A Honda broke down, a gearbox crashed, an engine went off, someone hit a wall, someone had a bad technical trip, and then it rained on the first problematic day of Indy 500 qualifying on Saturday.
The drama began with news from an IndyCar tech garage where Juan Pablo Montoya’s No. 6 Arrow McLaren SP Chevy failed while passing through the checkout podium. The team reported that the failure was due to a “broken element” and as a result of this problem they lost the guaranteed qualifying track that was scheduled to take place ninth in the lottery. According to the rules, Montoya will need to wait for the other 32 drivers to complete their rides before he can perform his own tasks. When the two-time Indy 500 winner got his turn, the sweltering temperatures and lack of speed left him 29th on the grid.
Where Montoya was ready to go but had to wait to run, Stefan Wilson and the Cusick Motorsports/DragonSpeed team weren’t as lucky as the transmission issue – second and third gears accidentally switched – in the morning practice session resulted in a massive over-Rev that damaged the Chevy engine No. 25. Fearing the imminent failure of the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6, an engine change was made that forced the team to miss out on its qualifying spot and join Montoya at the bottom of the list.
Thanks to the few car-sharing delays and the arrival of rain, the day ended with Wilson’s distinction of being the only driver whose car didn’t make a trip from Gasoline Alley to perform a qualifying round; The 33rd and last will start.
Marco Andretti, the 10th driver to qualify, had a strange occurrence on the second lap of his run as the car lost steam, dropping from the first lap from 230 mph to 219 mph. Although he recovered somewhat in the third and fourth laps, his average was a disappointing 226.108 mph, leaving the 2020 Indy 500 polesitter at the bottom of the grid with an average of 226.108 mph.
To make matters worse, Andretti was slowed down by Takuma Sato who stayed on the track during the idle time lap rather than moving to the warm-up lane entering Turn 3. Andretti was enraged by finding Sato half speed ahead of him while trying to increase a runaway No. 98 Honda to the green flag .
“Starting the lap on the brake because Sato stopped in the middle of the 3rd… to start running on the brake – I don’t think it’s very fair,” Andretti said. “And then electronically… we need to find out what happened electronically. It’s a nightmare now.”
In a second round later in the day, Andretti improved to 22nd with an average of 230,345 mph.
Andretti Autosport’s teammate, Colton Herta, had another engine problem – one that was relatively terrible – as he was preparing to perform the run, but had to give up trying because the engine was making noisy noises as he entered the first turn.
“I think it might be the engine running,” Herta said. Herta’s 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 is thought to have dropped a valve; A new drive is required to make another try. Quick work by his Andretti mechanic got the car out to try and put the Herta 24 at 230,235 mph.
Game 18 of the day was on track for a solid qualifying performance, but when Mayer Shank Racing’s #06 Helio Castroneves tried to beat the lead into the corner on the last lap, a massive lift was required in order to get the car steered in the right direction.
“The car is loose, very loose,” Castroneves said.
With a drop from 229 mph in lap three to 212 mph in lap four, the Indy 500 winner’s defender was left averaging 225,482 mph; Slowest on the field at that point. Another run of 229,630 mph slightly improved the 2021 race winner’s fortunes. That’s assuming the 26th starts is a meaningful improvement…
Subsequently, Sato was penalized by IndyCar for holding Andretti down and had his speed cancelled. Sato ventured out for a new round, turned off Turn 2 and hit the SAFER hurdle with a right rear corner, but kept driving and was rewarded with a P12 at 231.708 mph.
The final moments of the drama came when Saj Karam was on the right track and ready to try to improve his speed and it started to rain. After an hour’s delay, Karam was able to start another run and finished 21st at 230,464 mph. Right behind him at the time of the rain delay was Scott McLaughlin, who became the final qualifier of the day with a 230,154 mph race which was good enough for 25th place.
Teammate Joseph Newgarden, who also pulled his qualifying speed to use the fast track to quickly get on track, was unable to start the run due to the return of rain with less than two hours remaining on the clock.
IndyCar is set to restore Newgarden speed as the day’s run was called at 4:50 p.m. local time.
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