In a knife-edge first day of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, a host of big names failed to stay in contention to battle for pole in Sunday’s session while Rinus VeeKay recorded an incredible fastest time.
On Saturday, the best 12 drivers qualify to advance to Sunday. That group then qualify again to reach a top six session, which would decide the sextet to fight for pole.
Immediately drama struck as Arrow McLaren SP’s Juan Pablo Montoya lost a favourable ninth-place qualifying draw by failing tech inspection for a broken diffuser strake, Colton Herta had to go back to the garage to change and a Honda engine on his Andretti car and Stefan Wilson had the same issue for Cusick Motorsport.
The Friday prediction that an early qualifying draw might be best rang true, as Pato O’Ward – the first car out – became the fifth-fastest Indy 500 qualifier ever over the four-lap average format, and then was eclipsed a car later by VeeKay whose 233.655mph average – including a first lap of 234.702mph – became the third quickest all-time.
It felt pretty fast too https://t.co/ncnIN7DErO
— Rinus VeeKay (@rinusveekay) May 21, 2022
The drivers graduating to fight for pole on Sunday
1 Rinus VeeKay
2 Pato O’Ward
3 Felix Rosenqvist
4 Alex Palou
5 Tony Kanaan
6 Jimmie Johnson
7 Ed Carpenter
8 Marcus Ericsson
9 Romain Grosjean
10 Scott Dixon
11 Will Power
12 Takuma Sato
VeeKay, O’Ward and the latter’s team-mate Felix Rosenqvist all converted early runs into top three spots, with Alex Palou (19th) and Tony Kanaan (13th) going later on but still able to round out the top five.
Their team-mate Jimmie Johnson went sixth and that’s the position he finished the day with, the seven-time NASCAR champion being the top rookie in the field with a very impressive run.
Ed Carpenter took seventh, ahead of the Ganassi’s of Marcus Ericsson and Scott Dixon sandwiching Romain Grosjean.
That meant Ganassi has all five of its cars in the battle for pole tomorrow.
— Alex Palou Montalbo (@AlexPalou) May 21, 2022
IndyCar points leader Will Power – who was relegated to bump day last year – was 11th and the only Penske driver going through to tomorrow’s pole fight, ahead of Takuma Sato.
Sato was originally in the top 12 early in the day but was robbed of his time after he didn’t move to the warm-up lane on his cool-down lap and subsequently impeded Marco Andretti.
That meant Sato had to wait and go again after all cars had recorded a qualifying lap, and he subsequently smashed into the wall at speed in Turn 2 on his qualifying lap.
.@TakumaSatoRacer makes contact with the wall in turn 2 during his second qualifying attempt but doesn't lift.
He currently sits P12.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 21, 2022
Displaying unbelievable bravery he kept his foot in the throttle and completed a lap good enough for 12th, bumping his star rookie team-mate David Malukas out of the 12.
The rest of the spots in the field are set and these drivers won’t qualify on Sunday. There is no bumping this year, as there are only 33 entries, meaning all cars were guaranteed to qualify.
13th to 33rd on the grid for the 2022 Indy 500 is set:
13 David Malukas
14 Josef Newgarden
15 Santino Ferrucci
16 Simon Pagenaud
17 JR Hildebrand
18 Conor Daly
19 Callum Ilott
20 Alexander Rossi
21 Graham Rahal
22 Sage Karam
23 Marco Andretti
24 Devlin DeFrancesco
25 Colton Herta
26 Scott McLaughlin
27 Helio Castroneves
28 Kyle Kirkwood
29 Dalton Kellett
30 Juan Pablo Montoya
31 Christian Lundgaard
32 Jack Harvey
33 Stefan Wilson
Not long after a handful of second-runs on track, rain hit and delayed the session. When the track re-opened, Sage Karam was unable to improve and Scott McLaughlin – who gave his 15th place time to jump to the front of the Lane 1 queue – tumbled down to 26th as lightning struck in the distance.
Well this place just kicked the #thirsty3s in the privates – ah well.
— Scott McLaughlin (@smclaughlin93) May 21, 2022
It then came close enough to register a weather warning which brought out the caution just before Newgarden started his flying lap, likely saving his 14th place as IndyCar is able to give him that lap back as he didn’t complete a new lap after pulling his time.
The Race IndyCar Podcast host JR Hildebrand scored his best qualifying result since 2017 in 17th, just behind Simon Pagenaud who marked a bittersweet day for the reigning winners Meyer Shank Racing.
The 2021 winner Helio Castroneves will start 27th after bailing out of his first run due to the tricky conditions and a poor car balance. He won from eighth on the grid last year.
Callum Ilott was a late improver and put Fernando Alonso-beaters Juncos Hollinger Racing in 19th, ahead of the second-best Andretti car of Alexander Rossi in 20th after a nightmare day for the team.
Rossi’s first run was lacking the right car balance which he thought they’d restored on the second run but the time wasn’t there. Marco Andretti in 23rd headed rookie Devlin DeFrancesco and Herta, the latter managed to get a late run in after his team changed his engine.
Who would have thought I would have needed a spotter for my qual run ⁉️
— Marco Andretti (@MarcoAndretti) May 21, 2022
Graham Rahal was the top Rahal Letterman Lanigan car in 21st, and even worse team result than Andrettis. RLL believes it has strong race cars but its cars roll off 21st, 31st and 32nd next weekend.
Montoya got out but was only 30th, with the Arrow McLaren SP tech infringement issue surely costing Montoya his best qualifying result since his second in 2000.
O’Ward and Rosenqvist reached the top three and the conditions didn’t change drastically by the time his ninth spot that he had to forfeit ran.
Wilson will have the extremely unusual stat of qualifying for the Indy 500 despite not getting on track in qualifying. A gear ratio issue meant a precautionary change of engine in the morning and he wasn’t seen again on Saturday.