It’s written in the Chip Ganassi Racing shop in Indianapolis: Win the Indianapolis 500.
What better way to win the race than by starting up front? Chip Ganassi Racing all but guaranteed itself of that opportunity by placing all five of its cars in the top 12, which will advance to the second day of PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying to compete for the NTT P1 Award for pole in a massive show of strength for the organization.
Alex Palou led the team Saturday with the fourth-fastest four-lap average speed of the day, 232.774 mph in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan put the No. 1 The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda fifth at 232.625, and rookie Jimmie Johnson landed sixth in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at 232.398.
Marcus Ericsson drove the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda to eighth at 232.275, and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon rounded out the team at 10th with a four-lap average speed of 232.151 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“Not to just state the obvious, but it’s pretty awesome,” Johnson said. “I’m so thankful to be a part of the group. I’ve been watching them prepare literally since they left here last year and continually thinking of this race and it being a motto to win here, even before the championship.
“To be a part of it, to experience it, to be living it is really cool.”
It’s the second consecutive year that CGR advanced all the cars it entered in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge to the second day of qualifying. Last year was just the top nine drivers, while this year 12 drivers advance to the Top 12, and from there the Firestone Fast Six will determine the polesitter for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“I’m super happy with our qualifying run,” defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Palou said. “The car was really fast, although it was really busy in the cockpit, but that’s because we had no real running (Friday). Really happy with our car and with having all five Chip Ganassi Racing Hondas in the top 12 for tomorrow.”
Last year, Dixon scored his fourth career Indy 500 pole, tying him with Rex Mays, A.J. Foyt and Helio Castroneves for second all-time in poles won for the Indy 500. His previous pole positions came in 2008, ’15 and ’17. Rick Mears holds the record at six.
Statistically, 75 percent of Indy 500 winners have come from the first four rows that will requalify Sunday. CGR accounts for nearly 50 percent of the Top 12. And while it’s impressive the organization is advancing all its cars, CGR is looking to place at least one car on the coveted front row for the third consecutive year.
In 2020, six-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon started second, and he was the only Ganassi car on the front row last year. It’s a marked turnaround from 2019, when CGR entered two cars in the race and qualified them in the back half of the field – Dixon started 17th and Felix Rosenqvist started 29th in the No. 10 car.
The show of strength has put the field on notice. Rinus VeeKay, who led qualifications on Saturday with the third fastest four-lap average speed in Indy 500 qualifying history at 233.655 in the No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet, pointed to the Ganassi organization as the group he thinks could steal pole position from him.
“I think Ganassi is definitely our biggest rival out there for challenging for pole,” VeeKay said. “But I’m allowed to say it - I think Chevrolet is stronger this year.”
While Ganassi had the fastest Honda in the field with Palou, fellow Honda driver Romain Grosjean was impressed by their organization-wide speed. His team, Andretti Autosport, also entered five cars in the race and was all over the leaderboard.
Grosjean led the way for the organization by posting the ninth-fastest speed of the day at 232.201 in the No. 28 DHL Honda, but his fellow Andretti drivers ranked 20th (Alexander Rossi), 23rd (Marco Andretti), 24th (Devlin DeFrancesco) and 25th (Colton Herta).
“Ganassi has been very impressive since we started running, even the long runs,” Grosjean said. “For an organization, five cars in the fast 12 is pretty good. I think the Chevys are a bit stronger. I’m not supposed to say that word, but they’re a bit stronger. But who knows, tomorrow’s conditions could be different.”
PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying resumes Sunday with Top 12 Practice from 12:30-2 p.m. (ET) live on Peacock Premium, followed by Top 12 and Firestone Fast Six Qualifying at 4 p.m., live on NBC. The INDYCAR Radio Network also will offer coverage.