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Indy 500 Pole & Bump Day Stories: McLaughlin makes history, Penske sweep and Siegel gives everything

Written by Archie O’Reilly

Qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 have concluded with another dramatic Pole and Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). On one side, Scott McLaughlin has made history en-route to taking pole position as part of a Team Penske front row lockout. But on the other side, 19-year-old Nolan Siegel gave everything but fell short on making the field.

At the front of the field and fraught bottom of the back, here are some of the big stories from the ever-emotional second day of Indy 500 qualifying…

McLaughlin’s history-making speed

With a 234.220 mph four-lap average, Scott McLaughlin is now the fastest pole-sitter in Indy 500 history, eclipsing the record set by Alex Palou last year. He had not qualified higher than 14th in his three prior Indy 500 campaigns.

“It’s been a tough few years obviously, at least with the car speed,” he said. “Josef [Newgarden] winning last year was fantastic but a lot of the objective was to bring faster cars. And we certainly have. So proud of the effort. That was a gnarly run. It was so cool.”

There was a significant release of emotion as McLaughlin emerged from his No.3 Chevy, decked in the iconic Pennzoil yellow, after arriving back in pit lane to audible applause. Even teammate Will Power, who McLaughlin pipped to take pole, stood over and clapped him into the pits. 

“You just want to get out of the car as fast as you can,” McLaughlin said. “You are looking around and it’s the first time you enjoy and soak in the crowd… I felt like we had a hell of a crowd here. It was incredible. Just soaked it in as much as I could. You just never know when this moment will ever happen again, especially at this place.”

McLaughlin, whose topping of the Fast 12 session meant he ran last in the Fast Six, was the only driver to put together three laps in the 234 mph range, before a slight drop into the 233s on his final lap. His first lap of 234.526 took a fair few breaths away and led to Power admitting he “knew it was over” in terms of his own pole bid.

“Holy cow, just don’t spray it,” McLaughlin said of his thoughts at that point. “Just wanted to make sure I brought it home. We worked really hard to get a really good balance in the Fast 12 and I felt like my best run of the weekend was actually the Fast 12. I knew going last was going to be an advantage and we used it. 

“To execute the way we have as a team, that’s what’s really cool. It’s all about executing: ‘What was the car doing and what do you think the car is going to do the next lap?’ You are playing with bars and the weight-jacker and trying to hold on to it. We all have been really working that this week and understanding it. I was glad I was able to put it to the test when it mattered the most.”

McLaughlin has said it will “take a while to sink in” but knows the focus has to switch to preparations for leading the field to green and hoping to still be at the front of the field after 500 miles next Sunday. But regardless of what happens in the race, this is the big step forward McLaughlin has been searching for at Indy.

“I felt like I believe in my talent and believe in my team around me,” he said. “I’m very lucky to be able to drive for The Captain, to give me this opportunity. A big part of me coming to IndyCar was to be a part of this race and to be part of the biggest race in the world. 

“I’m glad I came to IndyCar. I’m loving every minute of it. It’s been a roller coaster, my Indy 500 experience. Ultimately, the only way is to keep working and keep trying to get up the front. And bit by bit we’ll get there. This is just the start.”

A performance 36 years in the making

For Penske as a team, a lockout of the front row - with McLaughlin heading Power then defending winner Newgarden - has been a long time coming. It was 36 years ago, in 1988, that Penske last locked out the front row for an Indy 500.

In 1988, as noted by IndyCar, pole-sitter Rick Mears was driving the Pennzoil-liveried car, second-place starter was one-time winner Danny Sullivan and defending winner Al Unser was third. These are astonishing parallels to how the front row has shaped up for 2024.

“We’ve been working on this for the last three, four years,” Newgarden said, with Penske not having had a car on the front row since Simon Pagenaud took pole in 2019. “We’ve certainly not had an easy time in qualifying and trying to regain the speed that we had lost. It’s just been a non-stop effort ever since that point. 

“We hadn’t turned the page and I think today is really the first time we’ve turned the page. We’ve got the speed back and it’s a testament to the entire group.”

Newgarden believes the team was “probably still missing a couple of things last year” across four qualifying laps, despite scything through the field to win on the final lap. He said details have stacked up over years of work to re-find qualifying pace, rather than there being “one magic bullet” leading to a turnaround. 

“It was a few things,” Power said of improvements. “The push rod was one - that was a gain for us. I was the only of the Top 12 last year that didn’t have that and that might be half a mile an hour. Chevy worked hard in the off-season - that was a gain. All the other little details we did, including working with [AJ] Foyt [Racing] was a little bit of it.”

Speaking in the post-qualifying press conference, Power further hailed the team and put the impact that the collective can have on cars around the 2.5-mile IMS oval into good context.

“If you put a standard Dallara that looks exactly the same as our cars and all the cars on the grid, it would be about 10 miles an hour slower than what we run,” he said. “That’s how ridiculous it is. There’s so much work you have to do to get to this speed.”

By qualifying second, Power has now qualified inside the top three for four races in succession, including with now-three second-place starts. He continues to fall marginally short of extending his all-time pole position record but has shown impressive consistency early this season, including with three second-place race finishes across four events.

