Arrow McLaren, Ganassi strong; Rahal cars struggling on first day of Indy 500 qualifying
INDIANAPOLIS – The first day of qualifying for the 2023 Indy 500 was a story of two teams headed in diametrically opposed directions at roughly 230 mph.
Arrow McLaren will have all four of its Dallara-Chevrolets competing for the pole position Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will have three of its four drivers (its trio of full-season NTT IndyCar Series entries) in danger of missing the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist turned the third-fastest four-lap average (233.947 mph) in IMS history Saturday to lead the Fast 12 drivers who will square off for the pole position. The Swede will be joined by teammates Alexander Rossi (second), Tony Kanaan (sixth) and Pato O’Ward (eighth).
HOW TO WATCH INDY 500 QUALIFYING: Full weekend schedule, details
INDY 500 PRIMER: Important details and facts for watching NBC Sports
It was an outstanding showing for Arrow McLaren, which added a third full-time car this season for Rossi and expanded to a fourth Indy 500-only entry with Kanaan.
“"I think the team is really maturing,” said Rosenqvist, who already a pole position this season. “We’re still a fairly new team as the current structure, but you really feel a difference. When I joined the team, there were a lot of young guys on the team now becoming pretty experienced, being up front for many years, still not a championship, but we’re up there lurking all the time now.
“You really feel that the confidence is growing in the team, I think both on the engineering side, driving side. Now especially with Tony and Alex joining, it’s just a good environment. We’re having fun. I feel like we’re able to attack. When we have tough days, we’re pretty good at bouncing back quickly which normally puts us in the mix. A couple of months ago we were like, what people are we going to use for running these cars? Here we are in the top eight, all of us. It’s really remarkable. It feels like we’re vibing.”
Chip Ganassi Racing also put its four Dallara-Hondas in the Fast 12 with Alex Palou (third), Scott Dixon (fifth), Takuma Sato (seventh) and defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson (10th).
A.J. Foyt Racing was the underdog stunner of the Fast 12, qualifying both of its Chevys (Santino Ferrucci in ninth, Benjamin Pedersen 11th).
The final two pole challengers are Rinus VeeKay (fourth, Ed Carpenter Racing) and Will Power, who claimed the 12th and final spot as the only Team Penske driver – though teammates Scott McLaughlin (14th) and Josef Newgarden (17th) are safely in the field.
QUALIFYING RESULTS: Full recap of the 84 attempts made on Day 1
A qualifying session with the top 12 will begin at 2 p.m. ET to whittle the group to a Fast Six who each will make one attempt for the pole beginning at 5:20 p.m. ET on NBC.
With the top 30 cars locking into the field for the 107th Indianapolis 500, there are four cars vying for the final three spots in the May 28 race.
QUALIFYING FORMAT: Click here for a graphical representation of how the field is set
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers Christian Lundgaard, Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey will be pitted against Sting Ray Robb in a battle of four Hondas to make the 11th and final row of the Indy 500.
The Last Chance Qualifying session will start at 4:05 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock – making for an agonizing wait for Graham Rahal, who already endured a very long afternoon.
His Dallara-Honda was the slowest car throughout the nearly seven-hour qualifying session on the 2.5-mile oval, posting a best average speed at 228.526 mph over four laps that was more than 1 mph slower than Robb’s top average (229.955).
With a record 84 qualifying attempts for an Indy 500 qualifying session Saturday (and without any incidents), Rahal made four with little progress. After switching to the same downforce settings and setup as teammate Katherine Legge, Rahal still was more than 2 mph slower than the only RLL Racing driver to make the field.
On his first attempt, Rahal was left sawing away on the wheel off Turn 4 trying to wring any speed out of his car.
“It’s just not there,” said Rahal, who never had qualified outside the top 30 in 15 Indy 500 starts. “I’m a little surprised by the balance. I expected it to go out and be pretty stuck, frankly. I could tell right away on the first lap it wasn’t what it was yesterday. It just compounded and got worse from there. Unbelievably disappointing. We’re not going to make this race on speed. I think every other car here is faster than us, literally.”
The lack of speed comes at a critical career juncture for Rahal, who is in a contract year and openly questioning whether he will return to the team that his father founded.
While calling his son a great race car driver that he intends to keep, Bobby Rahal staunchly defended his team before practice Friday, hailing its new state-of-the-art headquarters in Zionsville, Indiana.
Ever since that news conference, though, the RLL cars have struggled with a 100-horsepower turbo boost introduced for the weekend.
“I do see the effort that goes in, but we’re obviously not close at all,” Graham Rahal said. “So it’s surprising to be in this position. But also the 15 car is the slowest of all the RLL cars. I don’t really know why. I wish we could quantify or understand what component or what it exactly it is. But we don’t know. That’s life unfortunately.
“It feels like when you take off and the wheels are still down. It just doesn’t accelerate. Unfortunately that’s the name of the game here. And it’s too late for us to find it on qualifying day. It was too late for us to find something (Friday) and so here we are.”
After making no adjustments to his car, Rahal expected to have much more grip on a track that was 11 degrees cooler Saturday.
“I was expecting to be stuck,” he said. “She wasn’t stuck. That’s what surprised me. Also the way the balance shifted toward oversteer was the opposite of anything all week. So I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan was poised to have at least half its lineup in the field until David Malukas bumped out Lundgaard with 18 minutes left in the session.
Lundgaard made the final run of the day but was unable to bump Legge from the 30th and final secured spot.
A large entourage that included family and Sheena Monk (her Acura co-driver on an IMSA GTD team) was cheering on Legge, who will make her third Indy 500 start but first in 10 years.
