IndyCar: The ‘most stressful’ part of the Indy 500

Tony Kanaan, Arrow McLaren, Indy 500, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
Tony Kanaan, Arrow McLaren, Indy 500, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports /

As Tony Kanaan prepares for his 22nd and final Indy 500 start, he discussed the fact that qualifying is still extremely stressful.

It’s impossible to get through an Indy 500 practice and qualifying week without some commentator or driver mentioning the fact that a four-lap Indy 500 qualifying attempt marks the most stressful time that a driver can have behind the wheel of any race car.

A qualifying run for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is a 10-mile, single-car sprint around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana oval at speeds of over 230 miles per hour, inches off the wall in some of the corners. Qualifying runs for all other oval races are two-lap runs, and no such race can measure up to the Indy 500.

Arrow McLaren’s Tony Kanaan admitted that the nerves ahead of a daunting four-lap Indy 500 qualifying attempt are the same now as they were two decades ago, even as a former winner of the race. Kanaan is set to attempt to qualify for his 22nd and final Indy 500 this weekend.

“Oh 100%,” he told Beyond the Flag. “I mean, I think if I didn’t get nervous, that means that it wouldn’t mean anything anymore to me, and then I shouldn’t be doing it. But especially this year. The last few years, it was more comfortable because no matter what you knew you’re in the field.

“Now if, suddenly, you have a hiccup in qualifying, that means somebody can bump you out, so it is a little bit more stressful. It’s part of it. I like it. I think it’s a whole part of what the Indy 500 means, but yeah, it’s the next couple days probably will be the most stressful ones.

“Once you, if you go to the fast six or to the fastest top 12, it’s actually like, okay I made it, but then Sunday night is when you let all that pressure go. It’s usually when you feel extremely drained out. Obviously Monday we have a couple hours of practice, but yeah, Sunday is like, I’m spent by the time I get to that.”

Tony Kanaan believes that his move to Arrow McLaren gives him a great chance to win the Indy 500 for a second time.

In the series’ first oval race of the year, Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward had, at one point, 26 of his 27 competitors at least one lap down. Is that a sign of the team’s strength on superspeedways?

“I don’t think that’s happening here, but I wish!” Kanaan said. “You know, it’s a completely different race track. We do have awesome cars. We started the year as a team extremely strong. On average, we had all the cars in the top 10 pretty much every race, so yes, we’re very confident, but this is a whole different beast.

“You’ll see it sometimes, you know, you have teams that are extremely good here and not good anywhere else the entire year, so I don’t think that’s going to be the case. But I do believe Arrow McLaren has pretty good cars here. I mean, they proved that last year.

“If you look at our lineup as far as drivers, they have the second, third, fourth and fifth place finishers of this race last year racing for them. so we have all the tools. now it’s going to be up to us and the racetrack to be kind to us.”

O’Ward finished in second place last year with teammate Felix Rosenqvist in fourth. Kanaan finished in third, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, and full-time newcomer Alexander Rossi finished in fifth, competing for Andretti Autosport.

Beyond qualifying, there has been plenty of talk this week about the additional downforce this year, aimed at making overtaking more manageable. It had previously been difficult for drivers running behind the top two to pull off passes, as it had become somewhat of what Formula 1 fans would call a “DRS train”.

According to Kanaan, among others, the changes haven’t actually changed much. On the plus side, it hasn’t gotten worse.

“I think is the same,” he said. “They tried to increase the downforce. I don’t think we did enough for what they are trying to do. It’s not a bad thing, it’s not a negative thing, but I don’t think it’s any better than last year.”

At a strong team such as Arrow McLaren, there is a chance that teammates could end up being in the battle for the win late. We saw it last year with both Arrow McLaren and Chip Ganassi Racing, and we’ve seen it a number of times in the past.

Kanaan doesn’t necessarily plan to alter his aggression level if he finds himself in that battle with a teammate in the closing stages of the race. He certainly wants to win the race, but he isn’t going to risk the result of one of his teammates to do it.

“Five laps to go, with a teammate, I think, you know what, it’s a good problem to have with five laps to go, we have teammates fighting for the win,” he said. “I think we all understand our position. We represent a brand that as a team we want to win the race, and we’ll play fair and square, but I don’t think you play any harder or any easier.

“It’s just gonna be a battle, and obviously I will definitely take care of my teammates, and if I can’t win, I would love to see one of them winning, so I don’t think it will be a problem.

“But I’m gonna go for it, for sure.”

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Qualifying is scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. ET on Saturday, May 20 and 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 21. Peacock is set to carry full coverage of both days, with NBC also carrying a few hours of each. The race itself is scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 28, with live coverage set to begin at 11:00 a.m. ET on NBC. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now!