Race Weekend Central

Last Chance Qualifying in Indianapolis: How Did We Get Here?

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — With only a handful of seconds to go before the 5:50 p.m. gun went off to signal the end of Saturday’s qualifying session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Graham Rahal drove his No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda onto the 2.5-mile oval to make one more four-lap qualifying run for the 2024 Indianapolis 500 on May 26.

With teammate Pietro Fittipaldi occupying the final spot in the top 30 locked-in positions, Rahal had to qualify faster than the Brazilian’s 231.100 mph average.

During his first lap, Rahal knew he was in trouble as he messaged the team over the radio.

“It’s not pulling,” Rahal said of his car. “It’s just not pulling.”

After a first lap of 230.133 mph, the second-generation racer waved off his fourth qualifying attempt of the day.

Rahal’s story is one of struggle and heartache. Three other drivers will compete against him in Sunday’s Last Chance Qualifying session for a chance to fill out the final row of three cars.

It’s the second year in a row Rahal has faced the final row showdown. In 2023, Jack Harvey bumped his then-teammate Rahal from the final qualifying position by 0.0044 seconds, leaving Rahal without a spot in the field until Stefan Wilson injured his back in the Monday practice session before the race.

In 2024, Rahal will have to do it all over again against Katherine Legge, Nolan Siegel and Marcus Ericsson. Let’s dive into how each driver found themselves in the Last Chance Qualifying session.

For Rahal, it seems to be a mystery as how he’s in the shootout. The Ohio native was 12th fastest on Wednesday and fourth on Thursday’s no-tow speed chart. On Friday, however, Rahal was down in 28th on the no-tow speed chart.

IndyCar turned the boost up to qualifying levels for Friday’s sessions and Rahal’s fastest non-tow lap that day was 231.236 mph. IndyCar defines a lap to be tow-assisted if it is completed within 10 seconds of a car preceding it.

“I thought it was a solid day,” Rahal said in the team’s Friday post-practice release. “Obviously in the heat of the day, we struggled a little bit but I think most everybody was. At the end there we were trying a couple of things but it’s a shame we didn’t get a clean, full run or even a full, clean lap. I think we need to find a good mile an hour feel like we’re maybe a top-15 car. I think P15-28 is going to be separated by basically nothing so it will be interesting to see how it turns out. We’re alright and we’ll be fine tomorrow. We have work ahead.”

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On Rahal’s first qualifying run, he said over the radio that he felt something happen with the engine. Going through the second turn on his final lap, the engine seemed to lose a few RPM, prompting Rahal to voice his concerns to the team.

“Something just happened with the engine,” he said as he was going down the backstretch. “Sounds like the engine was starving there, like multiple over-boosts or something. I don’t know what to tell you, like it’s just not even pulling in fifth gear all of a sudden, like what is this? For a car that supposedly has less drag than yesterday, this is really baffling.”

After getting out of the car, Rahal told NBC’s Dave Burns on pit road that his car lost speed with no setup changes over the previous couple of days.

Despite the engine change, Rahal’s best qualifying average on Saturday was 230.685 mph. The team even has Rahal’s backup car on hand to go through it to try and figure out where the missing speed has gone.

“We’ll go back tonight, we’ll look at all the componentry, we’ll try to make sure everything is in line and nothing is wearing itself out or anything like that, and that’s all we can do,” Rahal said in the post-qualifying press conference. “Frankly, that’s all we can do. Honda today was great to us. I’ll say it time and time again. We did have an engine issue. That was factual. They boroscoped it, they asked us to remove it, but they made the decision quick. They didn’t leave us hanging. They’re a great partner in that regard, and we changed it as quick as we could, but you guys saw it; even with a new bullet, we went out and did the exact same speed. It just doesn’t line up. This has got to be something mechanically that’s holding us back, and unfortunately that takes a lot of work to find.”

For Legge, the speed in her No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing Honda didn’t leave through the week. The car was near the bottom from the start as Legge was 31st on Wednesday’s speed chart, 27th on Thursday’s no-tow sheet and 33rd on Fast Friday.

Legge brushed the wall on her first qualifying run as she exited the final corner on her fourth lap. Despite three more qualifying attempts, her best four-lap average was 230.830 mph.

Legge’s teammate Siegel had a rougher road to travel on his way to Sunday’s Last Chance Qualifying session. The 19-year-old rookie crashed on Fast Friday, flipping the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

Dale Coyne Racing switched to the road course car Harvey ran at the recent Sonsio Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course the previous Saturday. Despite having all of Friday and Saturday morning to build up the car, Siegel’s car was not up to the same speed as the rest of the field.

Siegel’s first qualifying ended with a four-lap average of 226.621 mph. His only other completed attempt ended with an average speed of 228.276 mph. Two other attempts were not run to completion.

Many might have Siegel penciled in to be bumped, and it would be a smart bet. However, crazier things have happened in Indy 500 qualifying before and Siegel has a crew around him who believe in him and his abilities. Can a surprise upset take place? Who knows.

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The final competitor to take part in the Last Chance Qualifying session is Ericsson. The Swede had an accident in turn 4 on Thursday that made it necessary to switch to the backup car.

The spare body panels had a better body fit to the spare chassis than they did to the primary, so the team made the decision to switch to the backup car, building it up over Thursday night.

Ericsson was 30th on the Friday no-tow practice sheets and the results were not better on Saturday. The 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner made five qualifying attempts, completing three of them. His best four-lap average speed was 230.765 mph. Over the 10-mile run, Ericsson was only 0.2263 seconds slower than Fittipaldi’s 30th-place run.

“It’s been very tough, obviously,” Ericsson said after qualifying. “But yeah, I can only blame myself. I crashed our primary car on Thursday and put us in a difficult spot. I think the team has done a really good job at building up the backup car and really putting in a lot of work yesterday to try and dial it in.

“Again, today they were out there pushing all day to try and find speed and get me out there for new runs. Very thankful of that. But of course it’s very frustrating, very disappointing. Yeah, tough couple of days.”

The Last Chance Qualifying session will be from 4:15-5:15 p.m. ET. Rahal, Legge, Siegel and Ericsson are all guaranteed at least one qualifying attempt in the session. Each driver can make multiple attempts, but they will withdraw their posted qualifying average if they decide to do so.

About the author

Christopher DeHarde has covered IndyCar racing and the Road to Indy for various outlets since 2014. In addition to open wheel racing, DeHarde has also covered IMSA and various short track racing events around Indiana. Originally from New Orleans, DeHarde moved to the Indianapolis area in 2017 to further pursue a career as a motorsports writer.

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