Indycar qualifying used to be pretty straightforward. A car and driver qualified, some with a safe speed, others with a speed that put them on shaky ground where they might miss the field. This system worked when the Indianapolis 500 drew upwards of 60 or more entrants. After the split, when the race struggled to get 33 cars, everything changed. Much of the change was out of necessity, and I get that, but I haven’t always agreed with the procedures.
2021 presents a challenge because of the number of entries. 35 is a difficult number to work with. If there were 34 entries, I would say let them all start the race. If there were 36 or more, by all means have a bumping program. I am almost inclined to say let all 35 run on May 30. The complication is in the procedures for Indianapolis 500 qualifying in the rule book.
Per the rulebook, on Saturday the fastest 30 cars are locked into the field, and the three cars in the last row must requalify Sunday along with any cars outside the first 33. With just 35 cars, I don’t think it is fair for the 31st fastest car to be put at risk. that car earned a safe spot based on the number of entries. The 75 minute last chance qualifying session on Sunday could see multiple attempts among the four cars, which I think will be pretty equal this year.
As we saw in 2019, locking in 30 cars pretty much guarantees that the fastest 333 will not start the race. In 2019, a car that did not qualify had a faster average speed than the 30th qualifier. The made for television (streaming?) show hurts the credibility of the field.
From last night
How to fix this? First, don’t lock in cars. Second, allow,say, the six slowest cars to be prepared to defend their spot on Sunday, depending on the number of entries. Third, the 33 fastest cars, regardless of qualifying day, make the race. This might require more time on Sunday, but I have a solution for that as well.
Eliminate the Fast Nine. It is a tired, played out made for TV (streaming?) show. Like interleague play in baseball, its time has come and gone. Give this time to the cars trying to make the grid. Determine the pole sitter the old fashioned way, by the fastest time on Saturday. Then you have a pole winner available all day Sunday for interviews and television time, rather than a quick three minute interview on Sunday.
Put Up or Shut Up
A couple of other changes that are sorely needed. Limit each car to three attempts per day. If you can’t make it in three attempts, you’re probably not going to. having a car limited to three attempts provides more drama.
Finally, eliminate the lane in which a car can make an additional run but keep its previous time if it can’t better the speed. If a car goes out more than must, they must withdraw their time.
I understand it is a hard job to balance all the factors that go into qualifying cars for this very special event. But I think we can get back to a race where we truly have the fastest 33 cars line up on May 30. the current system doesn’t necessarily get us there.