What figures to be one of the most interesting qualifying weekends at Indianapolis in recent memory didn’t really come into focus on Friday.
Make no mistake, it was good for Conor Daly, who turned in the fastest lap of the week at 231.704 mph in the Air Force Honda; and it remained good for Ed Jones, who again ran the quickest no-tow lap and was at 230.106 mph in thee Scuderia Corsa Chevy run by Ed Carpenter Racing.
But hot, humid temperatures and a variable wind had veterans scratching their heads right along with rookies as everyone chased the changing conditions on the fickle, two-and-a-half mile oval.
And Saturday’s forecast is for more of the same.
“Tomorrow is supposed to be the same heat and sunny, so a heck of a lot hotter track temperature. And then windy, like proper windy, and getting stronger throughout the day,” said Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastian Bourdai. “So the draw is going to be super important.
“If you thought it was tough today, it might just get wicked tomorrow.”
The Fast 9 and first 30 spots will be decided on Saturday, and Daly drew No. 1.
“I guess that’s good,” said the Noblesville native after he was told. “All I know for sure is that I’m just super thankful to be on this Andretti team. I wanted to try and run a clean lap by myself on that fast lap, but I got a tow because somebody pulled out in front of me. I know I’ve got a good car, though — the best car I’ve ever had here.”
Jones, running all the road and street courses for ECR in 2019, has been at, or near, the top of the no-tow chart all week, and looked comfortable again Friday. “The conditions were tricky, but my car felt good,” said the native of Dubai who finished third as a rookie in 2017.
His boss, Carpenter, was right behind him at 229.879 mph in the Preferred Freezer Chevy without a tow, establishing himself as one of the favorites to take the pole — which would be his fourth.
Alexander Rossi also flexed his muscles without the aid of a draft by posting a 229.878 mph circuit in the NAPA Honda, while defending Indy champ Will Power was clocked at 229.751 mph in the Verizon Chevy.
Power’s teammate and last week’s winner of the IndyCar GP, Simon Pagenaud, was also over 229 mph in the Menard’s Chevy, and Graham Rahal found 229.449 mph in the United Rentals Honda.
With the added boost for qualifying being in place Friday, Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato, Spencer Pigot and Ryan Hunter-Reay ranked second through fifth in the 230 mph club with traffic.
“It felt good for four laps by myself,” said Andretti, who was seventh best without a tow.
It was an expensive day for Kyle Kaiser as he destroyed Ricardo Juncos’ Chevy in a Turn 3 crash on only his second lap. The 2017 Indy Lights champ who did such a good job last May and had been clean and quick all week, got low in Turn 3, slid into the wall and almost flipped over before coming down right-side up. Kaiser escaped injury and Juncos’ crew was scrambling to get their backup ready for Saturday.