Rinus VeeKay rocketed his No. 21 Bitnile.com Chevrolet to a near-pole-winning effort in the Firestone Fast Six with a four-lap average of 234.211 mph, which left him second and .0040 of a second short of Alex Palou’s record four-lap average run of 234.217 mph that claimed the NTT P1 Award.
Even so, it further cemented VeeKay’s already remarkable qualifying record at the Indianapolis 500.
The 22-year-old Dutchman, who drives for Ed Carpenter Racing, grabbed a career-best start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in the No. 21 Bitnile.com Chevrolet. He qualified fourth as a rookie in 2020 and third in both 2021 and 2022.
“Yeah, it was very close,” VeeKay said. “Wow, very happy, but also a bit bummed. We had that shot, and I wish we could have done it. It would have been so great for the team. But also, I'm bummed to be starting the Indy 500 second.
“Not bad, definitely, but yeah, I think it just has to sink in a little bit. What is in my head now is I lost, but no, I will enjoy this one, and it's my best starting position so far in the ‘500.’ We all know what comes in my car number after second, and that's a 1.”
The stout showing is also a demonstration of the team’s resolve after VeeKay was forced to the garage after qualifying practice Sunday morning when smoke bellowed from the back of his car. While a possible engine change was suspected, the team only needed to make a few minor changes to components before competing in Top 12 Qualifying just two hours later.
“Just very proud of the team,” VeeKay said. “We had a tough morning, kind of went downhill for a bit, and the team still made it happen. The only thing I had to do was stay flat for four laps, and the ECR Bitnile crew gave me the best possible car for this moment.”
VeeKay’s outing means nine of the last 11 years ECR has been represented on the front row of the Indy 500.
Mixed Emotions for Harvey
Jack Harvey delivered a dramatic, last-gasp performance in Last Chance Qualifying to capture the final spot of the field of 33 for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
The Briton was thrust into a dire head-to-head battle against Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Graham Rahal for the 33rd position. Rahal, driving the No. 15 United Rentals Honda, was the last to make his first attempt, nailing down a four-lap average run of 229.159 mph to hold serve of the final starting spot for the majority of the one-hour session.
The only driver to make multiple attempts, Harvey also underwent a left front suspension adjustment ahead of his second run, which was waved off after two laps before a third attempt also fell short of dethroning Rahal. Despite an ideal condition of having his engine cooled for another attempt, Harvey pushed out on track and took started his warmup lap as time expired on the session, making it his fourth run but also the last one to decide the fate of the last row.
Crew members of Harvey’s No. 30 PeopleReady Honda waited anxiously throughout the pit area, bracing each other, with others isolating themselves on the pit wall. Each lap Harvey logged produced a twist on the team’s emotions, as a combination of 229.435 mph (Lap 1) and 229.088 mph (Lap 2) began to sink their hopes, but then an unlikely response of 229.176 mph (Lap 3) saw each member’s attention rise with hope. One crew member simply kept saying: “Don’t lift, Jack. Come on, don’t lift” as the driver dove into Turn 3 of the final lap. Then, Harvey crossed the finish line after his fourth and final lap at 228.971 mph to produce an average of 229.166, bumping Rahal by .0044 of a second.
“Honestly, it was a bit of a blur at this point,” Harvey said. I hate what this means, knocking Graham out of the race; for our team, for him. I think he's the most underrated driver on the grid, in my opinion. One of the best teammates I've ever had. So, that's not a great feeling. In terms of the last run, the goal was honestly just to try and forget what had happened in the first two and stay as open-minded and optimistic as possible. … It's a whirlwind moment.”
In the aftermath of the result, teammate Christian Lundgaard, who was also part of the battle and qualified 31st, jumped on the pit wall and grabbed Harvey by both sides of the helmet and frantically congratulated his teammates resolve. Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist and Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly also stopped by to share their happiness for Harvey.
Harvey didn’t shy away from this not only being the toughest moment of his career, but “probably so far in my life.”
And fitting to his character, he carries the moment with mixed emotions.
“We deal with some personal stuff sometimes, but in terms of professionally, this is without doubt the most draining, difficult day,” he said. “And even now, I'm so grateful to be in the 107th Running of the Indy 500, but at the expense of what it came, it's a bitter moment.”
Harvey mentioned the suspension adjustment helping a car that had a neutral balance, which came in handy as track temperatures at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway reached 125 degrees Fahrenheit – the highest since cars hit the track last Wednesday.
Odds & Ends
- Rico Abreu, a two-time champion of the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, was on hand to watch qualifying and was hanging out with the crew of Chip Ganassi Racing.
- Alex Palou became the first Spaniard to win the Indianapolis 500 pole.
- Alex Palou, Felix Rosenqvist and Rinus VeeKay became the fastest front row in Indy 500 history with an average pace of 234.181 mph, breaking the previous mark of 233.643 mph that was set last year.
- The Stanley Cup was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday for photo opportunities with the Borg-Warner Trophy on the Yard of Bricks and in the Chip Ganassi Racing garage in Gasoline Alley.
- Santino Ferrucci qualified fourth in the No. 14 Home for Our Troops Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing, shattering his previous best Indy 500 starting spot of 15th (2022). His team owner, A.J. Foyt, started fourth for two of his four Indy 500 wins (tied most all-time with Helio Castroneves, Rick Mears and Al Unser).
- Benjamin Pedersen, Ferrucci’s teammate, will be the highest-starting rookie in the field after qualifying 11th (232.671) in the No. 55 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet. The next closest rookie is Agustín Canapino, who will start 27th (231.070) in the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.