eon the driver here than there is at Daytona.”
Alex Palou was the top Ganassi car in the lineup at fourth fastest (232.774) and also the top Honda out of seven Honda-powered cars in the Fast 12.
The glaring things about the Fast 12 are that Takuma Sato, who had been the fastest driver in both race and qualifying trim this week barely made in. Also, only one Andretti Autosport car in Romain Grosjean made in.
Sato had to make two attempts, his first was invalidated for impeding Marco Andretti’s run when he did not take the car into the warm-up lap on his cooldown lap.
The scuffle incensed Andretti, who ended up having engine trouble on his run.
“I really didn’t have any idea,” Sato said of the incident. “Just cooling down and back into the pit and I was surprised to see Marco in crossing. But, it shouldn’t have happened, but it happened and will keep it from happening in the future.”
Sato’s subsequent lap ended up being the magic lap to get him into the Fast 12.
The sun was out midway through first runs, making the track slipperier and slower for drivers who drew down in the order.
The rain moved in short after drivers began making second attempts. After about an hour delay the track was dry again and Scott McLaughlin made a second attempt, withdrawing his previous time only to go slower the second time. He will start 26th in the middle of Row 9.
Shortly thereafter, the rain returned and ended the day altogether.
For Pole Day on Sunday, the gates open at 10:00 a.m. with practice for the Fast 12 set to happen at 12:30 and go until 2:00 p.m. After that, Fast 12 qualifying will begin at 4:00 p.m. with two rounds, the first round eliminating six drivers with the other six drivers advancing to make one final run for the pole.
Weather conditions will be far different than the previous two days. Winds are expected to be minimal with highs only reaching the upper 60s under partly cloudy skies. This should make for cooler track temperatures thus possibly making speeds quicker than Saturday.