A mere 18 months after announcing his purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of Roger Penske’s star drivers and a team partnering with Team Penske both eked out times to secure positions in the final row of the 105th Indianapolis 500.
The 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power was fastest on the opening day of practice for the Indianapolis 500 but was fighting hard just to keep his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet in the field.
Power’s car got looser and looser through his four-lap qualifying run, culminating in the 2014 IndyCar champion brushing the wall coming off of Turn 2 on his final lap. Power kept his foot buried on the throttle, knowing that if he lifted, he wouldn’t make the show. The car held up and Power managed to qualify with a four-lap average of 228.876 mph.
“Very nerve-wracking, halfway through it started going loose and having little moments everywhere,” Power said on TV shortly after his run. “Just held onto it out of [turn] 2, kind of walked it all the way to the wall and hit the wall and just took a chance of holding it wide open in 3 and 4 and just hoping the rear toe wasn’t too bent.
“That’s as loose as you want to get it and I can’t thank Verizon and Chevy enough for sticking with me over all these years, I’ve been with them for a long time so I’m so stoked to get into the race for those guys and for all the team because the team really has put a massive amount of effort into this race and I’m just over the moon, just a big relief honestly more than anything to get in the race.”
Power’s battle for qualifying pace was a microcosm of a larger overall battle for pace with Team Penske, with their other cars qualifying only 17th, 21st and 26th.
Behind Power was Simona De Silvestro in the No. 16 Paretta Autosport Chevrolet. The Swiss driver qualified at 228.353 mph in a car prepared in a partnership with Team Penske.
The Paretta effort is an effort driven toward increasing female participation in motorsports and De Silvestro will make her first start at Indianapolis since 2015.
“To be honest, it was definitely hard qualifying like yesterday and today,” De Silvestro said on pit road after the shootout ended. “But I have faith in the team and everyone worked so hard so you know I put more pressure on myself just to get it done because everyone put so much work into it and I’m super happy to be in. I’m sorry for Charlie (Kimball) that we kind of bumped him out but hopefully next time we won’t have such a nerve-wracking moment for sure.”
The fastest driver in the Last Row Shootout was Sage Karam. The No. 24 Dreyer and Reinbold Racing Chevrolet averaged 229.156 mph to qualify 31st in an Indiana-themed entrant. It’s the third time in a row Karam will start 31st and his fourth time starting 31st since his rookie year of 2014.
Karam was the first car to qualify as temperatures rose, leading to slicker track conditions. Power went out second, followed by De Silvestro.
Fourth in line for qualifying was Charlie Kimball in the No. 11 A. J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet but his average of 227.811 mph was not fast enough to bump De Silvestro from the field. RC Enerson went out next to qualify his No. 75 Top Gun Racing Chevrolet and averaged 227.298 mph.
Both Kimball and Enerson’s runs were withdrawn after their various crews made adjustments outside of the approved adjustments INDYCAR allows.
Enerson went out again to qualify but his average was only 226.813 mph. Kimball made another attempt and could only go 227.584 mph.
The gun sounded after 75 minutes and the final row was set for the Indianapolis 500 on May 30th.