Event Coverage: 2016 Indianapolis 500 Qualifying


While performance was a big point of contention, scary looking flips dominated the headlines coming into the 2015 500.  Big flips also occurred at Fontana not long after.  To combat this, IndyCar mandated two pieces of equipment.  The first can be seen here, a beam flap on the underwing extension.  These flaps work just like the roof flaps seen in NASCAR, flipping up when the car spins backwards, adding downforce and drag to slow the car and keep it on the ground.  The other parts added are dome skids to the underside of the chassis.  These skids create a vacuum under the car when it is sideways, preventing lift.  The skids have been a point of contention as during testing, Honda teams found them to greatly upset the balance of the cars.  The skids require the cars to be raised 10mm and this caused quite the imbalance.  Marco Andretti in particular was vocal about the skids creating a dangerous situation.  However the new parts have already been proven to work.  Spencer Pigot spun in Turn 1 after a tire failure in practice.  His car never threatened to flip and the plumes of tire smoke seen as he spins point to the new parts creating tons of downforce (in fact his lockup was so hard that all four of his tires were worn through).  Are the flips a thing of the past?  We will have to wait and see.
At high noon, the cars were being towed out to set up for qualifying.  The qualifying format is a bit odd.  On Saturday, the cars qualify, but only the Top 9 times stick.  If you’re 9th or above, you will be guaranteed to start in the first 3 rows.  All times are reset and the entire group re-runs on Sunday for their final qualifying position.  Each car gets one 4-lap run to qualify: Miss a shift or put it in the wall and that’s it.  For the first time in decades, there is no bumping.  Exactly 33 cars entered the 500.  While it is a bit sad that there is no bump drama, that just means focus turns to the pole winners and who will come out on top.
Cars line up for their qualifying runs.  The running order was inverted from Saturday’s pre-qualifying.  Each car was running slightly different aero packages.  Some cars ran winglets on both rear sidepods, some ran one on the left side, and some ran none at all.  Some had open rear pods and some were closed off.  Getting the aero balance right at Indy is critical.  With only 8 degrees of bank, aero grip is necessary to achieve peak corner speed, but low drag is critical to getting the most speed off the ?-mile straights.
The first qualifier of the day was Pippa Mann.  She is the only female to enter the race.  Grace Autosport, an entirely female run team, attempted to enter, but not a single spare rolling chassis was available.  Without enough time to build a car from whatever spares teams had sitting around, Grace Auto decided to withdraw.  Pippa did well, placing her Dale Coyne Honda 25th on the grid.
Alex Tagliani had the scary moment of the day.  The wind picked up as qualifying began and a gust caught him off guard as he exited Turn 4 on his warmup lap.  Tags did a half spin and clipped the end of the pit wall, spinning like a top.  Tags was fine, but his qualifying run was over before it began.  His Foyt Racing Honda starts dead last.
The car was a mess, but Alex is fine.  The paint scheme is a throwback to the old Foyt Copenhagen colors that AJ ran in the 80s.  Here’s hoping his race goes better.

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