Dixon, Palou into Indy 500 fast 12 after late engine swaps
INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou made late engine swaps before the start of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on Saturday. Callum Ilott made it onto the track after his Juncos Hollinger Racing team was forced to put together a backup car in just over 12 hours.
Things worked out well for all of them.
Dixon went out early and put his car in the fast 12 that will run for the pole Sunday with his four-lap average of 233.375 mph, then he watched Palou join him with an average of 233.398. In fact, all four Ganassi drivers made the shootout with defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and two-time winner Takuma Sato also there.
“Absolutely pleased with that,” Palou said. “The car was really fast yesterday, really fast this morning with the engine change. Kudos to the No. 10 car crew that stayed late and put it all together.”
Dixon indicated at the conclusion of Friday's final practice that something was amiss, even though the Honda cars in the Ganassi garage had been fast all week. But it was a surprise that both Dixon and Palou wound up changing engines, leaving each of them just 30 minutes of practice before they began their four-lap qualifying attempts later in the day.
“It definitely puts you in a bit of a compromised position," said Dixon, the 2018 Indy 500 champion who will aim for his third consecutive pole. “We may have to do a few runs to get everything dialed in. I think the car is decent.”
Turns out it was better than that.
Jack Harvey, who like the Ganassi drivers has Honda power, also got a new engine Saturday. That was expected after his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ride showed smoke out the rear in the closing minutes of Friday's six-hour practice session.
“We had a pretty unfortunate end yesterday," Harvey said. “The speed that we have is the speed that we're going to have.”
It wasn't much. Harvey's four-lap average of 230.098 put him among the slowest four, who will have their own shootout Sunday with three making the field. His teammates, Graham Rahal and Christian Lundgaard, also were among the four slowest during an exceedingly frustrating day for Rahal Letterman Lanigan.
“It's going to be quite interesting with three of us in there. It's very disappointing,” Lundgaard said. “We don't want to fight each other in this position, but we at least got one car through.”
That would be Katherine Legge, who qualified 30th — the last spot that locked into the 33-car grid for the May 28 race.
“We simply don't have the speed,” Lundgaard said. “Right now, we just need to make it through.”
The situation involving Ilott had nothing to do with engine problems. Instead, the 24-year-old British driver said he felt “unsafe” driving a new Dallara IR18 chassis, a problem that began with Tuesday's first practice and never got much better.
After his Juncos team tried changing everything it could on the chassis, team owner Ricardo Juncos decided late Friday to move Ilott into an older chassis that teammate Agustín Canapino ran during last month's open testing.
The team began working feverishly to get Ilott on the track for qualifying, and an extension from IndyCar allowed it to continue when Gasoline Alley typically closes for the day. The crew finally left the speedway about 10 p.m. Friday, then was back as the garage opened at 5:30 a.m., and a confident Ilott walked toward the grid just before his 9 a.m. practice window.
“Just send it,” Illott said with a smile when asked about his plan for the brief practice that most drivers skip. “Obviously some people think I should be super-stressed, but I'm more confident in what I'm driving.”
The confidence paid off in a big way.
Ilott was shaky during his first qualifying attempt. “That was the sketchiest run of my life. I almost crashed every lap,” he said.
But he went back out and nailed another four-lap run. Ilott's average of 231.320 mph left him starting 27th, but given where the team was a day earlier, that was something to celebrate.
“I don't know where to start. It's been a tough week, a tough month really,” Ilott said. “I was kind of given an almost impossible task, from what some people said, and just tried to keep the confidence high. We managed to turn the car into something fast.”