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Everything Fast Friday told us ahead of Indy 500 qualifying

by Jack Benyon
8 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

A monster 234.974mph lap - completed in 38.3021s, over 2.5 miles - may be the headline from Fast Friday at the Indianapolis 500, but it also featured a juggernaut team rebounding, regular pole winners struggling, crashes, engine issues and more high drama.

Fast Friday gets its nickname as drivers get the 100bhp boost they will also receive for qualifying on Saturday and Sunday, and the teams take it in turns to go for four-lap runs, which is the format used in qualifying too.

Here’s everything you need to know about Fast Friday and what knowledge we’ve gleaned that can be applied to Saturday and Sunday.

Penske is back

You might be forgiven for not being surprised that 19-time winner Team Penske is fast in preparation for qualifying, but what if we told you its average starting spot at the last four Indy 500s is 19.86?

Or that none of its three drivers - including Will Power, who has the most poles in IndyCar history - have had an Indy 500 pole before?

And after the previous month, as a rules violation at St Petersburg came to light and two of its drivers were subsequently disqualified from the IndyCar season opener, with the furore that followed plunging the team into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, ‘Fast Friday’ practice will be desperately sought after.

Penske Indy 500 qualifying since 2020

13th - Josef Newgarden
22nd - Will Power
25th - Simon Pagenaud
28th - Helio Castroneves

17th - Scott McLaughlin
21st - Newgarden
26th - Pagenaud
32nd - Power

11th - Power
14th - Newgarden
26th - McLaughlin

12th - Power
14th - McLaughlin
17th - Newgarden

In particular, Josef Newgarden appears to have pace in hand at the head of the field as Friday was spent practising for qualifying, with an additional 100bhp boost offered only for time trials.

Newgarden was at the top of the charts among the early runners simulating the four-lap average that decides your starting position for the Indy 500, and then halfway through the day he posted a 234.063mph average run that would have put him fourth on the grid for last year’s race. His team-mates Scott McLaughin and Will Power joined him in the top three soon after, and all three have a favourable position in line to qualify with, too.

For Newgarden, this totally changes the narrative.

He gave a tear-filled press conference at Barber after his breach of the push-to-pass rules at St Petersburg came to light, had two nightmare races at Barber (16th) and the Indy GP (17th), and sits only 17th in the championship.

He also lost Team Penske’s chief Tim Cindric as his strategist and Luke Mason, his engineer, through suspension in the fallout from St Pete.

So after a woeful start to the year where everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong, and losing two of the most important people from his win last year at the Indy 500, he has a chance to do something Penske hasn’t since 2019; take pole for the race.

What a way to start his defence that would be.

Last year's polesitter in trouble or sandbagging?

In stark contrast to Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, the winner of the last three poles and four of the last seven at the Indy 500, appears to be struggling.

A new harder tyre - introduced in anticipation of the extra weight the hybrid should have brought for 2024, before its introduction was delayed - and a tweaked aero package might just be the thing to end Ganassi's qualifying dominance in this era.

However, Scott Dixon had a huge grin on his face while discussing how his car didn’t have pole-contending pace, but he also conceded that he hadn’t taken much downforce off his car before his machine had to go through technical inspection. Curious and curious-er...

It would be a brave person to rule out four-time polesitter Dixon, but it’s fairly clear the pendulum has swung from Honda appearing to be ahead on race pace to Chevrolet having moved ahead slightly in qualifying trim.

Alex Palou had a catastrophic engine issue that kept him out of most of the second half of Fast Friday and last year’s polesitter might be looking at trying to fight to reach the top 12 rather than the top six, unless Ganassi really does have a lot more speed in hand.

With a late run after an engine change, Palou did go 17th on a four-lap average and comfortably managed laps at 232mph, which points to the new engine at least being worthy of last year’s fastest qualifier.