“The two days of qualifying are very stressful,” he said. “You put a lot on the line and it’s really hard to have the quickest car and the quickest team on that year. To put all that together, that’s a lot of things that have to align and that’s very difficult.”

Both Newgarden and Power also remarked about Penske’s consistency from car-to-car. The order of the Penske drivers was flipped from Newgarden leading on Fast Friday to Power topping the opening day of qualifying on Saturday. Then when it came to the pole fight, McLaughlin elevated himself from second best to the quickest of the trio.

“Every team, there’s one car that just seems to be a little bit quicker for whatever reason,” Power said. “But I have to say that our cars have been the closest they’ve ever been so it shows the quality control that we have.”

Newgarden described Indy as “a curious little place” in qualifying in particular, noting that Power has the most poles in history but has never been at the front for the Indy 500.

“That’s why for me the emphasis really comes to the team because to put three cars at that level of speed is incredibly difficult,” he added. “I don’t think there’s another team in this paddock that can have their cars stacked as tight. One day your car is the quickest and the next day it’s not. To have them as close as we’ve had them is very difficult to do.”

Siegel bows out with dignity

Bump Day produces the drama that makes the Indy 500 the spectacle that it is. But that drama comes at an expense. And in 2024, it was unfortunately to the detriment of young Dale Coyne Racing driver Siegel, who is the one driver from the crop of 34 to miss out on the field of 33.

“Super disappointed,” he said. “I feel like today we did the best we could do. As a team we I think had the best car that we’ve had since we started this whole event. Those were the best four laps I think I’ve done. It felt pretty maximised and ultimately it wasn’t fast. 

“We took a swing at it to try and find a half mile an hour to get to where Graham [Rahal] was at and we were already on the limit of the trim. So I was going to go home because I went flat and did everything I could do. I wasn’t going to go home because I lifted.”

Siegel’s last-gasp run was not trending anywhere near quick enough after a first lap slower than 33rd-place Rahal’s four-lap average. But the Indy 500 debutant, attempting to qualify for the race as part of a four-event IndyCar programme with Coyne alongside a sophomore season Indy NXT championship bid, ultimately ended his day in the wall.

It took guts and bravery. Siegel had already had to rebuild his confidence - and the team build up the No.18 road course car into a speedway machine - after an airborne crash on Fast Friday. He even enlisted former winner Tony Kanaan, who obliged despite his role as Arrow McLaren’s sporting director, for moral support heading into Last Chance Qualifying.

But as he told NBC Sports: “I’m not going to go home because I lifted on my last run. I’m going to go home because I gave everything I could. Going flat was going to either lead me to the grid or lead me to the wall.”

The camaraderie at Coyne was evident as the team rallied around Siegel all weekend long, giving him positive feedback on the radio. This even came after he ran into Turn 1 deep and hit the wall to end his hopes of qualifying. But while he may have ended with zero, he has certainly achieved some hero status amid his lack of willingness to lift and give up.

“He may be a new name to a lot of people but he’s a name that you are going to become familiar with,” Rahal said. “He’s won at every level. He’s won at everything he’s done. He’ll be here… he’s going to be winning here. There’s no doubt about that. He’s young. 

“To have an accident midweek and to get the confidence to come back and just jump right back into the high boost and everything else, it’s not easy at all. To go out there and to do what he did today and what Dale Coyne did… they found a lot of speed over the last two days. 

“I don’t think there’s a lot of teams out there that can say they magically found over a mile an hour on his car, a couple of miles an hour on Kat [Legge]’s. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish. Tip of the cap to them.”

Once the dust settles, Siegel will probably be much more proud of his efforts. He seemed to fight back some tears and had a lump in his throat when speaking in the post-qualifying press conference. But to jump up almost a whole mile per hour from the early-day practice session to Last Chance Qualifying was an achievement for both driver and team.

“I certainly appreciate everything that the team has done,” he said. “We were in this together. They wanted it too. They worked really, really, really hard for a long time to make this happen. Everyone did a good job. I know that ultimately the result doesn’t reflect that but they worked really hard. We were in it together for months. It’s like a family.”

Siegel, who speaks eloquently and is mature beyond his years, has admitted the “whole event has been difficult”, particularly since his Friday crash. But no stone was left unturned, including with his late qualifying accident.

Legge’s worthwhile bout of terror

Legge and Dale Coyne Racing have no doubt had an up and down week. On Fast Friday, there were aborted runs with speeds down in the low 220 mph range with a very uncomfortable car. But as the weekend has gone on, despite not having the speed to automatically qualify, Legge and her No.51 crew have found some performance. 

She has been one of the most thrilling drivers to watch weekend-long. She struck the Turn 4 wall but did not lift on her guaranteed run on Saturday, while a “terrifying” Last Chance Qualifying run on Sunday saw her drift out to the wall on numerous occasions. 

Despite dipping into the 228 mph range on the final lap of her Bump Day run, Legge’s 230.092 mph four-lap average was enough to be the best of the four fighting for the final three spots in the field by the session’s conclusion. That meant ousting an Andretti car, which is an exceptional achievement for a Coyne team that has been on the back foot.

