Will Power, one of the greatest qualifiers in IndyCar history, failed to secure his place in the 33-car field on Saturday’s opening day of qualifying. The 2018 Indy 500 winner will be one of five drivers vying for the last three spots on the field on Sunday, after qualifying is over.
Power’s struggles have been the worst of a group of Team Penske that has lagged behind in competition all week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We’re slow,” said team president Tim Cindric. “If we only knew [why], we wouldn’t be slow. We are working on it. ”
None of Penske’s four appearances have been so impressive, and the struggle to find speed extended to Simona De Silvestro, who returned to Indy for the first time since 2015 with a supported female-led racing team. by Penske in his effort for diversity. .
De Silvestro broke the clock by just eight seconds for a final qualifying attempt, but that wasn’t enough to lock him into the top 30.
“Watching it go by, I could tell by the sound,” said team owner Beth Paretta. “I knew she didn’t have it in the first round. “
Power and De Silvestro will face off against Charlie Kimball, Sage Karam and rookie RC Enerson in a back row shootout on Sunday. Two drivers will miss the race and the shooting range features a pair of Penske cars for the first time since 1995, when Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi missed the event.
“You have to be a scientist to work on this one,” said Power, who with 62 poles only trails Mario Andretti’s record of 67 poles on the career list.
Power had qualified in the top three spots of the Indianapolis 500 in 11 of the past 12 years.
“We did our best. I think if we’re just doing a conservative race tomorrow, we should be OK, ”said Power. “But if something is wrong, you are away. “
No one expected a fight from Team Penske, but it was immediately clear on Saturday that the Chevrolet-backed powerhouse had nothing for most of the field. But that was not a problem for Chevrolet, even though Honda won seven places in the Fast Nine.
“This place is weird. You see that every year someone who you think should be really fast ends up not being fast, ”said Colton Herta, second fastest of the day. “Of course this Penske thing is weird. “
Scott McLaughlin, the IndyCar rookie making his Indianapolis 500 debut, was the fastest among the Penske drivers in 17th place. Josef Newgarden finished 21st and Simon Pagenaud 26th.
De Silvestro said she was “super happy” with the performance of the No. 16 Chevrolet in practice – until the series officials cranked up horsepower to increase speed. The change put the car off balance and the speed lagged behind.
” It’s really strange. Maybe we have changed too much, ”said de Silvestro. “I think I’m going to spend the night watching a lot of videos and browsing a lot of data. We have an hour to put them on the show, and we need a smooth flow. “
The pole and the first three places of the race on May 30 will be settled on Sunday, and the quartet of Chip Ganassi Racing has the advantage. Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon posted the fastest four-lap average to open qualifying, and no one knocked him down from first place in the next six hours.
Dixon said he was shaking in the team transporter when he tried to put on his socks.
“It’s a big deal, isn’t it?” You get started, the first time you enter Turn 1 at 240 mph, you hope you’re going to come out the other side in one piece, ”Dixon said. “TK [Tony Kanaan] and I was changing before we went to qualifying, and he’s like, “Hey man, are you still nervous? I’m like ‘Dude, I’m really nervous.’ “
After Dixon and Herta, there were Kanaan, Ed Carpenter and Rinus VeeKay, the 20-year-old Ed Carpenter Racing driver who claimed the first IndyCar victory of his career last week on the IMS road course.
Carpenter and VeeKay are the only Chevrolet drivers in the Fast Nine.
“I think we have just as much a chance to win a pole as any of these guys. I’ve been in this position enough times before, ”said Carpenter, three-time Indy 500 pole winner.“ That’s the beauty of qualifying here. You have to get out and do four laps. After we have all done four laps, we’ll find out who’s the best. We have everything we need to fight. “
The day was dominated by Honda, and at one point Dixon said the engine maker was chasing all nine spots in the Fast Nine. Helio Castroneves finished sixth for Meyer Shank Racing, followed by Alex Palou of Ganassi, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti and Marcus Ericsson in Ganassi’s last entry.
“To have the four [Ganassi] The Fast Nine cars are pretty massive, especially with the level of competition we have these days, “said Dixon.” Obviously a big thank you to Honda for bringing the performance they have.
Palou was devastated, however, after crashing during a qualifying attempt late in the afternoon. He had feared being ousted from the Fast Nine and had tried to improve his time in the heat against the better judgment of his crew.
“I was pushing the team. The team was about to go out now with the weather, so I was pushing them like, “Hey guys, we’ve got a fast car, we can go,” ”said Palou. “So I feel a little stupid that I didn’t listen to the team and I’m so sorry for all the work they did. “
The car could be fixed and Palou doesn’t need a backup for Sunday.
Marco Andretti, the pole sitter last year, complained about his slowness all week. Things looked so bleak at the start that the third-generation rider was worried he would not qualify.
He eventually climbed to 25th place with a stronger run. Andretti has stepped away from racing full time this season but is back for his 16th start in the 500m, the only race on his calendar.