How Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Works

It’s not the expansive entry lists of yesteryear but Indianapolis 500 qualifying has continued to deliver drama and excitement in recent years.

For example, Formula 1 legend Fernando Alonso was a surprise DNF in 2019. The same fate befell James Hinchcliffe the year before and he was a championship contender approaching that weekend.

So, while there are only 35 entries for 33 starting spots, the inherent parity of the NTT IndyCar Series means anything could happen over two days of time trials for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Here’s how the field will be set for the Indianapolis 500.

SATURDAY, MAY 22

There are two goals on Saturday for everyone attempting to make the show in Speedway, Indiana. The first is to post one of the nine quickest speeds to advance to the pole shootout on Sunday. If unable to make the top nine, teams will need to at least post a top-30 time.

This is because the teams posting the 31st through 35th fastest times will be relegated to the last row shootout on Sunday to determine which three drivers advance to the 200-lap race, and which two teams will be sent home early.

The qualifying order to begin Saturday is determined by a random draw on Friday night.

All entered cars are guaranteed one four-lap qualifying attempt, and once those have been completed the team can elect to make another qualifying run — albeit with a caveat.

The team must choose between one of two different ‘lanes’ — either the normal lane or the fast lane.

Teams that put cars in the normal lane may attempt to improve their qualifying time without the risk of losing their previously established time. By remaining in the normal lane, you have to wait for every team in either the fast lap or normal lane ahead of you to make a qualifying attempt, and you risk falling outside of the top-9 or top-30.

So, the option of choosing the fast lane means getting priority ahead of those in the normal lane. The fast lane is primarily for cars without a qualifying time.

The catch for the fast lane is that anyone who skips ahead of those in the normal lane must withdraw their time before making a four-lap run. It’s a trade-off. Teams will gladly withdraw their time if they feel they can improve on it, but sometimes the risk doesn’t pay off and they are even further back on the provisional starting lineup.

Teams on the bubble of falling outside of the Fast Nine may withdraw their time to put someone else on the bubble, but that comes with the risk of posting a slower time.

This session begins at Noon and runs through 6 p.m. The desperation to select the fast lane becomes more viable the closer the clock gets to the end of the session.

SUNDAY, MAY 23

Sunday is reserved for the Fast Nine Pole Shootout and the Last Row Shootout.

The last chance session begins at 1:15 and runs through 2:30. Each entry is guaranteed one attempt and can make multiple attempts until time expires. If multiple attempts are made, previous times are withdrawn, and the most recent time remains eligible. The three fastest teams advance into the Indianapolis 500 and the two slowest go home early.

The Fast Nine Shootout begins at 3:00 and each team gets just one chance at the pole. The qualifying order is based on Saturday times, slowest to fastest.

NOTE

Each driver in Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout will receive one set of tires to be utilized during the pre-Qualification practice, and one additional set for their qualification attempt. Both sets of tires must be returned to Firestone at the conclusion of each session.

For all qualifying attempts, cars must add a minimum of three (3) gallons of fuel from the qualifications fuel tank located in pit lane.

WHAT IF THERE IS RAIN?

This is simple.

Every team on Saturday is guaranteed at least one four-lap attempt. If that can’t happen by the end of Saturday, the remaining teams who haven’t made an attempt will do so the next available day until the Fast Nine and Last Row Shootouts have been set by one four-lap attempt.

Every team on Sunday in both shootouts are guaranteed at least one four-lap attempt. If that can’t happen by the end of Sunday, the remaining teams who haven’t made an attempt will do so the next available day until one attempt is made and the starting lineup for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing has been established.

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