INDIANAPOLIS—“Bump Day” is back and so is the major stress associated with four laps of qualifying around Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
For A.J. Foyt, the stress factor was limited to just one of his three entries because the ABC Supply Chevrolets driven by Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus Leist were safely in the field of 33 cars. For James Davison, it came down to the final minute of qualifying as he and the Foyt/Byrd/Hollinger/Belardi crew breathed a huge sigh of relief when the gun went off signaling the end of qualifying. They were 33rd quickest, on the bubble and as of 5:50 p.m. ET, they were officially in the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Kanaan and Leist barely missed qualifying for the Fast 9 as they ended up 11th and 12th respectively overall.
Leist posted a thrilling qualifying run (at least to team owner A.J. Foyt) when he went rather low in Turns 1 and 2 and touched the grass and then barely missed brushing the wall in Turns 3 and 4. But the cool-headed Brazilian took it in stride. He posted a four-lap average speed of 227.441mph and his four laps were within a tenth of a second—the fastest was 39.51 seconds (227.779mph) and the slowest was 39.61 seconds (227.209mph).
“Qualifying was pretty good I think, I was pretty comfortable in the car and I’m happy with the performance and happy with the effort of all the ABC crew, I think they did a great job today,” the 19-year-old rookie said. “It was a tough run because the conditions changed so much from yesterday. Yesterday I had one car and today I had a different car but the good thing is that we were still fast. We had a little bit of understeer in turn 1 and 2 and we were a little bit edgy in 3 and 4 but I had my tools so I could control the car. I think I and the team did a great job together.”
Qualifying was halted for rain at 11:52 a.m. and restarted at 2:12 p.m. Rain halted activity a second time at 3:14 pm and it resumed at 4:06 p.m. Kanaan, who was scheduled to go out late (31st of 35 qualifiers) made his qualifying run at 4:35 p.m. under hot, sunny skies. His four laps were run in less than a tenth of a second apart—0.839 seconds.
"It was a good day,” Kanaan said afterwards. “The luck of the draw definitely hurt us a bit. It is what it is. As a team, it's nice to see A.J. so happy. I wish I could've locked in the Fast 9 for him. But it doesn’t matter. Today, the most important thing was to be in the show. We have two cars that are very strong in the show. Tomorrow we will fight for the pole which is for tenth [smiles] then we'll go win the race. The year that we won here, I started 12th. I believe that we can do it."
Davison’s team worked through the night to repair his car which crashed in practice yesterday afternoon. In this morning’s practice, he still felt it was a struggle for speed. He was one of the early ones to go out (13th) and he posted an average speed of 224.798mph in the Jonathan Byrd’s 502 East Chevrolet.
“This has been some of the most dramatic 24 hours of my life,” said the 31-year-old Australian who makes his home in Florida. “In 24 hours, I began with doing the Fast Friday/Bump Day qualifying simulations while everyone else was running qualifying simulations. We were 33rd to 35th quickest. We had to try some things to go quicker. We did that and ended up in the wall very hard. I had the biggest accident of my career. A lot of work had to be done by this crew. The only way to repay them and make them feel like this effort was worth it was to make this field.”
Davison qualified at 2:17 p.m. and then had to wait it out until the end of the day as drivers took shots (nine in all) to bump their way into the field. With the way the re-qualifying lines sized up, Davison was not in a position to better his time without withdrawing his car and losing his recorded speed.
“I believe that I could've gone quicker,” Davison continued. “We couldn't withdraw our time until we had actually been bumped from the field. That time never came, but I was surprised when it came to 5:40pm and us being on the bubble. We were at a point of no return, and it was in other people's hands. We could've taken it into our own hands, but it would've been a huge risk.
“Sometimes, the racing gods just have to be on your side. At the end of the day, we're in the race,” Davison said.
Helio Castroneves made a dramatic return to the Speedway by setting fast time in qualifying today with his average speed of 228.919mph. He outpaced his three Team Penske teammates despite making his first IndyCar start this year just last week in the INDYCAR Grand Prix.
One of the Series most popular drivers and a former Indy 500 pole winner James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify for this year’s event. The shocking turn of events happened in the final hour when Hinch was bumped from the field and then went out to bump his way back in. A vibration during his run caused him to abort his run and he simply ran out of time to requalify.
Tomorrow the 33 drivers will qualify again—this time for their actual starting position in the race. There will be separate practice sessions for Group 1 (cars in positions 10-33 today) and the Fast 9, starting at noon. Those outside of the Fast 9 will have one qualifying run to determine their starting position. That session begins at 2:45 p.m. and runs till 4:45 p.m. The Fast 9, which also get just one turn, will qualify from 5:00 until 5:45 p.m. ABC-TV will broadcast qualifying from 4-6 p.m. ET.
And so the stress continues.