Indianapolis 500 qualifying: Arrow McLaren driver goes P1 in action-packed day

Henry Valantine
Arrow McLaren driver Felix Rosenqvist. Indianapolis 500 May 2023.

Arrow McLaren driver Felix Rosenqvist. Indianapolis 500 May 2023.

Arrow McLaren driver Felix Rosenqvist went fastest in Saturday qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, booking his place in the Fast 12 for Sunday’s final session.

He pipped Arrow McLaren team-mate and former Formula 1 driver Alexander Rossi into second in the session, with fellow ex-F1 talents Marcus Ericsson and Takuma Sato also set to battle it out for pole position on Sunday and former Haas and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean set to start P19 for the race next weekend.

There is still plenty of qualifying action to come, but places 13-30 are now set on the grid, with the top 12 competing for pole on Sunday, as well as the dreaded Bump Day making a return for 2023.

For those looking to other series with Formula 1 having been cancelled this weekend due to flooding in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, the first day of qualifying for the Indy 500 provided a different kind of motorsport fix on Saturday.

For anyone experiencing it for the first time, there are multiple format differences compared to Formula 1 for IndyCar’s blue riband event, not least that the quickest cars are not calculated over a fastest lap time, but instead the drivers’ average speed over four laps of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are taken.

On top of that, only one driver is allowed on track at a time, and with the time for drivers to retry later on after their initial runs, qualifying would span over a total of seven hours and 50 minutes.

With a total of 34 cars in the field and a 33-car limit for next weekend, the slowest four drivers will have to run again on Sunday to compete for the final three slots on the grid for next weekend’s 107th running of the Indianapolis 500.

The late morning sun beamed down on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the day began and offered good conditions for the early runners in particular, with lower temperatures theoretically being better for the drivers in terms of tyre and track temperatures.

A random draw took place prior to the session for the order in which the drivers would emerge, and Ryan Hunter-Reay got the session underway with a four-lap average of 231.613mph, before being followed by Formula 1 hopeful Colton Herta – who was denied a seat with AlphaTauri for 2023 due to not having enough Super Licence points with the FIA.

He went marginally faster with a four-lap average of 231.951mph, and the margins would remain tight throughout the field for the entire session – with mere fractions separating every driver in qualifying for the world-famous race.

Four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves suffered a big snap of oversteer on his first run and even had a brush with the wall, showing that IMS could bite even the most experienced and successful of competitors.

Marcus Ericsson, last year’s winner and ex-Sauber and Caterham driver in F1, flew straight to the top of the standings by clocking an average of 232.735mph across his first four-lap run.

But Alexander Rossi, another former F1 driver running in the field for Arrow McLaren, would trump it and become the first driver to break the 233mph barrier, his 233.528mph average putting the cat among the proverbial pigeons early on.

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But as the track temperature went up, as did the levels of danger for the drivers as their tyre temperatures became more of an issue – Graham Rahal in particular reporting “no grip” and being forced to lift during his first attempt.

Arrow McLaren, the sister outfit to McLaren’s Formula 1 team, looked to have one of the strongest outright packages of the whole field in Indianapolis, with Mexican youngster Pato O’Ward’s 233.252mph run making it three Arrow McLaren cars in the top four as it stood, with Rossi still setting the pace in the first runs.

Former F1 favourite Takuma Sato had to wait quite some time before he could get going, but the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner worked through a touch of oversteer (which at such high speeds is anything but a minor issue with walls only inches away) to clock 232.857mph to go sixth fastest as he bravely searched for a way into the Fast 12.

Alex Palou, 2021 IndyCar champion and current McLaren F1 reserve driver, who is among the favourites for victory next weekend, put himself closest to Rossi’s benchmark on his first run, with 233.398mph on a hot track representing an impressive run for the Spaniard.

Romain Grosjean, already with two IndyCar podiums to his name this season, followed, with the former Haas driver putting himself 15th on his first attempt.

But plenty of time remained for the drivers to improve on their first runs, with several of the slower drivers from the first runs taking on another attempt to try and do better than before.

Tony Kanaan looked to make his way into the Fast 12, and in matching Ed Carpenter’s 232.620mph effort to the decimal place, IndyCar qualifying history was made when it was revealed that Kanaan had in fact matched Carpenter’s qualifying time to the 10,000th of a second – making it a true dead heat across four laps of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

At that time, it was for the crucial 12th place too, meaning the margins could not be finer for those looking to fight for pole on Sunday.

For Sato, a brave run with two hours to go saw him leap up to fifth in the standings, while those lower down looked to add more speed and do all they could to avoid having to qualify again on Sunday to even make the grid at all.

But with cars looking to find their way into the Fast 12 or avoid getting ‘bumped’ into the bottom four, the queues in the pit lane to get on track became fuller.

With the track cooling down in the final hour, Kanaan put himself fifth on his third run to make it four Arrow McLarens in the top seven, breaking his dead heat with Carpenter in the process.

And the in-house battle of Arrow McLaren saw Rosenqvist take to the track again and put in the new fastest speed of the session, with 233.947mph seeing him leapfrog Rossi to take top spot by a seemingly healthy margin.

But as time ticked on, the focus became on the scramble to avoid being bumped out of the top 30.

David Malukas, who had struggled for pace on multiple attempts, pushed himself up to 23rd at the fourth time of asking with 15 minutes remaining and put himself on the grid for the big race next weekend.

But former F2 driver Christian Lundgaard, who was the last driver of the day, looked to depose team-mate Katherine Legge and drop her into the bottom four with his final run, but could not do so, leaving the young Dane, Sting Ray Robb, Jack Harvey and Graham Rahal left to fight it out for three places on the grid next weekend.

Indianapolis 500 qualifying returns on Sunday at 2pm local time [7pm UK] for the Top 12, which will be followed by the Firestone Fast Six Shootout – where pole position will be decided.

Conversely, the Last Chance Qualifiers will take to the track once again at 4pm [9pm UK] where one car will be eliminated and, unfortunately, their work will be in vain and they will not make the grid for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Indianapolis 500 full field qualifying classification 2023

  1. Felix Rosenqvist 233.947mph average speed
  2. Alexander Rossi 233.528
  3. Alex Palou 233.398
  4. Rinus VeeKay 233.395
  5. Scott Dixon 233.375
  6. Tony Kanaan 233.347
  7. Takuma Sato 233.322
  8. Pato O’Ward 233.252
  9. Santino Ferrucci 233.147
  10. Marcus Ericsson 233.030
  11. Benjamin Pedersen 232.739
  12. Will Power 232.719
  13. Ed Carpenter 232.689
  14. Scott McLaughlin 232.677
  15. Kyle Kirkwood 232.662
  16. Conor Daly 232.433
  17. Josef Newgarden 232.402
  18. Ryan Hunter-Reay 232.133
  19. Romain Grosjean 231.997
  20. Helio Castroneves 231.954
  21. Colton Herta 231.951
  22. Simon Pagenaud 231.878
  23. David Malukas 231.769
  24. Marco Andretti 231.682
  25. Stefan Wilson 231.648
  26. Devlin DeFrancesco 231.353
  27. Agustin Canapino 231.320
  28. Callum Ilott 231.182
  29. RC Enerson 231.129
  30. Katherine Legge 231.070
  31. Christian Lundgaard BUMPED
  32. Jack Harvey BUMPED
  33. Sting Ray Robb BUMPED
  34. Graham Rahal BUMPED