Pietro Fittipaldi

To an untrained eye, speeding around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway completing a four-lap qualifying run for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge looks aesthetically simple. But the difficulty and danger are far more challenging than most think.

Qualifying is WAY more than riding around for 10 miles. With 34 cars vying for 33 spots in the starting field, someone is going home Sunday. Careers are made here, and missing the show could break someone’s stride.

Qualifying at Indianapolis isn’t for the faint of heart.

The challenge of a qualifying attempt begins the moment the car fires off pit road for this weekend’s PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying.

A lot of chaos can happen over the course of four laps. The way the drivers must attack each lap makes them each unique.

So which lap is the most important among them?

Lap 1: “Honestly, you need to have the car a little bit spicy in a way so Lap 1 and 2 you get that really good top average speed,” said Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Pietro Fittipaldi.

Lap 2: “You can put a heater down on that first lap, but I feel like that drop-off after the first lap is quite important,” said Ed Carpenter Racing driver Rinus VeeKay, who has three consecutive Indianapolis 500 front row starts. “That’s usually where you see the difference between second place is on the second lap.” VeeKay was part of last year’s Indianapolis 500 record-setting time gap between the top two qualifiers in “500” history (.0040 of a second) and second-tightest speed margin between 1-2 in “500” history (.006 mph).

Lap 3: “I think Laps 3 and 4 are hard,” said Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Graham Rahal. “Laps 1 and 2 the tires are there. Even if you get a little imbalanced, you kind of get through with it with (Laps) 3 and 4, particularly if you go loose like I did in qualifying my first run last year. Yeah, that’s a bit of a bit*h.” Five-time Indianapolis 500 NTT P1 Award winner Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing echoed Rahal’s sentiments, saying Laps 3 and 4 are the crucial circuits to get right.

Lap 4: Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said the final lap is the worst from inside of the car. “The last is the most important because if you get a crappy one, it's going to destroy your average.” Three-time Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Ed Carpenter agreed. “That’s what is so unique about qualifying here is the fact that it's a four-lap average. The first two laps are always way easier than the last two. I think my first two poles we didn't have the fastest single lap among the other guys on the front row. It all came down to that fourth lap, so the fourth one's always important.” Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Conor Daly said the fourth lap the last two years has taken him from the Fast 12 to 18th or 19th. “Lap 4 is a scumbag,” he said.