Indianapolis ( Associated Press) — The rain lingered long enough for an entire round of Indianapolis 500 qualifying, which saw blazing speed – the fastest in the history of the race and the fastest in 26 years – and controversy at Andretti Autosport.
Rinus VK placed his Chevrolet atop the scoring pylon with a four-lap average speed of 233.655 mph all around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This pushed fellow Chevy driver Pato O’Ward to second place on 233.037 as the two budding IndyCar stars were the first two drivers to qualify for the May 29 race.
Ari Luendik set a four-lap qualifying record in 1996 at 236.986, and VK’s average was the third fastest ever, behind Luendik and Scott Breton’s mark of 233.718. O’Ward’s average was the fifth fastest in history, with Tony Stewart fourth in 1996.
Jimmy Johnson qualified for his first Indy 500 and once again showed incredible speed. In early Saturday morning practice, Johnson turned a lap at 233.961 mph—the 14th fastest in track history. The seven-time NASCAR champion has become a legitimate contender to win the Indy 500, his fifth win at the Indianapolis Oval; Johnson won four times in NASCAR.
“I had a few quiet moments before I rolled over, I was able to look around and really take in the moment,” Johnson said, “and I’m so happy to be here at what a special moment it was.” At the moment things are looking good.”
Everyone seems to be very fast in Indy, where Saturday’s schedule was extended because the weather forecast called for a possible washout. A gust of 41 mph on “Fast Friday” the day before made for treacherous conditions, and IndyCar worried rain would ruin the first day of qualifying on Saturday.
The schedule adjustment created a seven-hour window for 33 drivers to complete the four-lap qualifying run. If all 33 failed to do it on Saturday, the entire session would have been washed away. But the weather lasted 2 hours and all 33 cars were credited with a run during that window that could have been interrupted by rain.
Positions 13 to 33 were to be determined on Saturday, and the shootout on Sunday would determine the pole.
Shortly after Johnson’s morning run, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon did the 13th fastest lap in history at 234.093, and Ed Carpenter closed the session as the leader at 234.410 mph – The fastest lap in Indy 500 practice since Luendik set the track record. in 1996 at 237.498 mph.
Carpenter’s lap was the eighth fastest ever.
Andretti Autosport had a poor start. Marco Andretti had to stop his qualifying run and angrily accused two-time winner Takuma Sato of wasting his effort as Sato failed to get off the track moments after his run.
“That was a nightmare. Terrible dream! We have to run again!” The third generation racer shouted on his radio.
The team then petitioned IndyCar to thwart Andretti’s attempt and give him a clean run.
“I’m on the break on my warmup lap! I don’t think it’s very fair, it should never have happened,” Andretti said angrily. “I’m very upset. You should never avoid running into another car on the qualifying lap.”
Sato said that he was never informed that Andretti was on the track and when he saw him in his mirrors, he inadvertently decided to stay in his line rather than go Andretti’s way.
But as the team lobbied for IndyCar, owner Michael Andretti was incredibly leaning palms on the pit wall as Colton Herta’s engine failed during Herta’s run. The winner on the road course just a week ago, Herta was making his qualifying effort when his Honda engine suddenly stalled.
He stopped his run and returned to the pits, and later confirmed that his engine would be replaced.
Then 2016 winner Alexander Rossi didn’t finish in the top-12 during his run and needs another shot to move ahead in Sunday’s contest for pole.
“We added downforce,” said Rossi, who called the decision “terrible.”
The clip echoed all Andretti in his voice, giving little comfort when IndyCar disqualified Sato for interfering with Marco Andretti’s run. His plea to throw out his seven-wasted run was not granted.
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