The Indianapolis 500 is a rarity in professional motorsport.
This year, 34 teams and drivers will contest 33 starting positions. One driver’s ambitions of winning the biggest race of the IndyCar Series season will be dashed a week before the race starts.
An event with this much at stake for the full-season IndyCar competitors and the “500 specialists” requires a special qualifying format, unique to this event.
Full-field qualifying (11:00 local time / 16:00 BST)
On the first day of qualifying, all 34 drivers will have six hours and 50 minutes to try and qualify for next week’s race. At the end of this session, 30 drivers will qualify for the Indianapolis 500. The fastest 12 drivers will proceed to a two-stage pole shootout on Sunday, while the drivers in positions 13 through 30 are locked in.
The drivers will be ranked not by the fastest single lap time, but by the average speed of four consecutive laps in a single-car format.
They will proceed with these initial qualification attempts in the order which they drew on Friday evening, as follows:
|1||23||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Dreyer & Reinbold||Chevrolet|
|4||06||Helio Castroneves||Meyer Shank||Honda|
|10||60||Simon Pagenaud||Meyer Shank||Honda|
|12||51||Sting Ray Robb||Coyne/RWR||Honda|
|23||77||Callum Ilott||Juncos Hollinger||Chevrolet|
|33||78||Agustin Canapino||Juncos Hollinger||Chevrolet|
This will proceed until every car has been given at least one chance to qualify.
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Afterwards, cars can make another qualification attempt. But to do so, they must get into one of two queues. Cars that queue up in Lane 1, otherwise known as the priority lane or “fast lane”, get priority access to the track ahead of cars that are in Lane 2 (aka the “slow lane”). But any car that enters the track from Lane 1 must withdraw its qualifying time and speed for the privilege of priority access.
Any car that is relegated outside the top 30 will have its qualification speed voided, but they can make as many attempts to bump their way back into the top 30 as possible within the remaining time.
The four drivers that didn’t make it into the top 30 will have to wait until the next day to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
Beginning at 11:30 local time/16:30 BST, there will be two 60-minute practice sessions held consecutively. The first is for the 12 fastest qualifiers from Saturday, and the second is for the four drivers who must take part in Last Chance Qualifying.
Top 12 Qualifying (14:00 local time/19:00 BST)
The twelve fastest qualifiers from Saturday will make another four-lap run, in order from slowest to fastest. Unlike Saturday’s full-field qualifying, every driver will be guaranteed one – and only one – attempt to qualify.
At the end of the session, positions 7-12 will be locked in, and the remaining six drivers will proceed to a pole shootout later in the evening.
Last Chance Qualifying (15:05 local time/20:05 BST)
Four drivers will contest the remaining three grid positions in a one-hour timed session. Every car is guaranteed a minimum of one attempt and may make multiple attempts until time expires.
Cars will be allowed an additional “cool-down lap” following each qualifying attempt in order to expedite engine cooling for another run, but only until there are ten minutes left in the session.
Each car’s most recent qualifying speed will remain eligible for the starting lineup until the time is withdrawn (i.e. via entering the priority lane for another attempt) or until the end of the session.
The most recent Last Chance Qualifying session was held in 2021, when two-time and reigning IndyCar Series champion Will Power escaped humiliation and qualified for the race alongside Sage Karam and Simona de Silvestro, while Charlie Kimball and RC Enerson failed to qualify.
In 2019, six cars and drivers contested the remaining three grid slots. A dramatic final run by Juncos Racing driver Kyle Kaiser bumped two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren from the field. Kaiser joined Karam and James Hinchcliffe on the final row, while Pato O’Ward and Max Chilton failed to qualify along with Alonso.
Fast Six Qualifying (16:20 local time/21:20 BST)
The six fastest drivers from Top 12 qualifying will make a final qualifying run, in order from slowest to fastest from the preceding session.
The fastest driver will earn pole position and 12 IndyCar Series championship points, while the rest of the top 12 qualifiers will also earn championship points.
While the format of Indy 500 qualifying is somewhat complex to explain in words, compared to a single session or knockout qualifying format, most will find it intuitive to watch as it plays out in real time – and it does lend itself to genuine intrigue and tension over the days to come.
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