INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Will Power was wide open around Indianapolis Motor Speedway and refused to let off the gas even if he hit his car against the wall.
His spot in the Indianapolis 500 was at stake and Power, one of the greatest qualifiers in IndyCar history, wasn’t going to miss the show.
The 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner was one of five drivers battling for a place on the back row of the May 30 race. A Team Penske car should never have been in the bladder, and yet on Sunday Power was desperate to avoid becoming the first Roger Penske driver to be sent home by the Indy 500 since 1995.
“That really gives you respect,” said Power. “Definitely lose some sleep just because you know you have to execute.”
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 women-run Paretta Autosport. The three will start next Sunday in the last row in the field of 33.
It is the third year in a row that Karam launches on the 31st.
Charlie Kimball was knocked out of the race and finished 10 consecutive starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. RC Enerson, a rookie with the new Top Gun Racing team, failed to qualify for his first Indy 500 after a week of fighting for the late entrant.
“So what do you want to do next weekend?” Kimball asked his wife as he stepped down from the AJ Foyt Racing entry.
Power, with 62 career bars in IndyCar, follows only Mario Andretti’s 67 bars for most in series history. He was the best of his generation in qualifying a car, but the Team Penske entries have been struggling since Friday when the engines got a boost in horsepower.
The problem doesn’t seem to be with the Chevrolet Power Plants, as Ed Carpenter and Rinus VeeKay added a pair of Chevys to the Fast Nine qualifying group. The Penske problem seems to be in the mechanical setup, and none of his four cars blinded in qualifying.
New IndyCar team owner Paretta has a close alliance with Penske as part of Roger Penske’s diversity push, and the Penske cars’ battles went to de Silvestro as well. The Swiss driver is back in Indy for the first time since 2015 and theoretically in the best car of her career.
But she and Power both sat quietly in their cockpits under a hot Indiana sun, waiting to see if Kimball and Enerson would oust them from the race. It wasn’t until the clock went to zero in the 75-minute session that Power and de Silvestro got out of their cars and gave each other a quick hug to celebrate.
Beth Paretta and de Silvestro will be the first female team owner and driver in the Indy 500, and the team has a strong crew of women who could be used for pit stops next Sunday.
Many drivers who were already in the race watched the pushing process from the pit lane with empathy for their competitors.
“People will never understand how intense these five drivers and teams are,” said Graham Rahal. “This is the most intense moment of your life, magnified on national television, pressured by sponsor implications, and made worse by terrible track conditions. Indy 500 in worst qualifying. “