Above: Carlin crew works to get Pato O’Ward’s car ready after his crash. Phot: Kyle McInnes
It’s called Fast Friday and with the added boost the engines get today speeds will definitely be faster than they have been the rest of week. We may get a glimpse of what qualifying will look like tomorrow.
Today will be cloudy with temperatures in the low 80s. Rain is still in the forecast for Sunday, which means tomorrow’s results will stand if Sunday is completely washed out.
This year’s qualifying format is different than last year’s. Tomorrow all 36 cars get a chance to make qualifying runs. The top 30 are locked in the field. On Sunday the top nine qualifiers will have one attempt runs to determine the pole and the order of the first three roles. Cars that qualified 31-36 on Saturday then will each have one attempt to get the final three spots in the field.
I will not rehash my thoughts on this qualifying format here, but I refer you to two previous posts. My feelings haven’t changed on this matter.
The speeds from the last three days mean nothing. Thereare some stories to watch closely the next two days.
The rain yesterday kept Fernando Alonso from getting on track with his back up car. Look for a lot of running for McLaren today. They may try out both cars. Alonso had not shown much speed before the crash, How McLaren rebounds from their setback will be intriguing.
I think he just barely squeezes into the field.
Pato O’Ward’s crash yesterday cost him valuable track time. He will be using his converted road course car, which is inherently slower on the oval. O’Ward is another driver who could be one of the six who will need a good run on Sunday to make the race.
Juncos Racing learned at the beginning of the week that their sponsorship fell through. Despite the setback, Kyle Kaiser has kept the car in the top 20 this week. Getting in the field with no outside funding would be a great story. This is the type of drama that makes qualifying compelling.
Pippa Mann and James Hinchcliffe
Both drivers missed the race last year. Both have been running well enough to qualify. Hinchcliffe is in better shape with an established team in Arrow Schmidt Peterson. He has shown resiliency a year after missing the race before. The circumstances aren’t as severe this time, the return would still be a story in perseverance.
Mann is with a new team, Clauson-Marshall Racing, her efforts to race in the 500 may again result in frustration. She works all year to secure funding for a ride and I’m not sure what her future holds should she fail to make the race again.
The Fast Nine Repeat?
I see the Fast Nine looking the same as last year- four Penskes, three Carpenter cars, and two others, very possibly Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais again.
Ed Carpenter is my pick for the pole, although I would not be shocked if one of his teammates is fastest.
Takuma Sato is my dark horse for a top nine spot.
As far as who will not make the field, I think Ben Hanley of Dragonspeed will not make the field. He will join Pippa Mann and James Davison.
Back later with a practice update and some interesting comments from this morning’s press conferences.