May 23, 2021 INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Team Penske hoped it could turn the corner on a dreadful Indianapolis 500 qualifying weekend after Will Power locked up the No. 32 starting spot.
No such luck.
Less than 30 minutes into Sunday’s two-hour, post-qualifying practice session, 2019 IndyCar champ Simon Pagenaud blew an engine on the No. 22 Chevrolet. About 30 minutes later crew members and Chevrolet officials were back on pit lane, checking Power’s engine.
Power made it back on the track. Pagenaud did not.
“I heard the engine seizing so I knew we were blowing up,” Pagenaud said. “It happens. It’s racing. It’s a Chevy, I won Indy here with them. Sometimes it blows up.”
Just not too often these days in the IndyCar Series.
But the Chevy-powered cars have struggled on Indy’s historic oval each of the past two years and no team has felt the pinch more than the one owned by Roger Penske.
Since Pagenaud drove to his first 500 wins from the pole in 2019, Team Penske hasn’t put a single driver in the nine-car pole shootout. Rookie Scott McLaughlin was the fastest of this year’s four Penske drivers, starting from the No. 17 spot, and just the second top-20 qualifier for Penske over the past two years.
Even worse, Penske has just one win in its last five races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the track Penske purchased from the Hulman-George family in January 2020.
The good news: Penske still has a week to work out the kinks before race day. Pagenaud is confident they can.
“It’s a very good car,” the Frenchman said. “So that’s a really good sign. We’re in good shape. It’s a shame we’ll miss an hour and a half of practice that could have been very useful, but I’m very happy with the car.”
Alex Palou posted the fastest lap, 225.649 mph, in the second-to-last practice for next weekend’s race.
WHAT A RELIEF
For the second time in three years, Sage Karam found himself agonizingly waiting through Bump Day to find out his Indy fate.
Two years ago, the Dreyer & Reinbold Driver burst into tears when he wound up on the last row while three other drivers went home early.
This time, it was a little less nerve-wracking once he posted a four-lap average of 229.156 on the day’s first qualifying attempt. It was good enough for No. 31 on the starting grid, where he put the No. 24 Chevy.
But he spent the final 70 minutes of qualifying sitting in the car’s cockpit, hoping nobody else would knock him off the grid.
“I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself and give myself gray hair before I turn 30,” the 26-year-old driver said. “I’ve got to stop doing that.”
Karam is starting 31st for the third consecutive year.
Rookie driver RC Enerson came to Indianapolis with a new team, a small budget and high hopes.
Top Gun Racing’s effort never really got off the ground.
After testing the No. 75 Chevrolet for the first time on May 12, a mechanical problem forced Enerson to miss precious track time during the first two Indy practice sessions. He spent the rest of the week futilely playing catch-up.
The car consistently posted speeds near the bottom of the speed charts and Enerson never did put his car on the starting grid — even when five cars were vying for the final three starting spots.
Instead, Enerson had the slowest first attempt Sunday with a four-lap average of 227.249, a run that was later disqualified for making unapproved adjustments to the car. He went even slower on his second and final run of the day.
Brazilian driver Andre Ribeiro, who gave Honda its first IndyCar win in 1995, has died. He was 55.
Ribeiro started his career in the 1994 Indy Lights season, recording four wins and finishing second in points.
He moved to IndyCars the next season and won from the pole at New Hampshire. Ribeiro won two more races before retiring in 1998. He then ran a network of Brazilian car dealerships in partnership with Penske.
Nine former winners and two rookies made the field, including winners of the last eight 500s.
Pole-winner Scott Dixon (2008), Tony Kanaan (2013), Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2009) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014) will all start from the first three rows. Alexander Rossi, the 2016 winner, is 10th while the two-time winner and defending champ Takuma Sato is 15th. Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the race in 2000 and 2015, will start 24. Pagenaud is 26th and Power, the 2018 Indy winner, rounds out the winner’s list.
Rookies Pietro Fittipaldi and Scott McLaughlin will start 13th and 17th, respectively.
The field average of 230.294 broke the previous mark of 229.382, set in 2016.