Chip Ganassi Racing flexed its muscle Saturday during Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying for the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, as Scott Dixon led all four of the team’s cars into the Firestone Fast Nine Shootout with the fastest qualifying run on the first attempt overall of the day.
There also was drama at the opposite end of the field, as 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power was relegated to Last Chance Qualifying on Sunday after his two runs were too slow to make the top 30.
Six-time and reigning NTT Indycar Series champion Dixon was the first driver on track when qualifying started at noon (ET) after his team earned the first spot in the qualifying draw Friday night, and he delivered in the best track and air conditions of the five-hour, 50-minute session.
Dixon produced a four-lap average speed of 231.828 mph in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda, and his car number stayed atop the iconic Scoring Pylon for the rest of the day despite 58 attempts to topple it.
“You forget how stressful this is,” Dixon said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever gone first. It’s pretty interesting. Huge credit to everyone on the PNC Bank Grow Up Great car.
“It was a fairly smooth run. I made a mistake on Lap 2, which probably cost us a tenth or two from the average.”
2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Dixon will make the last attempt in the Firestone Fast Nine Shootout, which determines the NTT P1 Award winner for pole and the starting order for the first three rows, as the nine fastest cars from today start in inverse order in the one-shot format.
The Shootout takes place from 3-3:45 p.m. on the 2.5-mile oval and will be televised live on NBC and Peacock.
Dixon will be the favorite to earn his fourth Indy 500 pole, but the powerful Ganassi team will have four chances to take the coveted top spot. CGR drivers Tony Kanaan (third, 231.639, No. 48 The American Legion Honda), Alex Palou (seventh, 231.145, No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Marcus Ericsson (ninth, 231.104, No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) also made the Shootout.
“Tomorrow will be a different day; it’s going to be different conditions,” Dixon said. “Hopefully all four of us can hit it right.”
But Ganassi’s day lost some of its sparkle at 3:35 p.m., when Palou crashed in Turn 2 while making his second qualifying attempt.
Palou didn’t withdraw his first run, preserving his spot in the Shootout, but still was trying to improve his position when the rear of his car got loose and made heavy right-side contact with the SAFER Barrier, inflicting significant damage.
Palou climbed from his car without injury, but the Ganassi team will face a long night repairing the car for the Shootout on Sunday.
Other drivers participating in the Shootout are Colton Herta (second, 231.648, No. 26 Gainbridge Honda), Ed Carpenter (fourth, 231.616, No. 20 SONAX Chevrolet), Rinus VeeKay (fifth, 231.483, No. 21 Bitcoin Chevrolet), three-time “500” winner Helio Castroneves (sixth, 231.164, No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) and 2014 Indy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (ninth, 231.139, No. 28 DHL Honda).
Cloud cover broke shortly after the first trip through the original 35-car qualifying draw, and the sunshine raised track temperatures nearly 25 degrees, decreasing traction and engine efficiency. That prevented any successful attempts at bumping into the Indy 500 Fast Nine from multiple drivers after the first run through the draw, but there was plenty of suspense and tension at the back end of the grid in the final hour.
2014 series champion Power will be one of the five drivers trying to take one of the three last-row spots during Last Chance Qualifying, which takes place from 1:15-2:30 p.m. and will be televised on NBCSN and Peacock. Power, winner of 62 poles in his INDYCAR SERIES career, failed to record a speed in the top 30 in two attempts in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet.
Power’s first run, at 1:21 p.m., averaged 229.052 and ended up outside the top 30. But he withdrew that attempt to jump a long line of cars in the “normal” lane and make his second attempt from the “fast” lane, ensuring he got another shot. That run, at 5:33 p.m., 17 minutes before the end of qualifying, averaged 229.228 and also wasn’t fast enough.
“You need to be scientist to work this one out,” Power said. “I guess we have to go tomorrow. We gave it our best shot today. I think if we just do a conservative run tomorrow, we should be OK.”
Joining Power in the Last Chance Qualifying will be Sage Karam (No. 24 DRR-AES INDIANA Chevrolet), Charlie Kimball (No. 11 Tresiba/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet), Simona De Silvestro (No. 16 Rocket Pro TPO/Paretta Autosport Chevrolet) and RC Enerson (No. 75 Top Gun Racing Chevrolet).
Dalton Kellett exhaled most deeply among the drivers toward the rear of the field, as he avoided the Last Row Shootout and will start 30th in the No. 4 K-Line Insulators/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.
A 30-minute practice for the five Last Chance Qualifying participants will take place from 11-11:30 a.m. Sunday, followed by a 30-minute session for Firestone Fast Nine Shootout participants from 11:30-noon. An open practice will follow the Last Chance Qualifying and Shootout, from 5-7 p.m. local time.