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Andretti Crew In Spotlight On Pole Day

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 16 2020

Marco Andretti will lead the Fast Nine field into Sunday’s pole qualifying at Indy.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Led by four flying aces from Andretti Autosport, Honda Racing ran circles around Team Chevy during Saturday’s opening session of qualifications for the 104th Indianapolis 500.

Marco Andretti continued to dominate the “Month of Marco” by posting the fastest four-lap/10-mile run of the day. The 33-year-old grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti will head into Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout as top seed for the NTT P1 Award for pole position.

Andretti cranked out an average speed of 231.351 mph around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on his only attempt of the five-hour, 50-minute session. Andretti’s run was impressive considering he was the 28th of 33 drivers to make his attempt in the first trip through the qualifying draw on a hot and slick track surface.

“It was a steady day,” said Andretti, driver of the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda. “The one-and-done things are always nice. It’s not fun to have to go do this a few times. We executed on the first time, so my goal is to do the same thing tomorrow.”

Positions 10 through 33 in the traditional grid were set Saturday. The Fast Nine Shootout is scheduled from 1:15-2:15 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, with NBC’s live coverage from 1-3 p.m. As was the case during the “Fast Friday” practice and Saturday’s Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying session, the uptick on the speed chart was due to turbocharger boost approved by sanctioning body INDYCAR, which added approximately 50 to 75 horsepower to the Honda and Chevrolet twin-turbocharged V-6 engines.

Andretti’s run paced a dominant performance by Andretti Autosport, the team owned by Marco’s father/16-time Indy 500 starter Michael, and Honda. Andretti Autosport drivers swept the top four spots  and Honda-powered drivers comprise eight of nine participants in the Fast Nine Shootout.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, was second at 231.330 mph in the No. 28 DHL Honda, followed by 2016 Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi at 231.268 mph in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/Auto Nation Honda. James Hinchcliffe, the 2016 Indy 500 pole-sitter, was fourth overall at 231.195 mph in the No. 29 Genesys Honda.

“Obviously, the whole Andretti Autosport (organization) was spectacular today,” Rossi said. “That’s a huge testament to the team. To get that many cars that fast is a big undertaking, a big challenge. It’s going to be critical to put four even quicker laps down if you want to get the pole. But nonetheless, it’s great to be in the Fast Nine. Honda has done a phenomenal job this year. It’s all coming to fruition here at the biggest race in the world.”

Andretti, who led the “Fast Friday” practice with a single lap at 233.491 mph and was in the top three on the speed charts during all three practices this week, has emerged as the clear favorite for his first career Indianapolis 500 pole.

“I told Ryan, don’t even come to my side of the garage,” Andretti joked when asked about working with his teammates on Sunday. “No, we got to work together because there’s other guys we have to beat as well. It’s going to be about little things. It’s going to be about getting every downshift right, every shift right, everything we have to do inside the car, the balance. It’s going to be what it’s going to be.

“I’m impressed. Shows the hard work they’ve been doing (at Honda Performance Development). It’s a lot of credit to them really because horsepower means a lot around this place. That’s always the first hurdle of I want to say May, but of August, is having speed. From there it’s about making yourself comfortable and everything like that and circumstances.”

Originally scheduled for May 24 and the Memorial Day weekend, the race was moved to August in response to health issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott Dixon, the NTT IndyCar Series point-leader and 2008 Indy 500 winner, was fifth at 231.155 mph after a busy day in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. “I don’t think you want to go fastest today because that means tomorrow you’ll go last in the hottest part of the day,” said Dixon, a five-time series champion. “I’m pretty happy, though, with the PNC Bank Honda. We’ll keep working on it and be ready for tomorrow.”

In a stunning development, rookie Rinus VeeKay was the only Chevrolet-powered driver to earn a Fast Nine Shootout spot after an impressive sixth overall run at 231.114 mph in the No. 21 SONAX car fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing.

