INDIANAPOLIS — Led by its Andretti Autosport brigade, Honda engines dominated the first day of Indy 500 qualifying Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Through the first three hours of time trials, Marco Andretti held the provisional pole with a four-lap average at 231.351 mph in his No. 98 Dallara-Honda, and the next four spots went to teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay (231.330), Alexander Rossi (231.268) and James Hinchcliffe (231.195).
“It’s because of the car they put together,” Andretti said. “I was able to just do my job. Man, when it all comes together, it’s beautiful. The balance was great. The power, Honda brought it this year, so thankful to them. Just have to nail it. Today the goal was top nine.”
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That remained the goal for his father. The owner of Andretti Autosport vowed his work wouldn’t end until all six of his cars were in the top nine that will battle for the pole position in a one-hour session at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC.
With all 33 cars having made at least one qualifying attempt, Colton Herta was in 10th, and Zach Veach was 15th with three hours remaining in Saturday’s session.
After going winless with his five full-time cars through the first six races this season (following only two victories last year), Michael Andretti said his team was unsure it would be so fast in qualifying until Friday’s practice.
“Honda did a tremendous job,” he said. “We were behind last year, but they worked hard over the offseason and gave us the car to be where we are. The team worked hard. Honestly, it’s really crazy. We got a little bit more confidence every day.
“Yesterday we had a lot of confidence, and our goal was to put six in the top nine. It’s just been amazing. So happy and proud of all the hard work the team has done. Honda really did a great job of giving us the power this year.”
Dispelling predictions that his early afternoon draw would make a fast lap impossible because of a slick track in hot weather, Marco Andretti opened with Saturday’s first 232 mph lap around the 2.5-mile oval.
“Blew me away,” Michael Andretti said. “That first lap was amazing. We were all shocked by it. The last two laps he was driving the heck out of it. It was really loose, but he still hung with it. He’s got a lot of laps around here, and he needed all that experience to do what he did today, and he did a great job, so I couldn’t be happier right now.”
Other Honda drivers in the provisional Fast Nine were the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing duo of Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato (who drew the first two slots in the order), five-time series champion Scott Dixon and Dale Coyne Racing rookie Alex Palou in seventh.
The first round of qualifying runs are complete! ✅@MarcoAndretti sits P1 with a 4-lap average of 231.351 MPH as @Honda holds eight of the Fast 9 positions in qualifying!#PoweredByHonda // #Indy500 // #ChallengingSpirit // #INDYCAR pic.twitter.com/IWRDVUgbqb
— HPD-North American Motorsport (@HondaRacing_HPD) August 15, 2020
“I think we have some more speed there,” said Palou, a 23-year-old Spaniard who raced the first oval in his career two months ago at Texas Motor Speedway. “So hopefully we get to the Fast Nine, this team deserves it.
“The team gave me such a good car that we need to go to the Fast Nine, we need to try to get that pole. I think we can fight with the Andretti cars. It’s just a shame it was too hot now and that made our run a bit more difficult.”
With the sixth-best speed (231.114), Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing was the only Chevrolet driver in the provisional Fast Nine. It was an impressive showing for the Ed Carpenter Racing rookie, who finished third in last year’s Indy Lights race at IMS and has four podiums on ovals during his Road to Indy career.
VeeKay said he was shaking before he got in the car, “but I just went, and the car felt as good as it has all week.
“I don’t know that I’ve been doing differently from the other Chevys,” VeeKay said. “It’s looking tough out there. It’s good to be the Chevy in the top nine.”
For teams outside the Fast Nine at the end of Saturday’s session, their starting positions are set for the Indy 500 on Aug. 23, and that could be tough news for Chevys if passing is difficult, and track position is a major factor as expected.
The next-best Chevy was Josef Newgarden of Team Penske in 13th. Buried in 22nd was the No. 12 Penske Chevy of Will Power, who had warned during the Fast Friday practice that his team was in major trouble for earning a decent starting spot.
“Got to be one of the slowest cars out there by the look of it,” Power said. “I was wide open the whole time. Just blows my mind every time I come here. I’ve got so many poles at any every other track and never had the fastest car here. Never. And I don’t know why.
“I ran less downforce than Josef and went slower, so that’s it, man. I reckon that’s it. That’s what we got.”
Though he has yet to qualify first at the Brickyard, Power usually is in the hunt. In 11 previous Indy 500 starts with Penske from 2009-19, the Australian had started at least ninth or better, including four front row spots in qualifying.
This will be Power’s worst start since he qualified 23rd as a rookie in 2008.
“We’ll focus on the race now,” he said. “It’s a long day, and you can win from anywhere here. We’ve got to work hard on the race car and have some fun next weekend.”
Defending Indy 500 pole-sitter and race winner Simon Pagenaud will have a steeper climb for Penske after qualifying a career-worst 25th at Indy.
Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who likely will be making his final start for Team Penske, will start 28th.
Marco Andretti leads Honda’s Fast Nine assault in Indy 500 qualifying originally appeared on NBCSports.com