Indy 500 Qualifying
By A.J. Foyt
Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 has always been the race within the race and it comes with its own kind of drama. This year most of the drama happened well before Pole Day as people started talking about how the new cars weren’t as fast and there would be problems filling the field of 33.
Well it turned out that the cars were almost as fast as last year in qualifying (226 mph to last year’s 227) because the officials gave the teams an extra 40-50 horsepower. They took it away after qualifying because they want to put less strain on the engines for 500 miles.
There were enough cars to fill the field. This is my 55th straight race and I’ve never seen them start less than 33 cars—they’ve started more but never less. There were plenty of cars and drivers—there just weren’t that many engines. I’m pretty sure if cars were needed to fill the field, the engines to power those cars would have appeared even if it put more strain on the engine manufacturers.
I just look back at 2006 when two manufacturers pulled out at the end of 2005 and Honda stepped up to supply the whole field. You don’t forget things like that…at least I don’t.
We had our own drama in the AJ Foyt Racing garage but it didn’t happen until Pole Day. Our opening week of practice had been pretty quiet with Mike Conway, driver of my ABC Supply No. 14 Honda, and rookie Wade Cunningham, who is driving the ECat/ABC Supply No. 41 Honda.
Cunningham, from New Zealand, is no stranger to Indy because he’s won the Freedom 100 Firestone Indy Lights race there three times. But it will be his first time racing Indy cars.
The week of practice saw only one spin but on Pole Day there were three hard crashes. The drivers walked away so it was good to see the new safety cell designed into the new Dallara chassis did its job.
Without going into too much detail about our troubles on Pole Day, Conway had to re-qualify after his first run (223 mph average speed) was disallowed because the car was two lbs. underweight in the post-qualifying inspection. We weren’t the only ones— there were quite a few cars that were found to be on the wrong side of the rules. Cunningham had problems in pre-qualifying tech inspection and was penalized by being sent to the back of the qualifying line.
In his first attempt, he was 10 mph off his regular speed… they had adjusted the car for the heat after a great run in morning practice but it needed a little more because it was so hot. They made the adjustments and he went back out and qualified with a high 222 mph four-lap average speed. Conway’s second run wasn’t as quick as his first—he averaged a mid-222 mph average. As the clock wound down, more cars went out and both of my cars were knocked out—Cunningham was bumped as the 4 o’clock gun sounded signaling the end to Segment 1. Instead of being first day qualifiers and in the top 24, we were forced to go out again on Bump Day.
Both drivers ran conservatively on Bump Day because there was no sense in taking a big risk—the highest position they could earn was 25th. Cunningham ran 223 mph and will start 26th and Conway ran 222 mph to start 29th. It was good to get them in the race but disappointing to be so far back on the grid.
I expect that we will be very competitive in the race. Both my drivers like how their cars handle in traffic. Conway will have a fresh engine for the race and Cunningham has run limited miles on his so it will run strong for 500 miles. Although we’re not at the front at the start, I believe we’ll be there at the end.
People have been wondering how the race will go and I think the fans will get to see a good race. It looks like these cars can draft up to each other pretty well. So there should be some close racing. There won’t be any double file restarts which won’t be quite as exciting for the fans but since these cars have to race the following weekend, it was a wise decision on INDYCAR’s part.
This week teams are installing their race engines except in the case of the Indy-only entries like Cunningham, those drivers have to run the entire event with just one engine. That’s why Cunningham didn’t turn as many laps as some of the other cars. We will get an hour of final practice on Carb Day this Friday. Cars will be in race trim and speeds will probably be in the 215-217 mph range.
The race will be broadcast live on ABC-TV this Sunday starting at 11 a.m. ET.