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The Indianapolis 500 , the Greatest Spectacle in Racing , features a qualifying format distinct from every other race during the IndyCar season — and there’s a whole new setup for the 2022 Indy 500 . If you’re ready to tune in this weekend, we’re here to tell you everything you need to know to follow the action.
The Indianapolis 500 is one of the most prestigious and long-lived racing events in the world — which means that it’s existed through countless different racing eras and philosophies. So, while there have been plenty of changes to the race format over the years, Indy 500 organizers like to keep some of the race’s long-standing traditions.
See, practice and qualifying for the 500 used to last the entire month of May as drivers fine-tuned their vehicles and a massive number of hopefuls tried to make a field limited to 33 starters. That much track time is costly, though, and organizers have since condensed the Indy 500 practice, qualifying, and race schedule into a two-week period.
The two-day qualifying session for the field of 33 cars is a compromise between previous iterations of the race (that featured as many as four days of qualifying) and the standard race weekend setup that features a single qualifying session on Saturday followed by Sunday’s race.
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Those extra qualifying days were often necessary, since tons of drivers wanted to compete in the race but only 33 could start. It left space for something called “Bump Day,” where drivers at the rear of the field could try to claw back a guaranteed place on the starting grid.
It’s also worth noting that cars qualify for the Indy 500, not drivers. A single driver can theoretically qualify several different cars, which would then be raced by different drivers during the Indy 500. That generally doesn’t happen outside of very unusual situations, but from here forward we will be talking in terms of the cars that qualify.
Photo: Andy Lyons (Getty Images)
With exactly 33 cars entered in this year’s race, there’s no need for a Bump Day — which is why IndyCar has changed up the qualifying format for 2022. Organizers want to preserve some of the tension of Bump Day without getting too gimmicky. Here’s what to expect:
On Saturday, each car will be given a random number to determine qualifying order. Each car will have a chance to qualify based on the average lap time calculated from four flying laps.
After each car qualifies, things get more complex. Two different lanes will form in the pits: a priority lane and the standard lane. Teams choose which lane they want to wait in. Cars in the priority lane will be allowed to qualify before cars in the standard lane, but they must give up their previous qualifying time in order to do so. That does, however, present a risk that the new qualifying time could be worse than the previous one.
Meanwhile, cars in the regular lane will qualify after the priority-lane cars, but those cars will get to keep their initial qualifying time. So, if that second qualifying attempt is worse, it gets thrown out, and the faster time will be counted.
It can be helpful to use an example. Say Scott Dixon isn’t happy with his first qualifying time. If he jumps in the priority lane, he’ll be starting his qualifying effort with a blank slate. If his new qualifying time is better, great. If it’s worse, then he has to stick with it.
However, if he hops in the regular lane and sets a slower time on his second qualifying attempt, he’ll keep his faster time from the first qualifying run.
Cars are able to qualify for the duration of the qualifying period, between noon and 5:50 p.m. ET.
This first day of qualifying divides the field in three: The front 12 drivers, the final three drivers, and the midfield. The midfield (13th through 30th place) will be set with this qualifying session. The fastest 12 and slowest three drivers will move on to Sunday.
On the second day of qualifying, there will be three different sessions:
The biggest change here is the fact that the previous Fast Nine Qualifying session has been extended to become the Fast 12 session. And, again, because there are only 33 drivers entered, the Last Chance Qualifying session will only feature three drivers.
Photo: Chris Graythen (Getty Images)
Saturday, May 21 (all times ET)
Sunday, May 22 (all times ET)
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