A Friday night engine switch by Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) on Alex Palou’s No. 10 American Legion Honda proved to make a difference during Saturday’s first round of Indianapolis 500 qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).
Following a Fast Friday practice session that saw the No. 10 car fall outside of the top 10 fastest laps of the day, Palou drove the third-fastest lap in Saturday’s morning session and then just narrowly missed the top spot in Day 1 qualifications. His four-lap average of 233.398 left him just .130 miles per hour behind Alexander Rossi in the bid for the No. 1 spot.
A late effort by Felix Rosenqvist took over the P1 spot, settling Palou into the third position. He’ll join CGR teammate Marcus Ericsson – whose No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda also carries American Legion branding – and the team’s other two drivers in Sunday’s top 12. The top six drivers from the top 12 will qualify for the Firestone Fast 6 and compete for the 500’s pole position.
“It was the goal for today,” said Palou of advancing to the top 12. “We had a tough day yesterday. We didn’t know we were going to be as fast as we were, but this morning in practice felt really good, and qualifying was great. Cannot wait for tomorrow.”
Palou drew the 28th spot in the qualifying order, when temperatures on the track had started to rise. But he came out and delivered a first-lap speed of 234.248 mph – the third-fastest one-lap speed of the day and one of just six laps all day to top 234 miles per hour.
Sixth in the qualifying order, Ericsson delivered a four-lap average of 232.735, which put him in the top spot temporarily. He would eventually settle at 10th after the day’s first session, but a third qualifying run by Ericsson later in the day pushed him up to ninth with an average of 233.030. A late qualifying run by Tony Kanaan pushed Ericsson down to 10th before the session ended.
"Our first two attempts were okay, but not perfect, and with the competitiveness of the field, you need to be as close to perfect as possible,” Ericsson said. “The 8 car Huski Ice Spritz Honda crew did a really good job to get the car in the window. The last attempt was really solid, and I expect the same for tomorrow. It's a new day tomorrow, where all four Ganassi cars will be out there, which is impressive. It shows the strength of this organization."
CGR’s Scott Dixon (fifth) and Takuma Sato (seventh) also will compete in the Fast 12. “It’s great to have all four cars in the fast 12,” said Palou, who started the 2021 Indy 500 sixth and last year in the second spot. “We feel confident, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to get into the Fast 6. It’s just going to take for amazing laps (and) no mistakes.”
Sunday’s schedule at IMS:
· 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. – Top 12 and last chance practice (airing on Peacock);
· 2-3 p.m. – Top 12 qualifications (Peacock);
· 4-6 p.m. – Last chance qualifications and Firestone Fast 6 (NBC and Peacock).