Rinus VeeKay

Rinus VeeKay was THE show Saturday on PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver dazzled and put the crowd in a frenzy with a last-second, four-lap qualifying run of 232.419 mph to shove his way from 29th to 11th, crossing the Yard of Bricks with five seconds to spare before qualifying ended.

“It would be a really cool story, but I like boring stories more,” VeeKay said. “Just such a roller coaster. I've never lost hope, but I never expected us to do that. It's such a great story, such a great job by the guys.

“I think they are the real winners here today. I just had to stay flat for four laps today and hang on to the thing. They made it possible for me.”

With the qualifying draw being a critical part of the qualifying process to set the order in which the 34 cars make an attempt for next Sunday’s 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500, Veekay overcame a significant morning crash as the fourth qualifier to advance as the day’s penultimate driver to make an attempt. That bravery and determination advanced VeeKay to the Top 12 Qualifying session Sunday.

VeeKay got loose on his opening qualifying lap and did a half-spin in his No. 21 askROI Chevrolet, making hard left side contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 3. The car slid backward and made secondary impact before coming to rest against the wall in Turn 4.

“Went through Turn 3 at speed once and then I had some understeer, made an adjustment and somehow, I had a huge moment,” VeeKay said. “I don’t really understand how that happened. It was unusual. We took a huge step backward. It was two hard hits. We shouldn’t have to go through this.”

To go from that at 11:14 a.m. ET to making a second qualifying attempt at 3:26 p.m. ET was impressive. Even though the run was waved off, he returned 25 minutes later and catapulted himself past Andretti Global’s Marcus Ericsson, removing the 2022 Indy 500 winner from the field with a four-lap average of 231.166.

In the closing minutes, VeeKay was in the field, but team owner Ed Carpenter said 29th quickest out of the 30 drivers that are locked into the field Saturday wasn’t good enough for ECR. The team took the valiant risk of pulling the time and forcing VeeKay to make one more four-lap run with five minutes remaining.

Crash? VeeKay would be relegated to the Last Chance Qualifying. Have an engine problem like several Chevrolet drivers did prior? Also bound to the Last Chance Qualifying.

This qualifying run was all or nothing. Carpenter never flinched on that decision.

“Rinus knows what to do here,” Carpenter said. “We come here to be fast. We don’t come here to start in the second to last row. You can pretty much win from anywhere, but it’s pretty damn hard to win from back there. We were running out of time, and we knew we could move forward.

“I didn’t know if we could get all the way in the top 12, but the team did a great job. The crew deserves all of it. Rinus deserves it. That’s no easy thing to do to crash your car here and get back in it the same day. He did a fantastic job.”

Rahal Back in Last Row Shootout

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owners Bobby Rahal and Mike Lanigan said seeing Graham Rahal miss last year’s Indianapolis 500 was hell.

Vowing an “Indy Recovery Plan,” RLL was determined to fight back. The team seemed confident on “Fast Friday” that the pace would be good enough to avoid the dreaded Last Chance Qualifying.

Unfortunately, Rahal is back in it. This time, instead of having three of its four drivers in the Last Row Shootout, fighting for three spots, RLL has one – Rahal.

“It’s beyond shocking to me to be in this position two years in a row,” Graham Rahal said. “I never thought I’d be in this position once, let alone two times consecutively. So, it’s a bit of a shell shock. I think for the amount of effort that’s gone in this offseason, we’re even more blown away by where we stand.”

A race car driver can’t drive a slow car fast. Rahal is finding that lingo true for a second straight May.

“That last run was a little too neutral for my liking,” Rahal said. “I came out of (Turn) 2, and it was down on my best lap. I knew it was slow. And when a car doesn't want to pull a gear, there's just not much I can do.”

Rahal said his first qualifying run, the team and Honda noticed the engine lagged in power to properly put up a fight against the 33 other cars. An engine change occurred.

The second run was the exact same speed. He said something is wearing itself down internally, causing the car to lose speed as the No. 15 United Rentals Honda goes through the week.

“I don’t understand how that’s physically possible,” he said. “The decline of speed, that’s where I’m just lost. That’s what it comes down to. The guys know they’ve worked their tails off to be here to get these cars together. They don’t deserve this.”

Hunter-Reay Makes Upset Run

Saturday’s PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway encompassed everything that the Indianapolis 500 is all about. Ryan Hunter-Reay, making his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES start of the season with Indianapolis 500-only Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Cusick Motorsports, bumped out the defending series champion and last year’s Indy 500 NTT P1 Award winner Alex Palou with 47 minutes remaining in opening day of the two-day qualifying format.

