If you’re a fan of the Indy 500, you probably already know that the qualifying sequence has changed dramatically for the 94th running of the race. Pole day and bump day have been merged into one weekend, which is great for fans, but bad for teams (especially those with limited resources).
Qualifying for the pole and the race begins on Saturday, May 22. Twenty four cars will be qualified between 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM on Saturday; the fastest nine will then compete for the pole in a 90 minute “shoot out” held from 4:30 to 6:00. The driver with the fastest lap time takes pole, followed by the next fastest until all nine slots are filled. Positions 10 through 24 will be set by times achieved in the earlier qualifying session.
Sunday, May 23, will see qualifying for the remaining 9 positions; based on the last entry list I saw, sixteen cars will be competing for one of these nine grid positions. Once all 33 starting slots are filled, the bumping begins. Drivers who want a spot in the race must qualify with a faster time than the car in last position, said to be “on the bubble”. If a car on the bubble is displaced by a faster car, the driver may attempt to re-qualify the car is he has not used up all of his three qualifying attempts. The bumping process is repeated as many times as necessary until the timing clock runs out at 6:00 PM on Sunday.
Versus will air both days of qualifying live, with coverage from 12:00 to 6:30. That’s good news for fans with cable or satellite, since Versus offers far better racing coverage than ABC. On the other hand, if you rely on broadcast TV, you may want to find a racing-friendly sports bar to camp out in this weekend.