“Pretty good day at the office,” said VeeKay, a native of The Netherlands. “I was lucky (Friday) with the draw and had a good run this morning. Fourth driver out, and I think the temperature really helped us. We put some really good laps down and stayed super-consistent. I was kind of shocked by the 231.7 on the first lap. Very pleased with that.

“Being the only Chevrolet driver in the Fast Nine is also something to feel good about. It almost feels like the hardest part is over, the waiting is so hard. Tomorrow we can just go and qualify. For the race, everything is going to be different, but we have a good race car. I’m very confident.”

Saturday’s outcome was a shocker for Team Penske, the winner of a record 18 Indy 500s. Team Penske’s four-car Chevrolet juggernaut was relegated to race-day preparation duties _ and licking of wounds _ after failing to even get close to the top-10.

Reigning Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud will start 25th in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet after qualifying at 228.836 mph. “It wasn’t what we wanted out there at all,” said Pagenaud, who qualified on-pole for the race run in May 2019. “But this place treats you like she wants to treat you, and you have to respect that. We had a perfect experience last year, but this year it is a little harder, so we have to work for it.

“It was an eventful qualifying session, for sure. Certainly, way too much sliding around, and certainly not fast enough either. We have a great car for the race. What bothers me the most is I wanted a fast time, and at Team Penske, that is what we expect. So, we will just have to work on it and make it better for the race next Sunday.”

Josef Newgarden, the two-time/reigning series champ, will start 13th in the No. 1 Shell V-Power Nitro Team Penske Chevrolet after averaging 230.296 mph. “I think that was pretty much where are our car was today,” Newgarden said. “We could practice for a touch more, but I think we were pretty close to our limit. I’m just pumped we’re running the Indianapolis 500. I can’t say thanks enough to Roger Penske, everyone at IMS for making this happen. We’re going to put on an amazing show next weekend.”

Will Power, the 2018 Indy 500 champ, will start 22nd after averaging 229.701 mph in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Edge Team Penske Chevy. “I’m not sure what else we could do out there today,” Power said. “I was wide open the whole time. We’ll just focus on the race and get back to race mode as a team.

“This will be the furthest back I’ve probably ever started here, but you can win from anywhere in this race. The guys have worked hard, and I appreciate the effort. We’ll continue to work on the race car and have some fun next weekend.”

Three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves will start 28th after averaging 228.373 mph in his No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevy. “Being on the second page (of the time sheet) isn’t what you want, but we are working on it,” the popular Brazilian said. “We’ve all been really happy with the cars in race trim. You hate to start that far back as you need to pass a lot of cars and use some strategy, but it can be done from there. I’m just excited to run in another Indy 500 and do our best to put on a show for all the fans watching at home.”

Rossi insisted Team Penske will be a player during the 200-lapper on Sunday, Aug. 23. “Yeah, I mean, I’d like them to be further back, to be honest,” Rossi said. “I think they’re really strong cars. Qualifying is a completely separate challenge to the race. In some ways it’s harder, in some ways it’s easier.

“I think we’ve obviously shown our strength. I think they’re (Penske) good race cars, obviously great drivers, a team more than capable of winning the event. Just because we’re starting up front doesn’t mean we have an easy race day ahead of us by any means. It definitely makes your life a little bit easier. For sure it’s good to start up front but we can’t rest on our laurels. 500 miles, seven pit stops. A lot of work.”

Rookie Alex Palou from Spain impressed with the seventh-fastest qualifying attempt, 231.034 mph, in the No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda. Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammates Graham Rahal and 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato rounded out the Fast Nine, with Rahal eighth at 230.822 mph in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda and Sato ninth at 230.792 mph in the No. 30 Panasonic/PeopleReady Honda.

Open-wheel icon Mario Andretti won the 1969 race after qualifying second in the No. 2 STP Oil Treatment Hawk/Ford fielded by Andy Granatelli. Mario earned poles at IMS in 1966, 1967 and 1987 during his run of 29 starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Michael Andretti’s best start during his star-crossed career at IMS was third in 1986. Mikey came out of retirement to race with Marco during his first Indy 500 in 2006, when Marco finished second to Team Penske’s Sam Hornish Jr. by 0.0635-seconds after 200 laps. Michael Andretti finished third in the 2006 race, which saw Marco secure Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors.

