For the fastest drivers during this weekend’s two-day qualifying event for the Indianapolis 500, a new wrinkle will require multiple runs on the ragged edge to vie for pole position.
With no bumping to look forward to on Sunday, the former Fast Nine session has been split into an expanded group that will now be cut down into two segments in an effort to create a more interesting spectacle. Saturday’s qualifying free-for-all will allow the field of 33 to go out for as many four-lap blasts as time permits, and those who post the 12 fastest average runs will move onto Sunday and continue the process.
In the revised format for 2022, The Fast 12 will venture out for individual runs, and from there, the six slowest will be locked into positions 7-12 and the six best will go out one more time in the final session, the Fast Six, where the pole will finally be earned and the order for the top six will be set.
Asked about their thoughts on the added risks the Fast 12 could face, a few drivers, ranging from Indy 500 winners to Indy polesitters to routine front-runners weighed in on the new routine.
“I think it was a necessary thing from a content standpoint, being as there’s not being the last row shootout type of stuff,” Ed Carpenter told RACER. “We need cars on track, so I get it from that perspective. I do think it’ll be exciting. From a Saturday perspective, that may bring some more attempts just to bring more cars into play with that shuffle of fighting for the Fast 12.
“I love qualifying, but in a lot of ways, it’s more stressful than race day because of how much goes into it, and how much you have to put it out there. I’ve loved the years where I minimize the number of attempts we have to make. So from that standpoint, it’s going to be tough and challenging having two runs for those that are in the Fast 12 and then shortly thereafter, the Fast Six. It’s going to add to the stress and anxiety, for sure.”
Simon Pagenaud, winner of the 2019 Indy 500, wonders if those who make it into the Fast 12 will accept the risks involved with trying to get into the Fast Six, or if they’ll play it safe if pole-winning speed is not present.
“If you’re 10th, will you try again?” he asked. “Because you’ve already tried to get the pole, and for sure this format allows you to be taking more risk.”
JR Hildebrand likes the fact that he and his AJ Foyt team have options in assessing how much risk they want to take in order to move up the pylon. Motorsport Images
Similar to Pagenaud, JR Hildebrand thinks the faster drivers and teams will assess where they stand on the speed chart and whether they should charge hard on Saturday to try and make the Fast 12 or whether keeping the extra runs to a minimum would be the smarter play.
“You go out, give it your best shot, ripping your four laps the first time you go out, but you also know in the back of your mind that if you don’t quite squeeze everything out of it, at least you’re gonna get another shot at it later in the day,” he said of the Saturday qualifying process.
“You can choose how you want to approach that risk. Do I want to keep my time, or give it another go? You’ve seen a lot of the cars that are right on the bubble of the top nine in the past that are usually in that category. It’s been exciting, right down to the wire for the last several years, so I’m always a fan of kind of mixing things up and trying new things. I think this seems like a better way of guaranteeing some action on TV, which we all know is a big part of the formula here, particularly on Sunday. The elimination-style format has definitely been something that works.”
Indy 500 specialist Santino Ferrucci will know whether he’ll want to roll the dice and do more runs with low downforce and high turbo boost once he gets a feel for the chassis setup and the average speed it generates on Saturday.
“If you have an easy qualifying car, yeah, running it three times, that’s not a big deal, but it also depends on conditions,” he said. “But if your car is not very fun, and you barely make it through the first run, and like you’re in the field — the middle of the field — I’ll be happy to. We’re not Scott Dixon, who just sits there and goes out and runs all day long like he did last year. I mean, watching that, I was biting my nails for him.
“So if the car is OK but not super, super fast, I’ll be happy to get qualifying over with and move on from it. That’s how I always am. I hate spending time in qualifying trim — I hate high risk. I hate risking in the car. I hate risk in the high speeds. It’s just not fun. I don’t think anyone will tell you it’s fun. So that’s why my focus has always been on developing the race car instead of spending a lot of time prepping for qualifying. Yeah, your life is easier if you’re starting upfront, but in this race, anything happens.”