Live Blog: Qualifying Weekend 2021

Sunday, May 23, 2021

9:30 am — Full transparency – I had a full post written up last night lambasting the qualifying procedures and how anything so convoluted could ever be expected to be understood by the very people INDYCAR convoluted the rules to attract. However, I followed the advice of many people over the years and sat on the document until my mind cooled off a bit. As the evening wore on, more information about the rules and the technical fine print of the application of said rules started to trickle out. And while I am no less happy about the rule this morning, I am at least making some sense of it.

The long and short of it is that Will Power, although posting one of the fastest 30 qualifying times yesterday – a time that was validly posted and not withdrawn – will not start the Indianapolis 500 based on that time. If something happens to Power today, there is absolutely no way around the fact that the fastest 33 starters – a hallmark of every qualifying procedure for the Indianapolis 500 for over a century – will not be starting this race. Even in 1997 when the much-despised 25/8 rule kicked in, the fastest 33 qualifiers started the race in addition to two others who had their positions locked in.

Be that as it may, it was still a good day at the track, especially if you had a Honda engine pushing you around the 2.5 mile oval. Chip Ganassi Racing placed all four of their cars into the Fast 9 in another dominant Indianapolis 500 qualifying showing. Ed Carpenter Racing was the strongest Chevrolet team and the only Chevrolet-powered team represented in the Fast 9 by way of GMR Grand Prix winner Rinus Veekay and the team’s namesake owner.

It wasn’t all bunnies and rainbows yesterday at Ganassi, however, as the team’s yesterday youngest and least experienced driver, Alex Palou, pushed the team to return to the track in the mid-afternoon heat, a move that back-fired in a jarring and expensive way when Palou lost control and slammed the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. The young Spaniard had the rear of his #10 NTT Data machine step out early in the corner and did an impressive drift slide nearly half way through the 1/4-mile turn. Unfortunately, Palou ultimately ran out of race track and clobbered the wall hard with the right side of his car. Palou immediately jumped out of his car, obviously uninjured, and expressed his displeasure, pounding his fists to his knees. He was quickly released from the infield care center and cleared to resume on-track activities. However, his Ganassi team had a long night ahead of them as they went to work to repair the car in preparation for today’s Fast 9 qualifying session and this evening’s full field practice.

Perhaps the biggest news of the day was the continued struggles of Team Penske. For the second year in a row, the Penske brigade appears completely lost in the high-boost qualifying trim, and 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power will fight for his proverbial life today just to make the field. Results weren’t substantially better for the other three full-fledged Penske drivers as they were led by rookie Scott McLaughlin in 17th, followed by Josef Newgarden in 21st, and 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud in 26th. The struggles continued to Penske’s satellite operation at Paretta Autosport and Simona de Silvestro as they, too, will be in today’s Last Row Shootout. George Phillips has been beating the drum for some time now that Team Penske has lost some of its edge since Roger Penske vacated the pit box prior to the 2019 season. It’s getting harder and harder to reject this notion.

Perhaps the shoutout of the day should be going to the Briton Jack Harvey, who shows in the final results from yesterday in a somewhat mundane (and honestly disappointing) 20th position. However, the fact that Harvey was able to bring the car home at all was really nothing short of miraculous as his right rear tires suffered massive delaminations apparently on his second lap on the clock. I have never, in all my years, seen a tire peel apart like that, to the point the cords beneath the tread were showing through, and see a driver actually bring the car home in one piece. These types of tire failures can have catastrophic and fatal consequences (see Scott Brayton), and I have no doubt whatsoever that Firestone will do a complete investigation to understand exactly how the tire failed in the way it did. But real kudos needs to go to Jack for finishing his run and posting three laps at over 225 mph with the tire in that condition!

This was one of three massive blisters on the right rear tire of Jack Harvey. Harvey was able to nurse the car home after driving three laps with the tire in this condition.

Off the track, it was a gorgeous day to be a spectator on the grounds of 16th and Georgetown. For the first three hours of qualifying, the sun was mostly shaded out by a thin layer of clouds that kept temperatures in check. However, by mid-afternoon when the original qualifying line was completed, the sun came out in full force and more or less stayed out the rest of the day. The beautiful sunshine pushed temperatures higher and made on-track conditions much more treacherous. For those drivers who were already looking for speed to bump their way into the Top 30, the high track temperatures and gusting, shifting winds only made their jobs that much more difficult. I think that’s why the last hour of the day ultimately proved to be fruitless for most drivers try to increase their starting position.

Today’s schedule kicks off at 11:00 with a 30-minute practice session for those drivers in the Last Row Shootout, followed immediately by a 30-minute practice for drivers in the Fast 9 Shootout. The 75-minute qualifying session for the Last Row does allow multiple opportunities for qualifying. You have to think Will Power will ultimately find enough speed to be one of the fastest three. RIGHT?! And Top Gun Racing just doesn’t appear to have the speed yet to qualify. So that leaves three cars – Simona de Silvestro, Charlie Kimball, and Sage Karam – fighting for two spots. With rumored disarray with Charlie Kimball and AJ Foyt Racing, that might be just enough to keep him out of the field.

