'It’s gonna be high pressure': Ericsson, Rahal, Coyne compete for final spots in Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS – After six hours of qualifying time and three qualifying attempts, Graham Rahal shot out of the priority lane at pit row as time expired. As soon as Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing shocked the field by moving into the Fast 12 with just seconds to spare, Rahal was on the oval track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He was in the bottom four, staring the last chance qualifying round set for Sunday -- the four slowest cars competing for three spots in the Indy 500 -- in the face for the second year in a row. After the first lap of Rahal’s dramatic final attempt, he knew it wasn’t enough, expressing his frustration to his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew over his headset.

“When the car just doesn’t want to pull, there’s nothing you can do,” Rahal told NBC Sports moments later.

Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 is a game of inches – or milliseconds. 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson stared blankly at the table in front of him in the DEX Imaging Media Center just moments after his fate was sealed. His frustration wasn’t with his No. 28 Honda, it was with himself.

Ericsson’s crash Thursday during practice destroyed his primary car, sending him into qualifying with a backup car.

“I can only blame myself,” Ericsson said. “... Our car, for some reason, it’s not really got the speed or the grip at the moment. We just kept trying things, I thought we made some progress, but not enough.”

Yet Ericsson, now representing Andretti Global, felt that he took a step back in improving his backup car after his first round of qualifying. Feeling good going into qualifying given the circumstances, Ericsson was confused about his first-round finish in the bottom of the pack.

“We went out today and we were a lot slower than yesterday,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to us. … It’s really hard to go from a car they worked on for 12 months to a car they had to build over 24 hours.”

Ericsson posted a 230.342 mile-per-hour average lap speed on his second qualifying attempt, slotting in 30th of 34 drivers before being bumped into the bottom four soon after, a hole he couldn’t escape despite multiple attempts after.

Nolan Siegel and Katherine Legge of Dale Coyne Racing finished with two of the bottom four qualifying times after the first round. The 19-year-old rookie was in the same situation as Ericsson, driving a backup car after his crash on Turn 2 during Fast Friday. Siegel’s average lap speed of 226.621 mph was the worst of the first round, and his 228.276 speed on his second was still the slowest of the group.

“(The car is) really difficult to drive right now,” Siegel said. “It’s partly my fault, but we’ll figure it out. … At 230 mph, every bit of friction and drag matters.”

Legge “kissed” the outside wall on Turn 4 during her final lap of the first round of qualifying, almost suffering the same fate as her teammate did the day before, however, she finished the lap and posted an average speed of 230.244 mph.

“When you get in the (inside curbing) it just sucks you in, but it was corner four so I did what any sensible person would do,” Legge said. “I was staying flat come hell or high water.”

The No. 51 Honda driver said her strategy did not need to change going into the second attempt later in the day but she was concerned about her car. She said she certainly didn’t help the Dale Coyne engineers any by causing some light damage during her Turn 4 bump, but Legge also said some of the issues under the hood are more than could be fixed in a day.

“We’re quite a bit off right now. If we knew why, we’d be two mph faster,” Legge said.

An average lap speed of 230.830 mph was Legge’s second qualifying attempt, but it was less than a fifth of a second behind Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi, who posted a 231.100 mph average lap speed in round one. She went out to try twice more to no avail.

It was Rahal who posted the third-lowest average speed of the first round. After being bumped out of qualification for the Indianapolis 500 last season, Rahal said his frustration from 2023 continued to build after a poor finish during round one. He knew he would have to return to the track for a second try at qualifying after finishing with a 230.233 mph average lap speed, but his second attempt wasn’t good enough either, posting a 230.388 mph average to stay in the bottom four.

“For me, it’s disappointing,” Rahal said. “We shouldn’t be in this situation.”

Rahal’s biggest source of frustration from his first attempt boiled down to an unexpected mechanical issue. Shaking his head while in the car on the track, Rahal didn’t hide his exasperation; a feeling that stuck with him the rest of the day.

“It should have pulled fifth gear without any issue and it just simply didn’t,” Rahal said. “… It certainly seems like we’re just slow.”

Ericsson, Rahal, Legge and Siegel make up the official bottom four heading into the final day of qualifying, where the final three positions in the upcoming 108th Indianapolis 500 will be determined during a last chance qualifying round from 4:15-5:15 p.m. Sunday, May 19.

“This place is tough, I think everyone can say that,” Ericsson said. “... It’s hard, but if it was easy anyone could do it. It’s gonna be high pressure tomorrow, but I’ve done this long enough to know how to deal with that.”

Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at or on X @KyleSmedley_.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Ericsson, Rahal, Coyne drivers compete for final spots in Indy 500