Team Penske dominates first day of Indy 500 qualifying as Ganassi and Ericsson shut out of pole

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Team Penske swept the top three spots in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on Saturday, with Will Power at the top of the list, giving a team under scrutiny a solid shot at winning the pole for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Kyle Larson also qualified for his first career Indianapolis 500, making the Fast 12 and putting him alongside the Penske trio in going for the pole Sunday. Larson is the fifth driver to attempt the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, and he could get a dry run by following his pole run with a trip to NASCAR's All-Star race in North Carolina on Sunday night.

Larson is joined by two other cars from Arrow McLaren, one from Ed Carpenter Racing, one from Meyer Shank Racing, one from Andretti Global, two-time winner Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan and Santino Ferrucci of A.J. Foyt Racing in the pole shootout. That makes seven different teams comprising the Fast 12.

Many cars had engine issues Saturday, and even though nine Chevrolet drivers made the top 12, neither Chevy nor Honda were immune from qualifying problems.

Chip Ganassi Racing, meanwhile, didn't place a driver inside the Fast 12 as Honda struggled with speed. Alex Palou, last year's polesitter and the winner on the road course at Indianapolis last weekend, qualified 14th as the highest Ganassi car.

Palou, like teammate Scott Dixon, needed an engine change ahead of qualifying, and there was similar concern about Ganassi driver Kyffiin Simpson's engine.

But as Palou waited in line to make another run at the Fast 12, Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing rebounded from an early morning crash to snag the 11th spot with seconds remaining before the end of qualifying at 6 p.m. local time.

Last out was Graham Rahal, making one last attempt to crack the top 30 and lock in a place for the Indy 500. He was unable to do it, putting him in the bottom four among the 34 cars, and that quartet will battle for the last three spots on Sunday.

Among those trying to snag one of the final three positions are Marcus Ericsson, the 2022 winner who finished second last year. He crashed Thursday in his new Andretti Global ride and was overwhelmingly frustrated with his Saturday performance.

“This place has very high highs and very low lows,” Ericsson said. “I put myself in this position with my crash. The effort is there but it's tough, it's very tough.”

Ericsson will be battling Katherine Legge, the only female in the field, along with Rahal and Nolan Siegel for the last spots. Siegel flipped in Friday practice and the 19-year old has been struggling to bounce back since the frightening crash.

Rahal failed to make the race a year ago. He got his entry when Stefan Wilson broke his back in a crash in practice ahead of the race, and Rahal was picked as the replacement driver.

“I think all winter the boys have worked awfully hard and when you are on the shop floor, you don't really see all the results, you just work,” Rahal said. “These guys thrashed to get ready to Indy. When a car doesn't want to pull a gear, it just doesn't. When you've got a car like the guys in the front rows do, they don't have to do much. And when you don't, it's not so easy to ride.”

Meanwhile, the Penske trio dominated Saturday with their early runs.

Power turned a lap at 233.758 mph to take Saturday's top qualifying spot and put himself in position to win his first Indy 500 pole. Power is IndyCar's all-time leading pole-winner with 70 for his career, but never at the most prestigious race in world.

“It’s a nice box to tick, a very nice box,” Power said. “You know, it means nothing for the race, but it would be something very nice for me because we’ve been here so many times and been close so many times.”

Power was followed by teammates Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden, the defending race winner, both of whom have been entangled in a Team Penske cheating scandal dating to the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Florida.

IndyCar detected about six weeks after Newgarden's victory in March that he and McLaughlin illegally accessed a boost of horsepower when they were not permitted. Both of their finishes were disqualified, all three Penske drivers were fined $25,000 — even though Power never used the manipulated software — and team owner Roger Penske suspended four team members, including Team Penske president Tim Cindric.

Cindric also is Newgarden's race strategist and considered one of the best in motorsports. Newgarden said even without him, the Penske entries have been ready for a long time as they try to give Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske a record-extending 20th Indy 500 victory.

“I thought we were this prepared the last two to three years,” Newgarden said. "I felt confident the last multiple years. The effort this last offseason has been the same as we’ve done every year. We’ve looked at everything, didn’t yield what we needed, we looked at everything again. Still didn’t yield it.

“We’ve been hammering this process and I think there were certainly things probably we were missing, and we worked so hard on everything else, it just elevated the program. I don’t think there’s any guarantees you’re going to see a Penske car on pole this weekend. I don’t know how you can say that.”

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AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

05/18/2024 22:32 -0400

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