Indy 500: McLaren F1 reserve Alex Palou storms to pole position
Qualifying Sunday was extremely eventful at the Indy 500, and the end result was Alex Palou becoming the event’s first Spanish polesitter.
Felix Rosenqvist headed into the Fast 6 stage with all the momentum having headed the crop of drivers to make the cut, but when it came to that all-important push for pole, there was no stopping Palou.
With an average speed of 234.217 mph, the Chip Ganassi Racing star and McLaren F1 reserve saw off Rinus VeeKay by the finest of margins, with Rosenqvist set to join them on the front row.
It was not the best of Fast 12 sessions for the ex-F1 talent, with all representatives failing to make the top six, meaning their grid positions for next Sunday’s race are now set.
Positions 13 to 30 on the grid are spoken for, but the qualifying action rolled on as the top 12 from Saturday’s order returned to the track, the drivers looking to make the top six cut in order to take a shot at pole.
For those finishing the session between position 7-12, that would be their starting spots confirmed.
With the running order based on Saturday’s times, it meant that Will Power was the first to lay down his four-lap average speed on another sunny day at the Brickyard, coming in at 232.635 mph.
The track temperature was up 20° Fahrenheit from the practice conditions, just to make this already challenging oval that bit more tricky in all-out qualifying attack mode.
Last year’s Indy 500 winner, former Sauber and Caterham F1 driver Marcus Ericsson, was third onto the track, with the temperatures now up to 127° Fahrenheit at Turn 4 where the sun had really decided to focus its attention.
No matter though for Ericsson, who sent himself to the top of the timings with a 232.889 average in the Chip Ganassi Racing car, his final lap denting what was shaping up to be a very strong run.
That did ultimately cost Ericsson the chance to top the session, though at this stage of course, the aim of the game was remaining in the top six.
And as former Jordan, Honda and Super Aguri F1 driver Takuma Sato, a two-time Indy 500 winner, brought up the halfway point of the session with a 233.098 averaged, he also shuffled Ericsson down to P4 who was increasingly looking to be very much on the brink.
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Things did not get any better for the Swede who missed that top-six cut, as did Arrow McLaren’s former Marussia F1 driver Alexander Rossi, pushed down to P7 by his team-mate and the final driver to run, Felix Rosenqvist. Sato’s qualifying run also will go no further.
Rosenqvist meanwhile headed the pack of six drivers who will run for pole later today in the fast six.
Before that though, there was still the matter of completing the grid to attend to, with four drivers receiving a final shot to fill the remaining three places on next Sunday’s grid. Positions 31, 32 and 33 would be determined, while one poor soul would miss out.
Former Renault/Alpine junior Christian Lundgaard, Jack Harvey, Sting Ray Robb and Graham Rahal were the names to battle it out. Like in full field qualifying, after each driver had made an attempt, they had the option of further tries from either the priority lane or lane two. Launching from the priority lane means sacrificing your existing time.
Lundgaard, who missed out on the top 30 yesterday in a straight shootout against team-mate Katherine Legge, was first up, clocking an average speed of 229.649.
By the end of those first runs, Lundgaard was sitting top of the pile, while Harvey needed 0.6 mph more if he was to fight against elimination.
After some aero tweaks and alterations to the left-front spring, Harvey went for another attempt from the priority lane, this his final shot at making the cut for the 2023 Indianapolis 500. Or so we thought.
That attempt was not enough, which it seemed meant that while Lundgaard will start next Sunday’s race from P31, with Robb and Rahal also on the final row, Harvey would not take part in this year’s Indy 500.
Harvey was not going down without a fight though as he headed out for one final roll of the dice, meaning that if he got the job done, then Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team-mate Rahal would be able to do nothing to save his place in the race.
And Rahal’s worst fears came true, Harvey taking that final spot on the grid with a 229.166, while for Rahal, his Indy 500 dreams just went up in smoke.
There were tears in the paddock understandably from Rahal, but soon the focus had to shift to the all-important fast six session where the Indy 500 polesitter would be confirmed. With the order determined via slowest to fastest of the drivers that progressed from the top 12, it meant Arrow McLaren’s O’Ward would go first, and Rosenqvist last.
O’Ward delivered a 233.158 average for the other five to chase, and now he would head into that excruciating wait to find out if it was enough.
He found out when Palou took to the track though that it was not, the McLaren reserve driver delivering a 234.217 average, which if that was good enough for pole, would break the record held by Dixon for the highest four-lap average.
By the time that only Rosenqvist was left to run, O’Ward had dropped off the front row, while Palou now knew that P2 was the lowest position which he could start the Indy 500 from.
But there was nothing Rosenqvist could do, pole for the 2023 Indianapolis 500 belongs to Palou! VeeKay and Rosenqvist will join him on the front row next Sunday.
Fast 6 timings
1. Alex Palou – 234.217 average speed
2. Rinus VeeKay – 234.211
3. Felix Rosenqvist – 234.114
4. Santino Ferrucci – 233.661
5. Pato O’Ward – 233.158
6. Scott Dixon – 233.151
Last chance qualifying timings
31. Christian Lundgaard – 229.649 average speed
32. Sting Ray Robb – 229.549
33. Jack Harvey – 229.166
Did not qualify: Graham Rahal – 229.159
Top 12 timings
1. Felix Rosenqvist – 234.081 average speed
2. Santino Ferrucci – 233.991
3. Rinus VeeKay – 233.801
4. Alex Palou – 233.779
5. Scott Dixon – 233.430
6. Pato O’Ward – 233.229
7. Alexander Rossi – 233.110
8. Takuma Sato – 233.098
9. Tony Kanaan – 233.076
10. Marcus Ericsson – 232.889
11. Benjamin Pederson – 232.671
12. Will Power – 232.635
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