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Rinus VeeKay overcomes early crash with final flourish to make Indianapolis 500 pole shootout

Rinus VeeKay
Posted at 12:23 PM, May 18, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Rinus VeeKay changed his fortunes with one late, daring Indianapolis 500 qualifying run Saturday. It could change the trajectory of his entire season. The 23-year-old Dutch driver overcame an early crash that forced crew members to scramble to repair the No. 21 Chevrolet and then jumped from 29th to 11th on the second-to-last run of the day to make his fifth straight pole shootout with a four-lap average of 232.419 mph. He bumped Colton Herta out of the 12th and final spot in the shootout as his mother prayed while watching. “Wow, wow, just incredible," VeeKay said after his fourth and final qualifying attempt of the day. “Wow! What a job. I'll be driving tomorrow.” For most of Saturday, it appeared VeeKay's four-year run of making the shootout was over. His car wiggled going through the third turn on his first qualifying run, then spun up the track into the wall coming out of the turn, skidded between the third and fourth turns and hit the Turn 4 wall before coming to rest in the front straightaway. He limped to the medical truck but was checked, released and cleared to drive at the infield medical center. Three hours later, Ed Carpenter Racing had the car repaired but it took two more attempts to earn one of the 30 spots available on the 33-car starting grid. “It’s not ideal, but we made it happen and it’s pretty awesome,” VeeKay said. Then, in the waning minutes of qualifying, VeeKay's team withdrew his speed and sent him back onto the track despite multiple Chevrolet-powered cars losing power during their runs Saturday. But VeeKay, who has an expiring contract and no finishes higher than eighth this season, strung together laps of 233.448, 232.614, 221.957 and 231.653 to give himself — and Carpenter's team — another shot to win a pole. VeeKay has started, fourth, third, third and second in his first four 500 starts. “Usually you don't expect the car to go out on the same day again, so great job by them," VeeKay said. "The speed out there was unexpected for most.” CLOSE CALL Aside from VeeKay, perhaps nobody had a more tenuous day than Katherine Legge, who posted a four-lap average of 230.244 on her first attempt to make the provisional field despite tapping the wall on the final turn of her last lap. She completed the run in the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing but almost immediately realized it wasn't likely to keep her in the top 30. “It was terrifying honestly,” Legge said. “We've still got some work to do because we don't have the speed. But we have the (right) direction and we'll probably have to try again later.” Legge did try again — three more times including right before VeeKay's final run — but failed to bump her way back into the race as she did last year when she avoided the last-row scramble by qualifying 29th. She's trying to make her fourth career 500 start. She'll be one of four drivers competing for the final three starting spots. The others are Graham Rahal, 2022 Indy winner Marcus Ericsson and 19-year-old rookie Nolan Siegel. Ericsson and Siegel both crashed during practice earlier this week. Rahal was the only driver not to make last year's starting field but wound up starting as the replacement driver for the injured Stefan Wilson. ENGINE TROUBLE The battle between engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda has been fierce, at times, through the years. But its typically been waged relatively cleanly. That wasn't the case Saturday. Chevy officials confirmed they had six cars — those driven by Agustin Canapino, Christian Rasmussen, Conor Daly, Carpenter, Pato O'Ward and Kyle Larson — suffer engine problems in qualifying. Afterward, Chevrolet engineering program manager for the IndyCar Series Rob Buckner told reporters the engines didn't fail, they just lacked power in certain conditions and that they would be working all night to find solutions for Sunday. “The engines are strong and great,” Bucker said. "We're looking for ways to mitigate it. Unfortunately, throughout the afternoon they were increasing in frequency, we don't have a full understanding of why. We will figure it out." Chevrolet cars still claimed nine of the top 12 spots Saturday after taking eight of the first 12 spots last May. Honda also has had some issues this month, including engine changes prior to qualifying with two Chip Ganaasi Racing driver — Scott Dixon and Alex Palou. Neither will compete for Sunday's pole. Dixon, a six-time series champ, the 2008 Indy 500 winner and a four-time 500 pole winner qualified 21st, the outside of Row 7 with an average speed of 231.851. Palou, the 2021 and 2023 series champ and this year's points leader, will start 14th with an average of 232.306. ___ AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing