INDY IN AUGUST - ANDRETTI CONTINUES FAST MONTH BY EARNING TOP SEED FOR FAST NINE SHOOTOUT SUNDAY
INDIANAPOLIS – The Month of Marco continued Saturday at the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, as Marco Andretti posted the fastest four-lap qualification run and enters the Fast Nine Shootout on Sunday as the top seed for the run to the coveted NTT P1 Award for pole position.
Andretti posted a four-lap average speed of 231.351 mph in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda on his only attempt of the five-hour, 50-minute qualifying session. Andretti’s run was even more impressive because he was the 28th of 33 drivers to make his attempt in the first trip through the qualifying draw, blazing the top speed in hotter, more slippery track conditions than earlier qualifiers.
The Fast Nine Shootout takes place from 1:15-2:15 p.m. (ET) Sunday, with live NBC coverage from 1-3 p.m. Andretti, who led “Fast Friday” practice and was in the top three on the speed charts in all three practices this week, will be a favorite for his first career Indianapolis 500 pole.
“It was a steady day,” Andretti said. “The one-and-done things are always nice. It's not fun to have to go do this a few times. We executed on the first time, so my goal is to do the same thing tomorrow.”
Andretti’s top spot was the pinnacle of a dominant performance on the 2.5-mile oval by Andretti Autosport and Honda. Andretti drivers swept the top four spots in the first day of qualifying, and Honda-powered drivers will comprise eight of the nine participants Sunday in the Fast Nine Shootout.
2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was second at 231.330 in the No. 28 DHL Honda, followed by 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi at 231.268 in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/Auto Nation Honda. James Hinchcliffe was the final member of the Andretti party on the pavement, fourth overall at 231.195 in the No. 29 Genesys Honda.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon was fifth at 231.155 after a busy day in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, the fastest non-Andretti car in qualifying. Rookie Rinus VeeKay was the only Chevrolet-powered driver to earn a Fast Nine Shootout spot, an impressive sixth at 231.114 in the No. 21 SONAX entry.
Rookie Alex Palou also turned heads with the seventh-fastest qualifying attempt, 231.034 in the No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda. Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammates Graham Rahal and 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato rounded out the Fast Nine, with Rahal eighth at 230.822 in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda and Sato ninth at 230.792 in the No. 30 Panasonic/PeopleReady Honda.
Each driver in the Fast Nine Shootout gets one attempt, running in inverse order from Saturday’s speeds. Sato will be the first driver on track, followed by Rahal and then through the line until Andretti will make the last attempt in a session that promises to be filled with drama. Andretti could become the first member of his famous racing family to win the Indy 500 pole since his grandfather Mario took the top spot in 1987.
“It's going to be about little things,” Marco Andretti said. “It's going to be about getting every downshift right, every shift right, everything we have to do inside the car, the balance. It's going to be what it's going to be.”
Andretti Autosport just missed putting five cars into the Fast Nine Shootout. Colton Herta will start 10th in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday, Aug. 23 after his best of three qualification attempts averaged 230.775 mph in the No. 88 Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Honda, just .017 of a mph slower than Sato in ninth.
Dixon made a total of four attempts, more than any other driver. He improved from sixth to fifth by posting his fastest average speed on his second attempt, but he couldn’t climb any higher on his last two tries.
Defending “500” winner Simon Pagenaud will start 25th in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet after a tough day for Team Penske. Reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden was the fastest of the four Penske drivers in qualifying and will start 13th in the No. 1 Shell V-Power Nitro Team Penske Chevrolet.
Two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso will start 26th in the No. 66 Ruoff Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
Track activity starts from 11-11:30 a.m. Sunday with a practice for Fast Nine Shootout participants (INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold). A post-qualifying practice for all 33 drivers, when teams will shift quickly into preparing race setups, is scheduled from 3:30-6 p.m. (NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold).