The field is now set for the 107th Indianapolis 500, and Alex Palou has claimed the prestigious pole position. His four-lap average of 234.217 mph just barely nipped Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus Veekay’s speed of 234.211 mph by the slimmest of margins.
It was an eventful day that saw plenty of drama for both the front row and the last. The afternoon started with practice for the Top 12 drivers from yesterday’s qualifying session. Huge speeds were found as both Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou posted speeds over 235 mph. The session, however, ended on a sour note for the #21 Bitnile machine of Veekay as an ominous trail of smoke followed the Chevrolet-powered machine out of Turn 2 and down the backstraight. Luckily for the ECR team, it was determined the problem was not with the Chevrolet engine but more likely related to the turbocharger or elsewhere in the exhaust system. The team was able to make repairs within about an hour, and Veekay’s car was in line to qualify with time to spare.
In the Top 12 qualifying session, things went mostly as expected with pair of Ganassi cars moving on, along with a pair of McLarens, an Ed Carpenter car, and an AJ Foyt Racing machines. **record scratch** WHAT?!?! Yes, you read that correctly. The #14 machine of Santino Ferrucci went out fourth and posted an amazing speed of 233.911 mph. That time held as the fastest until Felix Rosenqvist topped him in the last run of the session. In the end, it was four Chevrolets and two Hondas moving into the Firestone Fast 6.
When the Last Chance Qualifying session got underway at 4:00, odds were unfortunately good that one of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing cars would be going home, it was just a matter of which one. In a cruel twist of fate, that’s exactly what happened as Sting Ray Robb was able to post a time that neither Graham Rahal nor Jack Harvey could come close to matching.
After the first run through of the four, the final half hour became a cat-and-mouse waiting game between Harvey and Rahal. With Graham on the bubble, Harvey finally took to the 2.5-mile oval with about eight minutes remaining in the session but was too slow to bump his way in. The #30 car quickly returned to pit lane for one final wing change, three more gallons of fuel, and four new Firestone tires before heading right back onto the track with only two minutes remaining before the session ended. In or out, this was to be the final run, and Graham Rahal would have no opportunity to fight back.
Harvey’s first two laps were right on the average needed to qualify, which meant it was unlikely to hold the speed through four laps. However, Harvey bounced back on Lap 3 enough to make the whole run come down to the last lap. In the end, Harvey had just enough speed to bump Rahal, getting to the checkered flag a scant 0.0044 seconds faster than Rahal, equivalent to 0.007 mph.
It was a crushing blow to the second generation driver, who as recently as two years ago was in a position to win the race. Interviewed shortly after getting out of the car by NBC Sports, Rahal was understandably overcome by emotion, broke into tears, and walked away from the interview. While everyone knew that the RLLR team was in big trouble throughout the week, I’m not sure most people expected that it would be Graham Rahal who would be left out of the starting field. In a cruel twist of fate, Graham’s devastating day comes just a couple days shy of the 30th anniversary of his father’s awful Bump Day of 1993.
To see Graham completely overcome by emotion was difficult to watch and painful to know how bad he was hurting in that moment. But that’s exactly what the Indianapolis 500 should be about. There are so many decades of drivers and teams giving every last ounce of energy they have to simply earn – EARN – a starting spot in the field. Last minute runs by teams small and large from Penske and Rahal to John Menard, Bryan Herta, Ron Hemelgarn and so many others have experienced this trial are what have made qualifying for this race great. Some have succeeded. Some have failed. But in the end, those who have succeeded have earned their way into the field. And those who failed come back to try again for better success next year.
That’s how it’s always been. And, God willing, that’s the way it should always be.
Following the drama of watching one RLLR car bump another one out of the field, the Top 6 shootout for the Pole Position, quite honestly, felt like an anti-climatic afterthought. In the end, Alex Palou pulled a bit of an upset and put his Honda on the Pole ahead of four Chevrolet-powered cars with the second fastest qualifying run in Indianapolis 500 history. His margin over Rinus Veekay was the second closest difference between first and second starting positions, eclipsed only by the 0.003 mph difference between Ryan Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe in 2012. The Spaniard will now try to become the first driver since Simon Pagenaud in 2019 to win the GMR Grand Prix, the pole position, and the Indianapolis 500.
While the format certainly delivered a lot of excitement today, it does seem a shame that the incredible drama to simply make the Indianapolis 500 field was seemingly quickly brushed aside for the more prestigious run for the Pole. Ideally, I would really like to see the two battles separated, but I recognize that doing so would make for a boring Sunday, regardless of which battle took Saturday billing.
Perhaps it would help the day and the storylines if the Top 6 shootout for the Pole Position took place before the Last Chance Qualifying session. There are certainly pros and cons to that as well, and there likely is no perfect solution. But I personally feel there is more riding on getting INTO the show than capturing the Pole Position, and I would prefer that battle to take top billing for the day. I would prefer to see and hear the stories of Jack Harvey and Callum Ilott and RC Enerson and all the drama that comes with those efforts than just the shear speed of the run for the Pole. That’s just me personally though. I’m curious to hear what others think.
One thing is for sure – the crowd certainly appeared to enjoy it and showed up nicely today. As the afternoon wore on, the seats on the outside of the front straight started to fill in fairly nicely. I thought the crowd for Saturday was pretty good, but I think today’s was even better. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear there was a solid 25,000 fans here to watch the LCQ and the Fast 6 Shootout.
It does feel like IMS and INDYCAR have hit on something with this current shootout format, but I would still like to see a couple of the aforementioned small tweaks put in place to show some more love for the little guys and the guys whose fortunes may literally be riding on making the field. It would/will also be really interesting to see how the LCQ plays out when 35 or 36 cars are entered and suddenly five or six cars are vying for the final three positions. With more cars and less downtime, every decision will be magnified even greater.
All in all, it was a fantastic day and a great qualifying weekend here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I don’t think Doug Boles and Mark Miles could have ordered up any better weather as it was truly perfect since I arrived on Friday. Great weather and high speeds are generally a pretty easy winning formula, so this weekend played out perfectly in that regard.
Now that the field is set, two more practices remain to really get set for next Sunday’s race. A two-hour session on Monday is followed by a final, two-hour session on Carb Day as all team try to dial in their final race-day setups.
With that, I’ll put a wrap on this great weekend with a few quick pictures from around the track today. As always, thanks so much for following along!
One thought on “2023 Indy Qual Day 2 wrap up”
Watching the telecast, I didn’t see anything to suggest that Hrvey changed tires between his last two runs, and the tires on the car before he pulled out on the last run were not showing the slick bands on the right side of the tread that new ones display. One thing I am wondering about is whether, in addition to the track being just a bit cooler on Harvey’s final run, might it have helped that he made the run on tires that had already been used just minutes before, and therefor probably were more consistent through the run? Everyone else had started all their qualification runs on new tires that fell off significantly with each lap. Harvey’s last two lap speeds were the key to his success.