until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Record Indy 500 pole for McLaughlin, Ericsson avoids Bump Day scare

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Scott McLaughlin delivered the fastest-ever four-lap pole run in Indianapolis 500 history and Team Penske scored a 1-2-3 in qualifying, as NASCAR crossover star Kyle Larson also impressed by fighting for pole.

The drama is always intense in the pole fight as the fastest driver from the earlier Top 12 session goes last, and McLaughlin definitely saved the best for last, as he delivered an outrageous 234.526mph first lap that shouldn’t have been possible in such hot conditions.

His average speed over the four runs was 234.220mph, the only driver in the 234mph range on average, and his margin back to second wasn't even close in the end.

It’s McLaughlin’s second oval pole after securing his first at Gateway last year, and by far his best start at the Indy 500 as his previous best was 14th in three attempts.

It also repeats Penske’s feat of locking out the front row at the Indy 500 from 1988 and marks its 19th pole ahead of what could be its 20th win if it manages that feat next week.

This was Chevrolet's 13th Indy 500 pole - its first since 2019 amid a period of Honda dominance - and comes amid a frantic effort to correct a serious mechanical issue over night.

Chevrolet ran dynos around the world according to GM's vice president for performance and motorsports Jim Campbell, after seven separate instances of losing power through a fuel-related issue known as a plenum event. No similar issues occurred across the whole of Sunday's action.

McLaughlin - who just four years ago was driving touring cars and had barely driven a single-seater - cost Penske team-mate and all-time best IndyCar qualifier Will Power the chance to score his first Indy 500 pole, ahead of defending winner Josef Newgarden - who secured third place despite being without his strategist and race engineer this month.

Alexander Rossi had taken offence to Penske talking about the potential for locking out the front row on Saturday already, but wasn’t quite able to breach the top three for McLaren. The 2016 winner was the only non-Penske driver to deliver a 234mph lap.

Larson, meanwhile, took fifth in a sensational first Indy 500 qualifying session.

Driving for McLaren at the Indy 500, Larson is widely regarded by those familiar with him as one of the best drivers in the world as a NASCAR Cup champion and regular short-oval race winner.

But it’s fair to say the Indy 500 is one of his biggest tests yet and might end up being the bridge to more people in the single-seater world and outside of North America having a better idea of what he is capable of.

Even though he’s clearly been given a very good car by Chevrolet-powered McLaren, Larson has still had to work on the weight-jacker and anti-roll-bars in the cockpit and chase the balance of the car - and he showed how well he has done that by going fifth quickest in the Fast 12 session, and scored the same result in the Fast Six.

Larson promptly left after his qualifying lap to go and compete for $1million in NASCAR's All Star Race - which has been delayed slightly just for him - in North Wilkesboro three hours or so after Indy 500 qualifying.

Santino Ferrucci, a podium finisher last year, rounded out the top six for AJ Foyt Racing. He had taken offence to the Penske drivers playing down the technical partnership it has with Foyt and its role in Penske’s performance.

Rinus VeeKay was the fastest driver to miss out on the Fast Six session, and will start seventh after his heroic Saturday performance where he crashed and was 28th until his final run bumped him into the Fast 12 for Sunday.

Pato O’Ward of McLaren and his ex-team-mate Felix Rosenqvist, now at Meyer Shank Racing, were eighth and ninth, ahead of Takuma Sato - who is back at Rahal Letterman Lanigan for the first time since 2021. The two-time Indy 500 winner has practiced almost exclusively on qualifying set-up all week and it paid off.

Kyle Kirkwood was the top Andretti car in 11th, ahead of another shock improver on Saturday, 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay - who went from outside the top 20 to inside the top 10 briefly with a late effort for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

Ericsson's Bump Day drama

Last year's runner-up and 2022 race winner Marcus Ericsson spent a good portion of Last Chance ‘Bump Day’ qualifying facing the very real prospect that he might not qualify.

Katherine Legge’s first run was fastest for a struggling Dale Coyne team, effectively guaranteeing her qualification, but despite that impressive run Legge - whose car did look particularly recalcitrant - summed up the nature of Bump Day by saying: “I feel sick, shakey and I want to cry.”

Behind her, the three remaining drivers - Graham Rahal, last year's surprise driver to be bumped, Ericsson, and rookie Nolan Siegel - all faced worries of not qualifying through the session.

Ericsson crashed on Thursday after dipping his front-left wheel into the no-go kerb on the inside of Turn 4, and his time at Indianapolis has been a nightmare ever since.

Robbed of a car that has been worked on, tweaked and caressed to be perfect at Indy for months and instead driving a back-up car struggling for speed, it looked like his first attempt would be enough to get him in the race.

However, he backed off entering Turn 1 on his fourth lap, as his team shouted “keep going” on the radio. Ericsson had ended his qualifying a lap early by accident.

He said “I can’t believe I did that”, adding “it was a very very tough mental challenge” and that “it was all on me. I messed that up, I shouldn’t be doing that with my experience”.

He seemingly had the pace to beat Siegel to get in the race, but he had the added complication of needing to wait for his car to cool down before going again.

The engine works better started from a lower temperature and also colder fuel can be worth extra horsepower. But if you pour that fuel into a hot car, it heats up and the advantage is negated.

The track temperature was also at 54.44C and rising, further complicating Ericsson’s run as that heat is not good for tyre life over four laps at an average of 230mph.

Ericsson hit the track with just under eight minutes to go in the session, and managed to go second fastest against the odds, pushing Siegel out of the race.

Siegel needed to go quicker than Rahal on the final run of the session inside the last three minutes but crashed for the second time this week, on his first lap. He got out to huge applause.

Last Chance qualifying

31 Katherine Legge 230.092mph
32 Marcus Ericsson 230.027mph
33 Graham Rahal 229.974mph
34 Nolan Siegel - bumped

In the end, Legge headed Ericsson and Rahal on the times. Both Ericsson and Siegel showed how much work goes into a primary Indy 500 car because both drivers struggled after heavy crashes in practice week.

Rahal, who praised Coyne for improving since Siegel's own crash on Wednesday, said he would not be celebrating making the race - having remembered how seeing others do so when he was bumped made him feel.

Indy 500 grid

1 Scott McLaughlin
2 Will Power
3 Josef Newgarden
4 Alexander Rossi
5 Kyle Larson
6 Santino Ferrucci
7 Rinus VeeKay
8 Pato O’Ward
9 Felix Rosenqvist
10 Takuma Sato
11 Kyle Kirkwood
12 Ryan Hunter-Reay
13 Colton Herta
14 Alex Palou
15 Callum Ilott
16 Marcus Armstrong
17 Ed Carpenter
18 Kyffin Simpson
19 Marco Andretti
20 Helio Castroneves
21 Scott Dixon
22 Agustin Canapino
23 Sting Ray Robb
24 Christian Rasmussen
25 Tom Blomqvist
26 Romain Grosjean
27 Linus Lundqvist
28 Christian Lundgaard
29 Conor Daly
30 Pietro Fittipaldi
31 Katherine Legge
32 Marcus Ericsson
33 Graham Rahal
Bumped from the grid: Nolan Siegel

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