How does Indy 500 qualifying work?

On paper, qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 is very simple: four laps, the average determines the driver's position on the starting grid. In practice, the format is much more complex...

Published on 18/05/2024 à 14:02

Michael Duforest

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How does Indy 500 qualifying work?

© Penske Entertainment: Joe Skibinski

The days of four days of qualifying spread over two weeks are no more. The fact remains that the qualifying system for the Indianapolis 500 is complex, and full of adrenaline and apprehension for the drivers! This weekend will determine the starting grid for the Indy 500, with four separate sessions over two days.

One thing remains the same between all sessions, a qualifying run consists of four laps. It is the total time that counts, not the time of the best lap completed. This is how the Americans talk about the average speed over the four laps to determine the starting grid. The teams orIndyCar can decide to abort an attempt before its completion, given that they take approximately 2'30". Each car sets off on the track alone, in an order determined by a draw on Saturday.

Today, the track will open at 17 p.m. French time for qualifying, until 23:50 p.m. During this time, each driver is free to do as many runs as they wish. Above all, an attempt is absolutely guaranteed, regardless of the weather. If the 34 cars cannot make it onto the track due to bad weather, we can continue this first qualifying day on Sunday.

Following a draw made last night after practice, it is Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti) who will open the ball. A very important position, because this is where the temperatures will be the lowest of the day. The conditions therefore offer a better opportunity to achieve a fast time. Given that it will take around three hours to pass the entire peloton, those who pulled from a later position will not benefit from good conditions. And in Indianapolis, that’s sometimes what can make the difference… Romain Grosjean, 5th, will therefore benefit from a lenient order of passage.

The complete running order

Once all 34 cars have passed, qualifying continues, with two separate queues. The first for drivers wishing to “give up” their time, and therefore their place in the peloton. They have priority in the second line, and it is therefore the first driver in this first line who takes to the track, to try to improve his position. If he is slower than his first run, his second performance will be the one that counts, since the first was erased! The second line is more “safe”, the drivers keeping their first time and advancing in the hierarchy if they beat it.

This is how the runs will follow one another until 23:50 p.m. The car on track at this time will be the last car able to qualify today. At the end of the day, the drivers classified from 13th to 30th place qualify. So they know their starting position. The top 12 will fight for pole position, while the bottom four will have to fight to avoid being eliminated.

A decisive second day

Sunday, from 21:05 p.m., the “Top 12” session will be held. The rules are very simple, the first twelve in the Saturday session start in reverse order. Once the twelve drivers have passed, the first six move on to “Fast 6”, while places 7 to 12 will now be known. The first big highlight of the month will arrive at 22:15 p.m., with Bump Day. Previously contested over a full day, it is now over a one-hour session that the remaining drivers will attempt to qualify.

As for the Top 12, the last four on Saturday will start one after the other, for an attempt. Once this attempt is completed, the two-queue system, present on Saturday, is put back into place. Each driver can try as many times as they want to finish in the top 3 of the session. At 23:15 p.m., the driver in 4th position is eliminated from the Indy 500. We had to wait until the last second last year to see Jack Harvey (Rahal Letterman Lanigan) eliminate his teammate Graham Rahal!

Once the emotions of Bump Day have subsided, the six fastest drivers in the Top 12 will battle it out for pole position. Here too the sixth will start first, up to the driver with the best time in the Top 12. Only one attempt is allowed, the fastest driver wins pole position for the Indianapolis 500, and a check for $100! If the system is already nervous for the spectators, imagine for the drivers! They are the ones who will have to tame machines on the razor's edge several times, at more than 000 km/h!

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