The greatest spectacle in racing, the Indy 500 is the most exciting race in the United States. It features some of the best up-and-coming drivers while occasionally touting talent from other elite racing divisions. The field was set through a series of rather unique qualifying sessions. Saturday saw 12-30 locked into place. Sunday morning, the “Fast Twelve” was narrowed down to the “Fast Six,” then late in the afternoon, pole position was eventually won by Alex Palou’s blazing 234.217 MPH average. Yet, the drama of the day came from the last-chance qualifiers.
Bump Day (Last Chance Qualifying):
Most races on the IndyCar schedule field roughly 28 drivers. However, the spectacle that is the Indy 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can and always tries to field 33 drivers. The 107th running saw 34 competitors from a multitude of teams attempt to enter the field, and with that came an exciting wrinkle to the story.
The four slowest cars from Saturday’s first qualifying round were given a “Last Chance Qualifying” session and time slots to dial in their best four-lap average for speed. From there, the drivers were allowed to withdraw their run to set a better average, hopefully. The story could have been a mad dash for qualifying, but instead, it was a tale of three teammates, a rookie, and heartbreak on Bump Day.
Christian Lungarrd, driver of the no. 45 car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ran first and set an average speed of 229.649 MPH. This would be good enough for the 31st spot. Lungaard was prepared to run again but spent the entire hour playing the waiting game in his car.
The rookie sensation (if for nothing else other than his name) Sting Ray Robb, no. 51 for the Dayle Coin Racing and Rick Ware dual entry, secured the 32nd spot, middle of the last row. His four-lap average of 229.549, only one-tenth off Lungaard, must have enticed Robb to make another go of it. However, he, too, stood pat, waiting amongst his competitors.
Jack Harvey, no. 30, and Graham Rahal, no. 15, both of whom drive for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, also found themselves at the bottom of the pack. Harvey spent most of this qualifying session on the outside, looking in. Rahal had 229.159 MPH as an average speed over his first four laps and, similarly to Robb and Lungaard, sat and watched as Harvey tinkered with his setup.
With just a few minutes left, Harvey’s team devised a plan usually reserved for knocking out other teams’ drivers. Harvey’s second run nearly knocked out his teammate, so he immediately jumped back into line with only a slight nose adjustment. Jack Harvey, in a fight for a spot in the Indy 500 and perhaps his career as an IndyCar driver, gave it everything he had and sent Graham Rahal packing by the slimmest of margins (229.166 MPH).
Now for the first time since 2008, the Indy 500 will not have Graham Rahal. However, the team has three drivers in the field, and they will need to give everything they have to try and pull off an upset from the furthest reaches of the grid. Some will ask questions about team orders; after all, Graham Rahal’s father, Bobby Rahal, is the primary owner, and it would have made sense for Harvey’s team to back down. Maybe the consensus was to try and get Harvey ahead of Robb and then let Graham send it for the 33rd and final spot. Either way, the 107th running won’t have Graham Rahal, and he’ll have to wait another year for a run at winning the biggest race on the IndyCar calendar as the window begins to close on his opportunities to do so.