Ganassi, Ganassi, Ganassi. It was practically the only name mentioned as the four-car organization returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway poised to defend last year’s Indianapolis 500 victory but Arrow McLaren Racing pushed them aside on the first day of Indy 500 qualifying.
With the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix cancelled due to flooding in the region, making Imola unraceable. Qualifying for next weekend’s Indy 500, the world’s greatest Oval race takes center stage this weekend in the world of motorsport.
Felix Rosenqvist, a former Chip Ganassi Racing driver, no less, led the McLaren charge Saturday by posting the fastest four-lap average. His late afternoon run of 233.947 mph was the third-fastest four-lap qualifying effort in race history.
After Rosenqvist bumped new McLaren teammate Alexander Rossi from the top spot – a position he’d held nearly six hours – he said: “It was pretty mind-blowing how we found so much speed,” said. “What a run. Just a fun time to be in an Arrow McLaren. We are definitely looking good right now.”
When the gun fired to signal the end of the day, all four McLaren drivers were inside the top 12 and advanced into Sunday’s shootout for the pole. Ganassi also landed all four of its drivers inside the top 12, but as the clock ticked down, defending race winner Marcus Ericsson stood on pit lane unsure if he should make another qualifying attempt.
He was 10th at the time but stuck in a long line of traffic as drivers not inside the top 12 debated pulling their times and taking another shot at logging four fast laps around the historic 2.5-mile oval.
Penske struggled at The Captain’s track
Conversely, Team Penske struggled mightily and only reigning IndyCar champion Will Power advanced into the top 12. Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin never put together a strong enough four-lap average run to move them up through the field. McLaughlin will start the Indy 500 from 14th, three spots ahead of Newgarden, who did pull his time late in a last-ditch attempt to crack the top 12.
“Unfortunately that’s just what we had,” Newgarden said. “We really went aggressive, as aggressive as you can go, and it just wasn’t there.”
The first four rows of the field will be set Sunday in a final round of qualifying for the fastest 12 drivers.
Team Penske had it easy, though, compared to a panicked Rahal Letterman Lanigan organization. As Graham Rahal, Christian Lundgaard and Jack Harvey slogged their way around the speedway, the team made a late-day adjustment to move the setup from Katherine Legge’s car onto the other three. Legge, the only woman entered in the May 28 field, was clearly the fastest of the Rahal cars and the team was desperate at the end of the day.
Ultimately, Rahal, Harvey and Lundgaard joined Sting Ray Robb as the slowest four drivers of the day. The quartet has its own scheduled Sunday shootout in which three of them will make the field of 33 and one driver will go home. Team owner Bobby Rahal won the 1986 Indy 500 and the 1992 IndyCar title, then missed the 500 the very next year.
“It’s extremely disappointing. We don’t want to fight each other in this position,” Lundgaard said. “At least we got one in, so Katherine has done an awesome job. But we just don’t have the speed.”
A day in which underdog A.J. Foyt Racing excelled
Y’ALL!!! Both our guys put our cars in the Top 12 for the 107th Running of the #Indy500!!!
Mega effort by the entire Foyt organization! 💪 Shoutout to BP for being the fastest rookie too. #HFOTatIndy | #INDYCAR | #ThisIsMay pic.twitter.com/7dEuDmqhx7
— AJ Foyt Racing (@AJFoytRacing) May 20, 2023
It was a shocking show from one of IndyCar’s better teams, especially on a day in which underdog A.J. Foyt Racing excelled. The lowest-ranked full-time team in the series landed both Santino Ferrucci and rookie Benjamin Pedersen in the top 12 with a shot at the pole Sunday. Foyt, who is 88 and whose wife of 68 years died last month, watched his drivers from a golf cart on pit lane.
Chevrolet dominated the first day of qualifying with three of the fastest four cars and landed eight in Sunday’s shootout. The Chevrolet representatives were the entire McLaren camp of Rosenqvist, Rossi, Pato O’Ward and Tony Kanaan, who says this is his final Indy 500. They were joined by Ferrucci and Pedersen of Foyt, Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing and Power of Penske.
The only Honda drivers to advance were the Ganassi fleet of Ericsson, Scott Dixon, Alex Palou and Takuma Sato. Honda also powers the Rahal organization and Dale Coyne Racing, which will put rookie Robb out Sunday in an effort to bump one of the Rahal cars.
Unlike rivals at Arrow McLaren, it was a subpar day for Andretti Autosport, another Honda-powered team, which failed to land a single driver in the top 12. Kyle Kirkwood qualified 15th as the fastest Andretti driver.
“We’re throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks as a team,” Marco Andretti said. “We don’t come here to run like this — it’s actually embarrassing, to be honest. It’s the third year in a row we have a car that can’t even compete.” For now they have Arrow McLaren to chase.
Time to come back and battle tomorrow.
These 4 drivers will fight for the last 3 spots in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.
Tune in on Sunday at 2 PM ET on Peacock. pic.twitter.com/MJjRIsbtMD
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 21, 2023