Dre’s Qualifying Review: The 108th Running Of The Indy 500

Scott McLaughlin makes it three years running where the pole record falls in a shock return to dominance for Penske on home soil. Dre Reviews Indy 500’s Qualifying.

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Read time: 9 mins

“I really wish I went to college and got a proper job.” – Katherine Legge

Well… that was a statement of intent. 

The 108th Running of the Indy 500 is this weekend and as usual, Qualifying delivered the drama in spades, and a shock at the front of a very different kind. The last time Penske got a car in the Top 10 of Indy 500 Qualifying, was Simon Pagenaud’s clean sweep of the “Month of May” in 2019. On Sunday Penske just pulled off their first front row lockout since 1988 with Rick Mears, Al Unser Jr and Danny Sullivan. Let’s get into how we got to this point.

This wasn’t even them finding something in the middle of a week’s practice sessions, two of which being virtually washouts due to rain. From the moment Penske rolled up to the speedway, they’ve been on top and no one’s looked particularly close to breaching that. Some say it’s the AJ Foyt technical alliance, and given the Foyt cars were strong last year, with Ferrucci on the podium and Benjamin Pedersen making the Fast 12 with the fastest Rookie run of all time. Having a cheap alternate way of having access to Michael Cannon and all his secrets of the Speedway would certainly help.

But, Will Power might have given even more of the game away on Thursday when he and teammate Josef Newgarden admitted that an off-season rule change on the spec of pushrods used by the field was changed. Penske was using a newer spec but that newer spec was draggier and harming them relative to the field. Claims from the Indianapolis Star suggest this was on safety grounds as some of the older specs were 10-12 years old, but it would explain how the rest of the field, including rivals Chip Ganassi (Who have had two 234mph pole runs since 2022), relatively struggled by comparison. The murmurs I saw say it may have been worth half a mile per hour. At the 500, that’s a chasm. 

It’s a shame as it takes some of the edge off what has been a dominant performance all week long, summed up best by that brilliant Fast 6 finale. In the Fast 12 round on Day 2, all the Penskes were in the Top 3, meaning they got to go last on their final runs. Newgarden goes 233.8. It’s an insane run. Then Will Power goes even quicker, a 233.9, then the fifth fastest pole run ever on the Speedway. Then Scott McLaughlin, who’d later go on to admit he was running a rear wing at three degrees flatter than Power, went 234.220. For those with strong memories, it was just 0.002 seconds/0.003 mph faster than Alex Palou’s otherworldly 2023 record. 

It was a bitter pill for Power to swallow. For the sixth time in a Qualifying session or Race this season, the Zenmaster finished second. Even more crushing when you consider that of the 70 pole positions in Will Power’s career, the fastest man the series has ever had, the Indianapolis honour has been the one that’s gotten away. It’s his FIFTH front-row start, the joint most in history without a pole. Power admitted in the presser afterwards that he’d played it too safe. On a 233.9mph run. Yeah. 

It goes to show you the state of the field. When Scott Dixon cracked 234mph in 2022, I remember falling off my chair in shock at how much he crushed the field that day. In the two years since then, FOUR men have now gone faster:

Scott McLaughlin (2024): 234.220
Alex Palou (2023): 234.217
Rinus Veekay (2023): 234.211
Felix Rosenqvist (2023): 234.114
Scott Dixon (2022): 234.046

And this was on a harder compound tyre because Firestone assumed the hybrids would be ready to go, with their debut now set for Mid-Ohio in July. 

Scott McLaughlin - Indianapolis 500 Pole Day - By: Aaron Skillman -- Photo by: Aaron Skillman

Pushrods, partners or whatever else, talent shined through here regardless. If four years ago you’d have said that another Kiwi named Scott would win multiple-time Australian Supercars Championships, fly half way across the road, go to the best IndyCar team in the series and then have one of the greatest pole runs ever seen on the speedway, you’d have said that person was on narcotics.

Scott McLaughlin is an incredible race car driver, and that was one of the greatest runs at that track you will ever see, especially given I think the overall track conditions were a little bit worse than last year. It makes all those inevitable columns about “Kyle Larson being the best in the world because he drives on dirt” look just a little over-inflated. Larson isn’t the crossover story. McLaughlin’s been here.

Even with Abel Motorsports pulling out at the eleventh hour, we still had 34 entrants and we all know what that means. Someone had to get bumped from the field. And by the time we had the final four entrants fighting for three spots, they all had their own horrendous story. 

Graham Rahal was back in his second consecutive bump day, after wild variance in the RLL camp. Honda Executive and part-time racing driver Takuma Sato made the Fast 12 by comparison and while he was arguably the best pound-for-pound driver relative to car and reputation, Lundgaard and Fittpaldi barely made the show, the latter Pietro taking the 30th and final guaranteed Day 1 slot. There was even more fear when Rahal had to abort a run on Day 2 when he spotted he had a loose wheel nut. Someone’s getting fired for that. The last time that happened it cost him a shot at the race itself when he was on the winning strategy back in 2019.

Katherine Legge was back at the 500 with a Dale Coyne car sponsored by ELF (The make-up brand) and was taking every liberty possible to wheel anything out of what was a fundamentally slow race car, including a moment on her final run on Bump Day where she kissed the Turn 4 outside wall and DIDN’T LIFT. Legge is a f***ing legend. Supreme bravery. 

Marcus Ericsson committed the cardinal sin of the 500 – Don’t wreck your main car. He did in practice early in the week and the backup just wasn’t fit for purpose. A 232mph car suddenly became a 230mph car. It didn’t help when he suffered a lapse of concentration on his first run in Last Chance Qualifying and backed off a lap early on a run that would have likely kept him safe and avoided a whole heap of extra drama.

