Qualifying Report: Indianapolis 500
INDIANAPOLIS (May 22, 2021)—Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 can be described as the most brutal four laps in racing because of the stress it inflicts on those drivers vying for one of just 33 spots on the starting grid.
Saturday was no exception as qualifying for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 took place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and locked in the top 30 fastest cars. Two of A.J Foyt Racing’s four entries made it safely into the field while the other two entries’ chances came down to the final hour of qualifying.
Driving A.J. Foyt’s No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet, Dalton Kellett found himself in the game of high stakes musical chairs, but once the music stopped, he had found a seat. Five other drivers, including his teammate Charlie Kimball plus 2018 Indy 500 champion Will Power, will have to play the game again Sunday.
To set the scenario, Kellett was sitting on the bubble in the 30th spot when late in the day, drivers began making their second and third qualifying attempts to improve their speed as the track cooled down slightly. Some drivers were trying to make it into the Fast 9, while others were trying simply to make the race.
Kellett peels out in his final attempt to qualify.
Kellett’s race strategist Scott Harner made what seemed like a bold call (to the uninitiated) as he told Kellett’s K-Line Insulators USA crew to put the car in the Fast Lane to qualify. It meant Kellett would have to withdraw his earlier speed average and lose the 30th grid spot if he didn’t run faster his second time around.
Hearts sank because he didn’t.
However, the drivers outside of the top 30 failed to go faster than Kellett, including Power, the 2018 Indy 500 winner. Power's speed would have beaten Kellett had Kellett withdrawn his original four-lap average speed before Power made his second attempt.
It’s all about timing and in the evening, the timing was more critical than pure speed.
While Kellett’s second attempt was slower than his first (which he had to withdraw prior to getting on track), he was the first to attempt to qualify after his withdrawal left open the 30th spot. Thus he was back in the top 30 when he posted his four-lap average speed of 228.323mph at approximately 5:49 p.m. ET. The only car that had a chance to bump him was Simona De Silvestro who got on the track as the gun sounded signaling the end of qualifying. She was allowed to continue her run but she was unable to eclipse Kellett’s speed.
Kellett qualified for his second Indy 500 in dramatic fashion.
Kellett’s relief was palpable after he was told he’d qualified for the race.
“We’re not going to Bump Day so that’s a mission accomplished! We didn’t quite have the pace we thought we’d have coming out of Fast Friday, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. We missed the gearing a little bit on that first run, and we made an adjustment and took a bit of a risk on trimming for this last run here, had a big washout in 2, kept it off the wall and we just squeaked through. So I’m happy for the 4 team, and that we got three of the four cars in the show. We’ve got our work cut out for us to get up the field during the race but that’s what we’ll be focusing on next week.”
JR Hildebrand was the first driver of the four Foyt entries to make a qualifying run. It was solid enough to land him in 22nd spot with an average speed of 229.980 mph. His last INDYCAR race was last year’s Indy 500. However, he is driving the No. 1 ABC Supply Chevrolet, which was sporting a throwback livery to Foyt’s 1961 Indy 500 winning car. The Foyt team is celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the first of A.J.'s four 500 triumphs.
The No. 1 ABC Supply crew wore retro crew shirts echoing those worn by A.J.'s 1961 team when Foyt won the Indy 500 that year. This year they celebrate the 60th anniversary of that triumph.
“It was a pretty good day for the No. 1 ABC Supply car,” Hildebrand said. “We knew we were going to come into today and that it was going to be really tough in the mid-pack, the middle of the field. I mean the Hondas were looking pretty strong at qualifying boost so we knew that it was going to be a difficult thing to overcome throughout the field.
“Honestly, I’m just really proud of the guys,” Hildebrand revealed. “Qualifying, to me, is just so representative of the hard work the guys are doing behind the scenes. They were here late last night and super early this morning getting this thing prepped. [They were] Rubbing on it all week, so huge credit to the team to be able to throw up a pretty good number. We had a little bit more in it because we had a weird technical glitch on the third lap, so we knew there was a little bit more there. Altogether in terms of just how the run felt, it felt pretty strong. Looking forward to getting ready for the race now.”
Sebastien Bourdais qualified the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet in the 27th spot, outside of Marco Andretti and Simon Pagenaud, the 2019 Indy 500 champion.
Bourdais will start outside row 9 in next Sunday's Indy 500.
“Well, we got the No. 14 ROKiT A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet in the show,” Bourdais said. “So not exactly where we want to be as far as positions, but it’s safely in, in one piece, and now we can focus again on dialing it in for the race. which is what we’ll do tomorrow."
Kimball, whose second attempt at qualifying did not improve his grid spot, will get one more chance to qualify for the 500 tomorrow. His No. 11 Tresiba Chevrolet is numbered 11 because it is Kimball’s 11th year driving an Indy car and it will be his 11th Indy 500 if he makes a successful qualifying run.
“The Indianapolis Motor Speedway throws you curveballs and today was definitely it,” said Kimball. “We definitely executed and I’m really proud of the No. 11 Tresiba Chevrolet team for all of their hard work, all week long. We had started to see a speed delta, we kept following it, kept working on it, and today it reared its ugly head and it meant that we did not qualify for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500—yet. We get that opportunity tomorrow. We have a plan, the A.J. Foyt Racing guys are going to pull together, they’ve got three cars in the race and I know I’m going to have the support of all four cars to get it done when it matters on Sunday.”
Kimball knows he will have to try to qualify for the race on Sunday in the Last Chance qualifying session. (INDYCAR Photo, Joe Skibinski)
Kimball poses with wife Kathleen and children Hannah and Gordon after his first qualifying run.
Team president Larry Foyt summed up the day, saying, “We kind of knew it was going to be a stressful day because by ourselves we hadn’t had the speed we wanted in our cars. But we’ve been working at it and actually gained a lot today. We’re just really happy to get three of them in. We’re still struggling with the 11 car, we’ve got all the engineers and mechanics looking at it tonight, going over everything with a fine-toothed comb to see if we could find something to get a little more speed out of it. We really want to get that car in the race. It’s good that we can focus on that one tomorrow.
“The drivers did a good job to get in, a little bit of a stressful qualifying moment at the end with this format. It’s just so different from what it used to be back in the day as far as doing all these multiple attempts. I know it’s exciting but it’s very nerve-wracking at the same time. Going into tomorrow definitely happy to have three locked in the race and now we can focus on the last one.”
The unqualified cars will have a short practice before their one attempt to qualify which will be broadcast on NBCSN starting at 1:15 p.m. ET. Qualifying for the Fast Nine including setting the pole winner will be shown on NBC starting at 2:30 p.m. ET. Then all cars will have a chance to practice from 5 – 7 p.m. ET.
Nicole Westra epitomizes the emotions of qualifying for the 500 as she hugs her boyfriend Kellett after his second successful qualifying run. (INDYCAR Photo, James Black)