Twenty-six years after Team Penske famously failed to qualify its two drivers for the 1995 Indianapolis 500, one of its current stars faces the possibility of missing the 105th Running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Will Power is not only the 2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2018 Indy 500 winner, he is closing in on being the sport’s all-time pole winner, with 62. But Indy makes all competitors earn a starting position, and Power must do so in Sunday’s Last Chance Qualifying.
Power will be one of five drivers competing for the final three spots in the 33-car field. He will duel with Simona De Silvestro of Paretta Autosport, Sage Karam of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Charlie Kimball of AJ Foyt Racing and RC Enerson of Top Gun Racing for the opportunity to start the race on Sunday, May 30.
Only Sunday’s times will count toward setting the last row, but Power can take comfort in knowing he had the fastest qualifying run Saturday of the five drivers not yet in the field. His final effort in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet averaged 229.228 mph.
Karam had the second-fastest qualifying run among the “non-qualified” drivers at 229.158 mph in the No. 24 DRR/AES Indiana Chevrolet, with Kimball third in the No. 11 Tresiba/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet at 228.401 mph. De Silvestro’s best effort in the No. 16 Rocket Pro TPO Chevrolet was 228.395 mph, with Enerson at 227.283 mph in the No. 75 Top Gun Racing Chevrolet.
But again, that’s of no consolation now. All five drivers must make another run – and they will have multiple chances as time allows – Sunday. The 75-minute session begins at 1:15 p.m. and will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network and the Peacock streaming service.
“I think that if we can do a conservative run, we should be OK, but it certainly puts it (in question),” Power said. “If something goes wrong, you’re out. Definitely nerve-wracking.”
A recent change in INDYCAR’s rules relieves some of the tension. In the past, each car in Last Chance Qualifying received only one chance, but that process was considered to put too much pressure on the teams trying to make the most important race of the season. The stipulation in this format: If an entrant requests a second run, its first time must be withdrawn.
“That’s a lot less nerve-wracking,” Power said. “I thought you only got one shot at it.”
The final 30 minutes of Saturday’s session were filled with futile attempts. All five of these drivers failed to go faster than Dalton Kellett’s posted time in the 30th position, even as A.J. Foyt’s team withdrew Kellett’s run and actually qualified slower in a run that began with five minutes left.
De Silvestro will be representing Beth Paretta’s “Female Forward” movement as part of Penske Entertainment’s Race for Equality & Change. Thus, the pressure to make the show will be immense for the 32-year-old Swiss driver who last competed in the “500” in 2015.
“It’s definitely not the position you want to be in because it’s pretty nerve-wracking, and you’re going out there trying to throw everything at it,” De Silvestro said. “The team changed the car completely over during the two-hour break. We just seemed to struggle today and yesterday since we got to qualifying boost and finding the balance.”
Four of the five “non-qualified” drivers are veterans of the Speedway. Power is seeking his 14th starting position in this event, Kimball his 11th. Karam has made seven “500” starts, De Silvestro five. Only Enerson, a rookie, has never earned a spot in the prestigious field.
Two of these drivers will miss the show as Team Penske’s Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr. did in 1995. Those drivers had each won two “500s,” and Unser entered the month as the reigning winner.
At Indy, anything can happen.
Yes, There’s a Chance!
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, competing in his first INDYCAR season on road courses and street circuits, is increasingly more interested in competing on oval tracks, specifically in the Indianapolis 500.
Johnson arrived at IMS for the first time this month to begin his role as an NBC Sports commentator. The man who shares Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 48 Honda with Tony Kanaan said on the Peacock broadcast that the “next step” is to drive an INDYCAR SERIES car on an oval track. Team owner Chip Ganassi said Friday he is open to adding a car for Johnson in next year’s “500” if that’s what the stock car legend wants to do.
Johnson said he “systematically” needs to get acclimated to oval tracks in testing to get he and his wife, Chandra, comfortable with the idea. But he called the invitation “very enticing” and made this point clear.
“I’m saying there’s a chance,” he said.
Johnson made those comments before teammate Alex Palou crashed during qualifying, and the hard right-side impact didn’t deter him.
Odds and Ends
- With the morning temperature not expected to reflect conditions in qualifying, only nine car-and-driver combinations participated in the hour-long session. Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) was the quickest at 230.425 mph. The cars turned exactly 100 laps. Harvey earned the 20th starting position in qualifying.
- After Marco Andretti was the second driver to qualify, he said he wasn’t sure his 229.261-mph average in the No. 98 Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Honda of Andretti Herta-Haupert w/Marco & Curb-Agajanian Honda would be good enough to make the top 30. It would have been 29th.
- Two days after a Turn 2 accident, Santino Ferrucci (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) said he was more sore Saturday than he had been Friday. He still delivered in qualifying, earning the 23rd starting position. He took two attempts, but the team waved off the second in the warmer part of the afternoon.
- Ed Jones was the big mover in the final hour of qualifying. He improved eight positions by re-qualifying in the No. 18 SealMaster Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan. He will start next weekend’s race from the 11th position.
- There has been considerable conversation on NBC’s broadcasts about the drivers sitting low enough to get the top of their helmets out of the airflow. Johnson said it took him three seat fits to get low enough.
- Terry Trammell was the honorary guest of BorgWarner’s dinner at IMS as the recipient of the 55th Louis Schwitzer Award for his career’s worth of work in biomedical engineering for driver safety. Graham Rahal is among those appreciative of Trammell’s work. “There is nobody, and I mean nobody, who has done more and changed the world of driver safety internationally like Dr. Trammell. Congrats Doc, you deserve it,” Rahal tweeted Saturday.
- IMS and INDYCAR hosted guests and participants of “Play Like A Girl” and the organization’s founder and CEO Dr. Kimberly Clay on Saturday as part of the Race for Diversity & Change initiative. Firestone’s Lisa Boggs and Cara Adams presented Clay a $10,000 check during a welcome program in the Pagoda Plaza chalet.