And finally, Nolan Siegel in his first ever 500 attempt, also crashed his main car in practice, taking flight at the exit of Turn 2. His backup, converted from a road course to a super-speedway setup, just never had the speed to be competitive, more often in the 226-7 range. By Friday, barring a miracle, he was the odds-on favourite to get bumped and he eventually was. It was a valiant effort, trimming the car as much as they could in a last-gasp run to try and bump Rahal out, but a second crash was the end. 

I applaud Nolan’s bravery, his crew chief (You may remember Charlie Kimball from his time in the series), the support from Graham himself, a man who’s been on the cruel side of that bumping, and the fans who have warmed to Nolan. He’ll be back. But with DCR looking incredibly slow, Dale needs to look in the mirror and wonder just what he has left as a team. Losing David Malukas might be causing more harm than we first thought. One of my best friends (Hi Ciara!), pondered if he could sell up to Prema if the price were right. Does Dale want to cash out though?

“I wasn’t going to go home because I lifted.” – Nolan Siegel

I did this last year where I just ran down all 33 runners and riders here, so why not do it again? Here’s all your runners and riders for the 108th Indy 500!

Not to keep beating the drum about the most polarising man in the series here, but there were few things more awkward in the press conference after the Fast 6 Qualifying session and seeing Josef and Scott sit there like two parents going through a divorce and still have to sit through the daughter’s nativity play. Also funny, Power went over and congratulated Scott. Josef didn’t. Hmm…

Also, the AUDACITY of Roger Penske after the Fast 6 where he thanked the whole team and even those sitting at home, the crew members he suspended himself because of the push-to-pass scandal. Shameless!

Alex Rossi had to trim his McLaren out so badly that he looked like he was on the edge of disaster multiple times on his final run to just barely get to 233. Kyle Larson doing the Indy 500/NASCAR Coke 600 double this weekend had never driven a racecar as fast as he did in his life. And look, he’s Marmite amongst race fans for many reasons, and I’ve had many of his fans shout to the heavens about his talent given his short track and dirt experience… they had a point, a superb effort to crack the Top 5 on debut. The best rookie performance since the last McLaren ringer…  

Santino Ferrucci proved 2023 was no fluke with another Fast 6 berth, even if his team made the same mistake as last year when they went too far with the trim in the final round.

Hello from the cheap seats, this is the first Honda on the grid and it’s Felix in ninth place. Despite the plenum fires that Chevy was having with engines briefly cutting out during runs, they still comfortably had 3-4mph on their Honda-powered equivalents. And great on Felix for continuing his outstanding early-season form with Shank. PS: Rinus Veekay getting into the Fast 12 after a crash on Day 1, with a run that finished with seven seconds to go, was incredible. One of the best 500 qualifiers in the field continues to amaze. 

As said earlier, Takuma Sato might have had the run of the week to get into the Fast 12 at all given just how poor RLL have been at ovals for some time. Reminder: He’s 47 and his son’s just started racing. Feel old yet?

Kyle Kirkwood had to take a huge lift on his final lap on a run that could have had him move up a row, and Ryan Hunter-Reay snuck into the Top 12 late on Day 1, only for his Fast 12 run to flame out due to messed up gear-sequencing. 

And here lies the reigning Champion in P14, with Taylor Kiel admitting CGR were compromised on which way to go in terms of setup due to the rain effectively taking two days out of the practises. CGR focused on race trim. Was also unlucky as the last man in Lane 2 for a run before time expired (Cheers Graham).

Remember, Palou came back from 27th to finish 4th after Rinus hit him in the pitlane last year. Don’t rule out #10 just yet. Also, Callum Illot is here ahead of the Juncos cars. There’s a joke there somewhere.

Really solid job for Marcus Armstrong for his first time on an oval in his career to get in the top half of the field. You’d be surprised how long Kyffin Simpson spent there too, really good effort from the rookie. I was genuinely surprised that the ECR cars, normally super strong, weren’t quite there this year outside of Veekay. 

Oh hi, Scott Dixon. Forgot to mention that all five Chip Ganassi cars had an engine change at some point due to an assortment of misfires, failures and precautions. It’s wild we’re at 16 years since Dixon won this damn thing. Oh, and it’s still Marco’s year to someone out there. 

Fun Fact: This row has the second most starts between them in Indy 500 history – 62 between them. (Credit Marshall Pruett for that one)

We call this the plenum fire row of poor judgment. Both Canapino and Rasmussen were on runs late on Day 1 that could have been Top 12 worthy… until their engines cut out. Really bad breaks for the pair of them, especially Rasmussen, who needs the oval time. Also, Sting Ray Robb being down the field in a Foyt is… yeesh. 

TomBlom is safely in for Meyer Shank Racing but I’m not going to lie to you, I think he’d be more fun at the other big standalone race on the Motorsport calendar. Grosjean safely in as well but he was even grumpier than his usual self about it, and Linus Lundqvist did well to safely get in after wrecking his car on Day 3. 


Conor Daly I think has a genuine Top 15 car if it wasn’t for the fact it had about four different mechanical breakdowns across the week. I wonder if the parts were funded by Crypto?! Anyway, Pietro Fittipaldi got the last spot on Day 1, and three of the four RLL cars being on Rows 10 or 11 is completely unacceptable.

It’s nice Kat got in but I think even her 230.0 run was flattering to her #51 car given the amount of risk she had to take to even get that much out of it. Marcus Ericsson’s backup car almost immediately puts him out of contention, and Graham… we’ve been here before. Less said the better. 

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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