INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou made late engine swaps before the start of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on Saturday, while Callum Ilott made it onto the track after his Junco Hollinger Racing team was forced to put together a backup car in just over 12 hours.
Dixon indicated at the conclusion of Friday’s final practice that something was amiss, even though the Honda cars in the Ganassi garage have been fast all week. But it was a surprise that both Dixon and Palou wound up changing engines, leaving each of them just 30 minutes of practice before they began their four-lap qualifying attempts later in the day.
“It definitely puts you in a bit of a compromised position,” said Dixon, the 2018 Indy 500 champion, who is aiming for his third consecutive pole. “We may have to do a few runs to get everything dialed in. I think the car is decent.”
The first of two days of qualifying Saturday will determine the fast 12 that will go for the pole Sunday, along with the four that will vie for the final three spots on the grid. Everyone else will be locked into their starting spot for next Sunday’s race.
Jack Harvey, who like the Ganassi drivers has Honda power, also got a new engine Saturday. That was expected after his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ride showed smoke out the rear in the closing minutes of Friday’s six-hour practice session.
“We had a pretty unfortunate end yesterday,” Harvey said. “The speed that we have is the speed that we’re going to have.”
The situation involving Ilott had nothing to do with engines. Instead, the 24-year-old British driver said he felt “unsafe” driving a new Dallara IR18 chassis, a problem that began with Tuesday’s first practice and never got much better.
After the Juncos team tried changing everything it could on the chassis, team owner Ricardo Juncos decided late Friday to move Ilott into an older chassis that teammate Agustín Canapino ran during last month’s open testing.
The team began working feverishly to get Ilott on the track for qualifying, and an extension from IndyCar allowed it to continue when Gasoline Alley typically closes for the day. The crew finally left the speedway about 10 p.m., then was back when the garage opened at 5:30 a.m., and a confident Ilott walked toward the grid just before his 9 a.m. practice window.
“Just send it,” Illott said with a smile, when asked about his plan for the brief practice that most drivers skip entirely. “Obviously some people think I should be super-stressed but I’m more confident in what I’m driving.”
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