It's certainly not the ideal day or what we're used to seeing from Ganassi, but it is more than capable of pooling its resources and getting on top of the car by Sunday - if it can make it to the final stages of qualifying.

Larson looks phenomenal

The 2021 NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Larson set the second fastest time of the day outright for Arrow McLaren. It might have come with a bit of a tow, but he still went faster than he ever has gone in a car before with a 234.271mph lap. And he’s driven a lot of cars.

He spent most of Thursday frustrated he wasn’t getting many laps in due to various issues including an engine change, but on Friday there were no such issues.

His four-lap average was bumped down the order later in the session but it was still 10th-best, and he was happy with his day as he sensibly added more and more layers of complication with the tools in the car to extract the maximum amount of pace.

The fact he is targeting the top 12 and not thinking about merely getting into the race shows his comfort in the car, and how fast the package underneath him is. It wouldn’t be outrageous to see him up there.

Given he’s started more NASCAR races at 31 than 49-year-old Helio Castroneves has IndyCar starts, and that Larson sometimes races three times a week with his short oval commitments, it’s no surprise to see him adapt so quickly. But even so, the stars are aligning extremely well so far.

He and Alexander Rossi - who will qualify last having received a nightmare draw - seem to be the contenders at McLaren with Pato O’Ward and Callum Ilott appearing to struggle more. O’Ward conceded as much, saying his car couldn’t do 234mph laps, but he is always strong in the race and reckons he’ll have a chance if he can qualify inside the top 15.

Sometimes it's hard for a team to turn out four equal cars when it comes down to a mix of consistency of parts (sometimes from control suppliers), having different people work on those cars, and inevitably there being some discrepancy between engines even in the same manufacturer camp.

When you consider - over one lap at least - the top 31 cars were all on a lap of 38 seconds, split by 0.667s over 2.5 miles, you start to see how little differences can add up.

Crashes and adversity

Nolan Siegel delivered the biggest shunt of the day as he went upside down after being caught out by a loose rear-end at Turn 2.

His Dale Coyne team looks in real trouble as Siegel missed most of the day while Katherine Legge could barely string two laps together in pursuit of speed. But who else is struggling?

The 2022 winner and last year's runner-up Marcus Ericsson’s name may be a surprise down there. His first Indy 500 with Andretti derailed quickly on Thursday when he dipped his front left on to the lethal Turn 4 concrete and crashed heavily, and it took most of Friday to find speed in the car.

His later-in-the-day four-lap run was then ruined by traffic too.

Colton Herta also had his best chance at a four-lap run ruined by traffic and his monster session-topping single lap of 234.974mph came with a tow, but he looks like he could contend for the top 12 this year along with team-mate Kyle Kirkwood, who runs first in qualifying.

Another driver who crashed on Thursday, Linus Lundqvist, rewarded his Ganassi crew with the 25th-best four-lap run which would comfortably put him in the field if he manages a repeat on Saturday.

Qualifying draw

In order of the fastest times set on Friday, each driver chooses a card at random that designates the order they will qualify in on Saturday.

In qualifying, each driver gets one guaranteed run, so the draw designates where they will go. Kirkwood drew number one so he will go first, and Alexander Rossi drew 34th - so he’ll go 34th.

All of the drivers are desperate to draw a low number and to head out early. This is because the earlier in the session, the cooler it usually is.

There is time to try again later on in the session when everyone has had their guaranteed run, but the track is likely to be slower then because of the heat.

It’s not an exact science given changeable conditions, but drivers qualifying earlier in the order will likely struggle less to set a fast time.

Running order

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

Indy 500 qualifying schedule

All times ET (BST -5 hours)

Saturday May 18
Practice: 0830-0930
Qualifying: 1100-1750

Sunday May 19
Top 12 practice: 1130-1230
Last Chance qualifiers' practice: 1230-1330
Top 12 qualifying: 1505-1605
Last Chance qualifying: 1615-1715
Fast Six qualifying: 1725-1755

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