“I’ve had every single emotion going,” she told NBC Sports. “I’m relieved, I’m happy for the crew… I know over the next few days they will come with a good race car. We’ve got some work to do but I think we can do that in the time allotted as long as it doesn’t rain. 

“But it’s just so emotional. The amount of pressure and stress and everything else on an hour of your life is ridiculous. I really wish I’d gone to college and got a proper job.”

It may have been a pressure-filled experience but Legge has impressively locked herself into the field for the second year in succession and will start 31st. Her commitment proved more than enough and she even held the belief she could have gone faster with another attempt.

Relief and fortune for Rahal

For the second year in succession, Rahal had to fight to stay in the field on Sunday. And just as was the case one year ago, he was made to watch helplessly in the 33rd spot with no time to respond if the ongoing on-track run surpassed his four-lap average speed. Thankfully for Rahal, the outcome was different this time around as Siegel crashed on his last attempt.

“This time around was a little calmer,” he said. “Probably just because I’ve been there before and done it. You’re sitting there in the hour, you can’t run again the way the rules are written. You can’t pull out of your box, so you’re kind of at the mercy of everybody else.”

Rahal admitted last year “still stings” and the feeling is not much better only making it into the field in the final spot. After tireless work to improve on last year’s struggles at Indy, reflected by Takuma Sato making the Fast 12 and two more entries locking into the field automatically, there was head-scratching as Rahal returned to Last Change Qualifying.

“[There are] a lot of questions that need to be answered,” he said. “We changed some componentry last night that we expected to go better and we went slower again today, which is the fourth day in a row of speed loss. Set-up really hasn’t changed. We can see it in the data but unfortunately we’ve got to identify what the component is.”

The hope from the team now is that Rahal’s “solid” race car from running earlier last week can lay foundations for a better race week ahead. But there is more to find and there are mistakes to cut out, such as a loose wheel nut in Sunday’s morning pre-qualifying practice session almost causing him to crash and have his day ended before qualifying.

“We were lucky,” he said. “I entered Turn 3 and I felt the car shake. I got to the apex of Turn 3 and the car started to move around considerably and I just bailed out. That could have ended our day right there for sure… or ended our hopes. Aside from that, we’ve got a lot of work to do in the next couple of days to identify what’s gone wrong.”

Ericsson overcomes a major scare

The 2022 Indy 500 winner, and 2023 runner-up, Andretti Global’s Ericsson was an unlikely feature in Last Chance Qualifying after his weekend was derailed by a practice crash on Thursday. His new car was not delivering the speed of his teammates’ machines and left him under threat of not making the field. 

And things did not start well on Bump Day.

Ericsson was three laps into a run more than good enough to safely secure his spot in the field when he mistook the white flag for the chequered and lifted off early. He went on to complete the run but was down in the 220 mile per hour range, which meant he would have to make a high-pressure late run once the car had cooled.

Ultimately, Ericsson had enough speed to propel himself above both Rahal and Siegel. But a four-lap average of 230.027 mph, which is over four miles per hour beneath McLaughlin’s pole time, still left a lot to be desired and Ericsson will start 32nd. He will have to hope his race car is an improvement on his struggling qualifying car.

Honda struggles to make pole inroads

At the front of the field, it was dominance from Chevy, who managed to ensure there were no further plenum events causing engine cuts during crucial qualifying runs. Every single car in the Fast Six was Chevy-powered - three Penske, two Arrow McLaren and one AJ Foyt Racing. A further two Chevy-powered cars rounded out the top eight.

The three Honda cars inside the Fast 12 finished ninth to 11th, led by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Sato - at the opposite end of the field to Rahal - and followed by Meyer Shank Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist and Andretti’s Kyle Kirkwood. They delivered consistent runs but struggled to break out of the 232 mph range in terms of average lap speed. 

Honda clearly have had a deficit to Chevy with the boosted horsepower in qualifying trim, which they will hope is negated come the race.

Larson and Rossi impress for McLaren

NASCAR ace Kyle Larson comfortably made it into the Fast Six on debut for Arrow McLaren, meaning he beat eighth-place starting teammate Pato O’Ward. A 233.453 mph single-lap average was the fastest-ever from a rookie as he ultimately qualified fifth for his Indy 500 debut.

Alexander Rossi will start one place ahead of teammate Larson as he bids for his second Indy 500 crown. He has consistently been the fourth-best car and best non-Penske entry all weekend and was the only non-Penske car to notch a 234 mph four-lap average in Sunday’s qualifying. As always, he looked extremely in control of his car.

Other notes from the day

Rinus VeeKay qualified seventh, which is his worst-ever starting position for an Indy 500 after starting inside the top four in his previous four visits. But after dramatically making the Fast 12 with a late lap on Saturday following a heavy crash earlier in the day, a seventh-place start will certainly be taken.

It was Foyt’s Santino Ferrucci that made his second successive Fast Six appearance for the team at the expense of VeeKay. He did not threaten the top five in the end but will again start on the second row and be in with a good shot next weekend if the team can sort out his race car, which has been troublesome so far.


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