“It was a bit stressful because we were at the mercy of the gods, and thankfully they were with me today,” Legge said. “Now we’ll work on the race car and show them what we’ve got for the weekend.
“Honestly now it’s just relief. You go through every single emotion on qualifying day at IMS. It’s unbelievable. I’m just really lucky I have three amazing teammates, and we’re all working together and taking it really well.”
Sunday, she will be providing moral support for Lundgaard, Rahal and Harvey as RLL faces the unthinkable proposition of having a car failing to qualify at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- where a week earlier the team enjoyed its best race weekend of a star-crossed 2023 season.
“We’ve got the same downforce as Christian, and he’s a half-mph quicker than we are,” Harvey said. “Why? I have no idea. I really don’t understand it. In truth, sometimes I don’t think always the teams know, either. It’s weird because the first two days I thought we actually were OK.
“I think clearly the high boost has brought something out of the car that was being masked before. It’s been a weird one, man. I felt we were looking OK, and then sometimes you’re not OK. As the week has gone gone, it’s been frustrating.
“I’ve said a couple of times there’s a human part of this. It’s not easy to stay positive all the time. You want to take a big swing, but in the same breath, you want your right foot to be able to stay down and do it in the moments where you make a swing for the fence but don’t want to end up in the fence. You just make a swing for it. We’ll see how it shakes out. … The reality is not good. It could be one of our cars that goes home. We’ve been working so diligently to try and make that not the case. Honestly, we’ve just got to try not to be the slowest.”
Callum Ilott was able to avoid that outcome after a disastrous start that necessitated a midweek chassis switch overnight after his primary car was painfully slow Wednesday.
The Juncos Hollinger Racing driver was 4 mph off the pace in his first run Saturday with the No. 77 Dallara-Chevrolet, but the young Brit rebounded to 28th at 231.182 mph on his second and final run.
“Honestly, it’s tough,” Ilott, 24, said about the stress of making his second Indy 500. “I kind of want to cry, and maybe I did a little bit.
“Forty-eight hours ago, I even put bets that I wasn’t going to make the race basically because you just knew it wasn’t going well. At that point then it becomes a bit of a panic, desperation. For sure for me, I was probably the first to be quite desperate as soon as I drove the car on Wednesday. But we had time to work with it. Coming into today, I was really confident. Honestly I just knew if we just got a clear couple of runs, the car had pace.
So we pretty much did what others had 4 days of testing to setup in just 12 laps today. I knew deep down we could do it, kept my foot down to the floor. It’s hard to explain how rewarding a result like this after the last week. Just a big thank you to all involved ❤️ pic.twitter.com/5AtMdJXJSo— Callum Ilott (@callum_ilott) May 21, 2023
“So yeah, super special. In some ways it’s kind of one of those never-give-up situations, prove people wrong on that side. At the end of the day kind of feels like a win even though you’re 27th or something. That’s life sometimes.”
Things were a little less philosophical for Marco Andretti, who qualified 24th as the fourth of five Andretti Autosport drivers (Kyle Kirkwood, 15th; Romain Grosjean, 19th; Colton Herta 21st, Devlin DeFrancesco 26th).
“We’re throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks as a team,” Andretti told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “We don’t come here to run like this. It’s actually embarrassing, to be honest. This is the third year in a row that can’t even compete, so I’m extremely frustrated.
“We’re trying stuff that how are you going to hit an aero balance when you’ve never run it before until qualifying? The car just goes straight, and I’m out of adjustments, and you run out of room. I’m just a passenger.”
Pretty frustrated. Not for the lack of trying. So much effort from this team in the offseason goes into this race. We don’t come here to run like this. Confusing day. But that’s Indy. Another fight on our hands race day with less than ideal track position.— Marco Andretti (@MarcoAndretti) May 20, 2023
Day 1 qualifying Saturday for the 107th Indianapolis 500 on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with rank, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:
1. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Chevy, 2 minutes, 33.8810 seconds (233.947 mph)
2. (7) Alexander Rossi, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.1569 (233.528)
3. (10) Alex Palou, Dallara-Honda, 2:34.2432 (233.398)
4. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.2449 (233.395)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 2:34.2584 (233.375)
6. (66) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.2768 (233.347)
7. (11) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 2:34.2932 (233.322)
8. (5) Pato O’Ward, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.3394 (233.252)
9. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.4093 (233.147)
10. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda, 2:34.4866 (233.030)
11. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.6797 (232.739)
12. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.6932 (232.719)
13. (33) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.7128 (232.689)
14. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.7206 (232.677)
15. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Dallara-Honda, 2:34.7311 (232.662)
16. (20) Conor Daly, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.8833 (232.433)
17. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 2:34.9039 (232.402)
18. (23) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 2:35.0837 (232.133)
19. (28) Romain Grosjean, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.1744 (231.997)
20. (06) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.2032 (231.954)
21. (26) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.2055 (231.951)
22. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.2539 (231.878)
23. (18) David Malukas, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.3270 (231.769)
24. (98) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.3857 (231.682)
25. (24) Stefan Wilson, Dallara-Chevy, 2:35.4083 (231.648)
26. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.6061 (231.353)
27. (78) Agustin Canapino, Dallara-Chevy, 2:35.6287 (231.320)
28. (77) Callum Ilott, Dallara-Chevy, 2:35.7212 (231.182)
29. (50) RC Enerson, Dallara-Chevy, 2:35.7574 (231.129)
30. (44) Katherine Legge, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.7971 (231.070)