2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Hunter-Reay improved from 22nd to 11th at the time in his No. 23 DRR-CUSICK MOTORSPORTS Chevrolet.

“I’m surprised just by the speed alone by the first lap alone,” Hunter-Reay said. “The projected speed on the dash was off by a bit. Earlier I was a little bit bummed by the lack of speed, but now I was pleasantly surprised by the speed. This place is strange like that.

“We definitely did some changes to free the car. We put more it more on the nose, and those last two laps were pretty free coming off of Turns 1 and 2, especially. I think we made the right decisions. I’m really pleased for this team. To bring it up from 22nd or 23rd and put it into the Fast 12, that’s pretty awesome. I’m happy.”

Chevrolet Addresses Phenomenon

Chevrolet executives addressed engine boost problems suffered by its teams head-on after qualifying.

Chevrolet INDYCAR Program Manager Rob Buckner and GM Vice President of Performance and Motorsports Jim Campbell explained to the media what transpired to hamper the qualifying runs of Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward and Kyle Larson, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Ed Carpenter and Christian Rasmussen, Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Agustin Canapino and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Conor Daly.

Buckner and Campbell said the phenomenon occurred because the manufacturers are pushing the limits at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which creates stress on the engines.

“We're pressing hard, and you can see obviously we're using the Indy 500 spec 1.5 bar,” Campbell said of the engine boost levels. “There's been no testing at 1.5 bar, with the exception of some time on Friday, no testing prior to that at 1.5 bar. This is a weekend where you put the higher boost levels in, and you've got to go.

“The good news is the engines, no harm to the engines. Engines are strong and great. So that's good. We do – obviously, have put those drivers at a deficit when they've been trying to make their fast four laps.

“Our team is going to work here overnight, running in our dyno facilities around the world. We're going to be running overnight, and then we're working on ways to mitigate the issue.

“Obviously, there's some team strategy that will -- as the ambient conditions are clear for tomorrow, we have the forecast, but as we get closer to it, there's some decisions they can make, as well, so we'll be working with them on that.”

Chevrolet still has landed all 16 of the cars with its engines into the starting field for next Sunday’s 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500, including nine of the 12 drivers in the Top 12 Qualifying session. Despite the engine plenum situation, Chevrolet still swept the top three four-lap averages Saturday and had five of the top six four-lap averages.

“We're excited about that and what that can mean for tomorrow and going on to the Indy 500,” Campbell said.

CGR Shut Out of Top 12 Qualifying

Chip Ganassi Racing didn’t place one of its five cars into Top 12 Qualifying, ending a streak of qualifying success for the organization. At least one Ganassi car has started in the top 12 since 2020.

Alex Palou was quickest among the five CGR drivers with a four-lap average of 232.306 mph in the No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, which landed the defending series champion the 14th starting position. That’s his worst starting spot in five tries, as his previous low was seventh as a rookie in 2020 with Dale Coyne Racing/Team Goh. Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) starts 21st, his worst qualifying position in 22 tries. His previous worst was 18th in 2019.

Rookies Marcus Armstrong and Kyffin Simpson will start mid-pack. Armstrong rolls off from the 16th spot in the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, with Simpson 18th in the No. 4 Journie Rewards Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Linus Lundqvist starts 27th in the No. 8 American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, overcoming the week’s first crash Thursday to qualify for his first Indianapolis 500.

Odds and Ends

  • All three Team Penske drivers set their fastest career four-lap averages today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Will Power went 233.758, Scott McLaughlin 233.332 and Josef Newgarden 233.293. Power’s previous best was 232.635, Newgarden’s 232.402 and McLaughlin 232.677 – each a year ago.
  • Power said he expects a Penske driver to get the NTT P1 Award Sunday but if someone can break the party up, his pick is Alexander Rossi, who was fourth fastest today at 233.069. “I think Rossi is the one that could break up an all-Penske front row, but I think one of us will get the pole. We put a lot of work in. all the cars are about the same speed and it’ll be about the run.”
  • The top qualifier on Saturday hasn’t won the NTT P1 Award a day later since 2021, when Dixon swept both days. In 2022, the provisional top qualifier from Saturday qualified second in the Firestone Fast Six and was third last year.
  • Ericsson has two top-two finishes in the last two Indianapolis 500 starts, including a win in 2022. He’s relegated to Last Chance Qualifying on Sunday. Ericsson blamed himself for Thursday’s practice crash, which landed him in this precarious situation. “It's been very tough, obviously,” he said. “I can only blame myself. I crashed our primary car on Thursday and put us in a difficult spot. I think the team has done a really good job at building up the backup car and really putting in a lot of work yesterday to try and dial it in.”
  • Eight teams are represented among the 12 cars in Top 12 Qualifying.