Event Coverage: 2017 Indianapolis 500 Qualifying
by David Zipf
Week one of “The Greatest Month in Racing” started with left and right turns, kicking off with the IndyCar Grand Prix last week. This week, the right turns are abandoned and the focus is on nailing down the fastest time at one of the fastest tracks on Earth. One week of practice leads up to two days of qualifying for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Oil.
Qualifying for Indianapolis is a unique affair in the IndyCar series. The procedure is now stretched over two days. On Saturday, all 33 cars make a qualifying attempt. A qualifying attempt at Indy happens over four flying laps. Cars are ranked by the average speed over all four laps. After all cars qualify, the top 9 cars are broken off from the rest of the pack. Times reset on Sunday, but the fastest 9 are guaranteed a starting position of no lower than 9th, while the rest of the field can start no better than 10th. After Sunday’s qualifying, all times and positions are set, save for extenuating circumstances like James Hinchcliffe’s horrific post-qualifying practice crash in 2015.
Qualifying begins with a final tech inspection. All cars are fueled up with 100% ethanol fuel provided by Sunoco, then are run through IndyCar’s tech center to ensure alignment and weight are within IndyCar’s rules. All cars line up here, awaiting their turn to be fueled, the first step in the tech inspection process.
Incredible effort goes into the 500. Teams have a fast oval-only car in storage for this event (as well as the followup super speedways of Pocono and Texas). These cars are still spec Dallara DW-12s, but hand modified to the limit of the rules. Control arms are shaped with airfoils and tape until they are perfectly smooth. Bodywork is fitted as tightly together as possible to minimize drag inducing gaps, which are then sealed over with tape. Suspension uprights are re-profiled to reduce any turbulence inside the wheel. Weeks of effort go into assembling these cars just for this race. While officially they are the same as their road course going counterparts, it is the tiny details that make the oval-only cars very different from the road-course spec DW-12s.
For some teams, just getting into the garage is where the effort goes. Juncos Racing is a new IndyCar team, but a veteran to the Mazda Road to Indy. Riccardo Juncos is a former Formula Renault driver who did a Roger Penske
and became a team owner and engineer. He started his life and career in Brazil, but moved to the United States in 2009. He has been building ever since and now has a team in USF2000, Pro Mazda, Indy Lights, and now IndyCar. The demise of KV Racing allowed Juncos the chance to get into the 500 for the first time in 2017. This is what we were greeted to during the GP last week, but since then Juncos has set up shop and put two cars on the grid with Sebastian Saavedra and Spencer Pigot.
Teams always keep a large stock of pre-set wings ready to go in case of damage. This particular cluster of wings belongs to Andretti Autosport. Andretti is fielding six cars at Indy this year: his usual four full-timers (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato, and Alexander Rossi), along with rookie and former Indy Lights Champ, Jack Harvey, in a partnership with Michael Shank Racing. The sixth car you can plainly tell from this shot: Fernando Alonso’s McLaren-Honda partnered car. Poor Jack Harvey has been, in his own words, “The forgotten rookie” next to his 2-time world champion teammate. Well here on MotoIQ, you get first billing today, Jack!