Later in the afternoon, the full Field of 33 will have their now-traditional (?) post-qualifying practice. I’m not completely sure how applicable this practice will be for most drivers as track conditions are not expected to really be representative of race day at all. In fact, I won’t be at all surprised if some drivers turn a few cursory install laps and then put the car back in the barn. Friday’s Carb Day practice, run during the actual time of day when the race should be being run, will be significantly more representative of race day conditions and will likely have much more participation.

That will do it for this morning. It’s about time to depart the hotel and start making our way to IMS for what should be an interesting and exciting day. Back with more later!!


Saturday, May 22, 2021

11:55 am — Good morning, again, from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where it is the first day of qualifications for the 105th Indianapolis 500. While I had intended on updating the live blog a bit more often yesterday, circumstances didn’t allow for it at the time, so I’ll have to give a run down of yesterday’s activities a bit later in today’s space.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably already have a good handle on yesterday’s on-track activity. Essentially it looks like we might be in for a repeat of the 2020 Indianapolis 500 qualifying and race set up with the Honda-powered machines, led by Scott Dixon, heading into next Sunday’s race as heavy favorites. However, I’m not sure it is quite so cut and dry as the Chevrolets, for all their flaws yesterday, still appear to have very good cars when set up in race trim. Whether they can get to the front is a very different question than if they can run at the front. We’ll tackle that question later in the week.

Off track, it was just wonderful to be back on the hallowed grounds at 16th and Georgetown after two years away. Quite honestly, I’m not sure I would have said there was much difference between yesterday’s crowds and a typical Fast Friday of years gone by. As I spent quite a bit of time in the Paddock Penthouse, the IMS Museum, and E-stand, I felt like there was a pretty decent practice day crowd in all the sections. Nobody is going to claim it to be a crowd of Pole Days gone by, but I don’t think anyone from IMS would have been disappointed by yesterday’s attendance.

I had to cut yesterday’s track activities a bit short and leave town by 5:00pm to get back to Champaign for my son’s end of school year awards ceremony. By the time I got back into Indianapolis, it was after 1:00 am, so this morning’s activities were a bit delayed. George and I hit up Charlie Brown’s for breakfast before getting to the track shortly before the start of qualifications.

We’re just about ready to get running for the morning with Scott Dixon kicking off the qualification proceedings. I’ll be back a bit later with updates throughout the afternoon. Enjoy a wonderful day either at the track or enjoying the coverage on Peacock!


Friday, May 21, 2021

12:45 pm — Good morning from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway!! After two years away from the World’s Greatest Race Course, it is fantastic to be back. The sights and sounds here at IMS are a very welcome return after my longest time away in over 30 years.

I got into town shortly after 10:30 this morning and hit up the credential office to pick up my Bronze Badge for the year. Credit goes to the folks running the credentials pick-up as I was in and out of there in under ten minutes. Everything was running smoothly and the good people there were gracious and expedient in spite of, what I’m sure, has been a month of changes.

Once I got into the track (thanks to my friend George Phillips of Oilpressure.com for the lift and ride into the infield), I wandered briefly through Gasoline Alley in the short time I had before practice started. I immediately noted the smells of paddock that I hadn’t even realized I so missed. Don’t get me wrong – I love the smells of the concessions and tenderloins, but that first whiff of burning ethanol was when I knew I was back at the track!

Practice for Fast Friday got underway about 40 minutes ago with only a handful of drivers taking to the track. It didn’t take long for the mythical 230 mph barrier to fall when Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly laid down the fast time within minutes of the green flag. (As I write this, Scott Dixon, Pato O’Ward, Will Power, and a couple others have joined him.)

Conditions today appear to be substantially warmer than previous days this week though the wind, as of this moment, seems slightly calmer. They are still mostly straight out of the south which could spell more problems for the drivers pushing through Turn 2, much in the same way as Santino Ferrucci was caught out yesterday.

I’m honestly a bit surprised how few cars have been out early today. This is close to the time and near the expected conditions we will likely see when qualifying starts tomorrow at noon. For the last several years, most cars have decided to forego the qualifying morning practice, so this time today is the most similar to what they can expect when it’s go time tomorrow.

I’ll be back with most updates throughout the day as interesting developments come about. In the meantime, enjoy a quick video of Team Penske rookie Scott McLaughlin traversing the main straightaway and the Yard of Bricks in the #3 Pennzoil machine.

One thought on “Live Blog: Qualifying Weekend 2021

  1. Talon de Brea

    Thanks for the report. I hadn’t heard about Harvey’s tires — whether a fluke or an ominous development, that’s pretty scary.

    I guess you survived the weekend with Felix Unger!

    Like

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