Look back in history Sunday: Qualifying is part of the Indianapolis 500 tradition

Later today, Indianapolis time, qualifying for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place.  It requires each driver to complete four, not one, but four timed laps.  It always takes place on a separate weekend to the actual race, as this is part of the event steeped in tradition.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the city of Indianapolis, Indiana, is commonly referred to as the Brickyard!  Well, 3.2 million bricks used to repave the track for the 1910 season certainly gave reason for the name.

The four founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From left, Arthur Newby, Frank Wheeler, Carl Fisher, James Allison. The photo likely was taken on the morning of the inaugural Indianapolis 500, May 30, 1911.

Originally built in 1909, the breaking up of the surface of the gravel and tar track along with events that had attracted a large number of paying spectators, persuaded the owner, Carl G. Fisher to invest in the circuit, and so he did.

With diminishing spectators in 1910, it was time for the track owners to make a change. So they decided on a race of 500 miles, the distance that could be obtained before it got dark, and a prize of $25,000. This immediately drew the attention of both competitors and spectators.

And so the first race was held on 20 May with 40-starters with Ray Harroun (main picture), driving a Marmon Model 32 ‘Wasp’ being declared the winner.

The current four-lap qualifying procedure was first introduced in 1920 and has been used every year since 1939.

The grid for the Indy 500 consists of 11 rows of three-cars wide, hence only the fastest 33-cars from qualifying get to compete in the race.

Qualifying takes place over two days – Saturday and Sunday – and is essentially a time trial where each driver must put together four good laps around the track (10 miles). Their time is used to determine their starting position for the race.

On Saturday, the 30-fastest cars qualify for the race with positions 10-30 grid positions determined. The fastest nine cars go on to compete on the Sunday in a shoot-out, while all the slower cars outside the top 30 compete for the last three grid spots.

On the Sunday of qualifying weekend, each unqualified car will get one chance to qualify for a position on the last row.  Traditionally this was called Bump-Day, when a faster car could bump a slower one out of the race. Meanwhile, the fastest nine will all have one four-lap attempt to determine the pole winner and the rest of the top three rows on the grid.

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits talkmotorsport.co.nz. He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!


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