Indianapolis 500 qualifying: Scott Dixon knocks two budding young stars from pole
Indianapolis — Scott Dixon slammed the brakes on IndyCar’s current youth movement by winning his fourth Indianapolis 500 pole by a mere 0.03 seconds on Sunday.
The six-time IndyCar champion was the ninth and final driver to make his four-lap qualifying attempt around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he had to beat a pair of IndyCar’s rising young stars to grab the pole.
Colton Herta, the 21-year-old American signed just last week to a contract extension with Andretti Autosport, made his attempt moments before Dixon. Herta’s average speed of 231.665 mph put him on the pole ahead of Rinus VeeKay, the 20-year-old Dutchman who became a first-time winner a week ago on the road course at Indy.
But then it was time for Dixon, the driver called “The Iceman” who is considered the best of his generation.
He had noticed his crew tinkering with his car but asked no questions. And Dixon didn’t want feedback from his three Ganassi teammates who had already made their qualifying runs.
“It’s so easy to get yourself out of sorts, but you’ve really got to get yourself out there and feel it out,” Dixon said.
His average speed of 231.685 knocked Herta to second and VeeKay to third for the front row for next Sunday’s race. Dixon turns 41 in July – the combined age of the two drivers starting next to him in the Indy 500.
Herta, who is rapidly becoming a star in the series, didn’t complain about being bumped by Dixon.
“I just can’t wait for next Sunday, we’ve got a good race car,” Herta said. “Second place is not too bad of a place to start.”
Honda rolled into the Fast Nine qualifying session with seven drivers compared to two for rival Chevrolet. But the Chevy power seems just fine as VeeKay and team owner Ed Carpenter qualified third and fourth and sat atop the leaderboard until Herta and Dixon made the final two runs of the day.
Lining up next to Carpenter on the second row will be Tony Kanaan, at 46 the oldest driver in the field, and Alex Palou. Kanaan and Palou are Dixon’s teammates at Ganassi, as is Marcus Ericsson, who qualified ninth.
Ryan Hunter-Reay for Andretti was seventh and Helio Castroneves eighth for Meyer Shank Racing.
“If I was a fan I’d be really excited by that Fast Nine qualifying,” said Herta, who then muttered a curse word when he learned his starting position earned him an 8 a.m. Monday photo shoot for the front-row qualifiers.
The first three rows account for six Indy 500 wins and eight series championships among four drivers – proving veteran experience still matters at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It’s very weird that the guy starting ahead of me was wearing diapers when I started my first Indy 500,” Kanaan said of VeeKay, who will be the youngest driver to start the Indy 500 in its 105 runnings.
In a 75-minute shootout for the final three spots in the field held right before the Fast Nine session, Sage Karam, Will Power and Simona de Silvestro made the race. Charlie Kimball and R.C. Enerson were knocked from the 33-car field.
Penske's problems continue even after Indy qualifying ends
Team Penske hoped it could turn the corner on a dreadful Indianapolis 500 qualifying weekend after Will Power locked up the No. 32 starting spot.
No such luck.
Less than 30 minutes into Sunday's two-hour, post-qualifying practice session, 2019 IndyCar champ Simon Pagenaud blew an engine on the No. 22 Chevrolet. About 30 minutes later crew members and Chevrolet officials were back on pit lane, checking Power's engine.
Power made it back on the track. Pagenaud did not.
“I heard the engine seizing so I knew we were blowing up," Pagenaud said. “It happens. It’s racing. It’s a Chevy, I won Indy here with them. Sometimes it blows up."
Just not too often these days in the IndyCar Series.
But the Chevy-powered cars have struggled on Indy's historic oval each of the past two years and no team has felt the pinch more than the one owned by Roger Penske.
Since Pagenaud drove to his first 500 win from the pole in 2019, Team Penske hasn't put a single driver in the nine-car pole shootout. Rookie Scott McLaughlin was the fastest of this year's four Penske drivers, starting from the No. 17 spot, and just the second top-20 qualifier for Penske over the past two years.
Even worse, Penske has just one win in its last five races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the track Penske purchased from the Hulman-George family in January 2020.
The good news: Penske still has a week to work out the kinks before race day. Pagenaud is confident they can.
“It’s a very good car," the Frenchman said. “So that’s a really good sign. We’re in good shape. It’s a shame we’ll miss an hour and a half of practice that could have been very useful, but I’m very happy with the car."
Alex Palou posted the fastest lap, 225.649 mph, in the second-to-last practice for next weekend's race.
Power saves Penske from Indy 500 qualifying embarrassment
Will Power was wide open around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, unwilling to let off the gas, even when he brushed his car against the wall.
His spot in the Indianapolis 500 was at stake and Power, one of the greatest qualifiers in IndyCar history, was not going to miss the show.
The 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner was one of five drivers fighting for a spot in the final row of the May 30 race. A Team Penske car never should have been on the bubble, and yet on Sunday, Power desperately tried to avoid becoming the first Roger Penske driver sent home from the Indy 500 since 1995.
“This really gives you respect,” Power said. “Definitely lose a little bit of sleep over that one, just knowing you have to execute.”
Sage Karam was fastest in the shootout, followed by Power and Simona de Silvestro, who was driving a Penske car in an alliance for the women-led Paretta Autosport. The three will start in the last row in the field of 33 next Sunday.
It will be the third consecutive year Karam starts 31st.
Charlie Kimball was bumped from the race, bringing an end to 10 consecutive starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” R.C. Enerson, a rookie with new team Top Gun Racing, failed to qualify for his first Indy 500 after a week of struggles for the late entrant.
“So what do you want to do next weekend?” Kimball asked his wife as he climbed from the A.J. Foyt Racing entry.
Power, with 62 career poles in IndyCar, trails only Mario Andretti's 67 poles for most in series history. He's been the best of his generation at qualifying a car, but the Team Penske entries have struggled since Friday when engines were given a horsepower boost.
The issue doesn't seem to be with the Chevrolet power plants because Ed Carpenter and Rinus VeeKay put a pair of Chevys in the Fast Nine qualifying group. The Penske issue appears to be in the mechanical setup, and none of its four cars dazzled in qualifying.
New IndyCar team owner Paretta has a heavy alliance with Penske as part of Roger Penske's diversity push, and the struggles of the Penske cars applied also to de Silvestro. The Swiss driver is back at Indy for the first time since 2015 and theoretically in the best car of her career.
Yet she and Power both sat still in their cockpits under a hot Indiana sun as they waited to see if Kimball and Enerson would knock them from the race. Only when the clock hit zero on the 75-minute session did Power and de Silvestro climb from their cars and briefly hug in celebration.
Beth Paretta and de Silvestro will be the first female team owner and female driver in the Indy 500, and the team has a strong crew of women that could be used on pit stops next Sunday.
Many drivers already locked into the race watched the bumping process from pit lane with empathy for their fellow competitors.
“People will never understand the intensity that these five drivers and teams are feeling,” Graham Rahal said. “This is the most intense moment of your life, all magnified on national TV, pressured by sponsor implications, and worsened by terrible track conditions. Indy 500 qualifying at its worst.”