“Yeah, I mean, does it weigh on me? Absolutely. I’m a competitor,” said Marco, alluding to his family’s history at IMS. “I don’t like not being victorious. Yeah, I mean, that’s not what I wake up in the morning and think about. Tomorrow I’m going to try to get the pole at the Indy 500.”

Each driver in the Fast Nine Shootout will get one pole attempt, running in inverse order from Saturday’s speeds. Sato will be the first driver on track, followed by Rahal and then through the line until Andretti will make the last attempt.

Andretti Autosport just missed placing five cars into the Fast Nine Shootout. Colton Herta will start 10th after his best of three qualification attempts averaged 230.775 mph in the No. 88 Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Honda, just 0.017-mph slower than Sato in ninth.

Dixon made a total of four attempts, more than any other driver. He improved from sixth to fifth by posting his fastest average speed on his second attempt, but couldn’t climb any higher.

Two-time Formula One World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso _ who earned Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 in the No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda _ will start 26th in the No. 66 Ruoff Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

“The speed was not there (Friday) in practice and today in qualifying,” said Alonso, who was out-qualified by rookie teammates Pato O’Ward of Mexico and Oliver Askew. “We know that so we just wanted to put in a solid run in for qualifying with no mistakes and execute the best we could. I think we achieved that, and I’m happy with that.

“I think we have a good race car because the first few days we were on the competitive side. The starting place for the race is not changing our hopes for next Sunday. All our focus now is on the race. This place offers a lot of possibilities even for the people starting at the back, and we will be looking to take that possibility next week.”

Track activity starts from 11-11:30 a.m. Sunday with a practice for Fast Nine Shootout participants (INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold). A post-qualifying practice for all 33 drivers, when teams will shift into preparing race setups, is scheduled from 3:30-6 p.m. (NBC Sports Network, NBC Sports Gold). Indy 500 programming on NBC will begin at 1 p.m. on Aug. 23, with the green flag to fly at 2:30 p.m.

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Results of qualifying Saturday for the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with rank, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and average speed for four laps/10-miles in parentheses:

1. (98) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.6078 (231.351 mph)
2. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.6217 (231.330)
3. (27) Alexander Rossi, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.6638 (231.268)
4. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.7126 (231.195)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.7396 (231.155)
6. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Dallara-Chevy, 2:35.7674 (231.114)
7. (55) Alex Palou, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.8213 (231.034)
8. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.9641 (230.822)
9. (30) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.9844 (230.792)
10. (88) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.9962 (230.775)
11. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.1374 (230.566)
12. (45) Spencer Pigot, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.1557 (230.539)
13. (1) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.3203 (230.296)
14. (10) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.3491 (230.254)
15. (5) Pato O’Ward, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.3769 (230.213)
16. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.3781 (230.211)
17. (26) Zach Veach, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.5484 (229.961)
18. (47) Conor Daly, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.5525 (229.955)
19. (18) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.5736 (229.924)
20. (60) Jack Harvey, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.6161 (229.861)
21. (7) Oliver Askew, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.6852 (229.760)
22. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.7252 (229.701)
23. (14) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.0993 (229.154)
24. (41) Dalton Kellett, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.2880 (228.880)
25. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.3180 (228.836)
26. (66) Fernando Alonso, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.3646 (228.768)
27. (51) James Davison, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.3789 (228.747)
28. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.6368 (228.373)
29. (4) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Chevy, 2:38.0625 (227.758)
30. (59) Max Chilton, Dallara-Chevy, 2:38.3789 (227.303)
31. (24) Sage Karam, Dallara-Chevy, 2:38.5210 (227.099)
32. (67) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 2:39.0518 (226.341)
33. (81) Ben Hanley, Dallara-Chevy, 2:41.4948 (222.917)

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 16 2020
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