Sage Karam, Will Power and Simona de Silvestro make up the bottom row for Indianapolis 500
INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power was wide open around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, not wanting to let go of the gas even when he slammed his car against the wall.
His place in the Indianapolis 500 was on the line, and Power, one of the greatest qualifiers in IndyCar history, was not going to miss the show.
The 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner was one of five drivers vying for a spot in the back row of the May 30 race. A Team Penske car should never have been in the bubble, but on Sunday Power desperately tried to avoid becoming Roger Penske’s first driver fired from the Indy 500 since 1995.
“It really gives you respect,” Power said. “Definitely lose some sleep on that one, just knowing you have to run.”
Sage Karam was the fastest in the shootout, followed by Power and Simona de Silvestro, who drove a Penske car in an alliance for the female-led Paretta Autosport. The three will start in the last row in the field of 33 next Sunday.
This will be the third year in a row that Karam has started 31st.
Charlie Kimball was sidelined from the race, ending 10 straight starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. RC Enerson, a rookie of the new Top Gun Racing team, failed to qualify for their first Indy 500 after a week of struggles for the last participant.
“So what do you want to do next weekend?” Kimball asked his wife as he climbed the entrance to AJ Foyt Racing.
Power, with 62 career poles in IndyCar, only trails Mario Andretti’s 67 poles for most of the series’ history. He was the best of his generation at qualifying a car, but Team Penske entries have struggled since Friday when the engines received a power boost.
The problem doesn’t appear to be with Chevrolet Power Plants, as Ed Carpenter and Rinus VeeKay put a pair of Chevys into the Fast Nine qualifying group. Penske’s problem seems to be in the mechanical setup, and none of his four cars dazzled in qualifying.
The new owner of the IndyCar team, Paretta, has a strong alliance with Penske as part of its promotion of diversity, and the struggles of Penske cars apply to de Silvestro as well. The Swiss driver is back at Indy for the first time since 2015 and theoretically in the best car of her career.
Still, she and Power had both sat in their cockpit in a scorching Indiana sun as they waited to see if Kimball and Enerson eliminated them from the race. It wasn’t until the clock hit zero in the 75-minute session that Power and de Silvestro got out of their car and briefly hugged each other in celebration.
Beth Paretta and de Silvestro will be the team’s first female owner and female driver of the Indy 500, and the team has a strong female crew that could be used during pit stops next Sunday.
Many drivers already locked into the race watched the pit lane process with empathy for their fellow competitors.
“People will never understand the intensity that these five drivers and teams are feeling,” said Graham Rahal. “This is the most intense moment of your life, all magnified on national television, pressured by sponsorship implications and made worse by terrible track conditions. The Indy 500 qualifies at its worst.”