2023 Indy 500: motor sport's most thrilling qualifying session


Qualifying for the 2023 Indy 500 takes place this weekend with the promise of two dramatic days of daredevil driving amid shootouts and eliminations. Here's how it works, who is competing, plus the TV and live stream schedule

Marcus Ericsson Leading the way

Marcus Ericsson leads the Indy 500

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There’ll be 230mph bravado, nail-biting jeopardy, elation, despair and finely-judged tactics — and the race itself is still a week away.

This weekend brings the time-honoured process of setting the grid for the Indy 500 and, as ever, it promises to offer the most entertaining qualifying format on the planet.

At its heart is the long-running challenge of driver vs oval: the quest to tiptoe on the limit, with the unforgiving walls ever ready to claim another victim, but added to this in true American style is a knock-out format, a shootout — joy and misery.

Many will have marked this weekend on their calendars for months. Others, looking to fill the racing gap caused by the cancellation of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, will be discovering the drama for the first time. Here’s our full guide to watching qualifying for the 107th running of the Indy 500.


How does qualifying for the Indy 500 work?

Qualifying for the Indy 500 takes place over two days, with practice throughout the week beforehand, where teams dial in set-ups and trimming the cars down as much as possible, progressively making them faster and faster.

The final practice session of the week takes place on ‘Fast Friday’, with the finishing order determining the structure of the random ballot, which in turn dictates the driver’s starting positions for qualifying on Saturday. From this point, turbo boost is increased by an extra 100 horsepower, which sees qualifying speeds climb to over 230mph.

The grid at Indianapolis is constructed of 11 rows with three drivers each – meaning a field of 33 cars overall. This year, 34 drivers are attempting to qualify. In the order determined by the ballot, drivers will each race four laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway one by one, with an average speed determining where in the field they rank.

Scott Dixon, leading, won pole at the 2022 Indy 500

“Perfect package” Scott Dixon. leading, won pole and was in front for half of the 2022 Indy 500

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Once all 34 drivers have attempted to qualify, they can go again but this time on a first come first served basis – forming an orderly queue in the pitlane before heading out on track again to attempt and improve their time.

If drivers find themselves toward the back of the queue or had a particularly bad first session, they can transfer themselves into a ‘priority lane’ that gets them out on track quicker. But if they chose to do that, all previous times are deleted and only the new times will be counted toward their finishing position.

By Saturday evening, positions 13-30 will be locked in whilst the 12 fastest drivers move on to Sunday’s shootout. This utilises the same four-lap run to cut the field down again to a top six, with positions seven to 12 locked in.

In between these sessions, the four slowest drivers from Saturday’s qualifying session compete in a shootout of their own – the slowest driver knocked out of the Indy 500 altogether.

Qualifying finishes with the ‘Fast Six’, the shootout for pole position which then finalises the grid for the race – the winner also taking home a $100,000 bonus.


Indy 500 qualifying tactics

Due to the long-form qualifying format, IndyCar drivers and teams spend much of the week trying not to show their hand – leaving speed in reserve for when the official starting spots are decided. But to win at the Brickyard, cars need to be fast in qualifying and in the race, requiring two different set-ups.

The most time is dedicated toward the race set-up, with practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday used to dial in the most profitable car configuration for the driver. Friday is solely used for qualifying, with a concentration on stripping the car down as much as possible, but there is another issue teams must conquer first.

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On ‘Fast Friday’, the final practice ahead of the qualifying weekend, drivers continue to share the circuit, meaning track position is critical to how beneficial the session can be. In order to avoid distorting their qualifying simulations, drivers will have to avoid picking up an unwanted tow from other drivers whilst still pushing to the limit, leaving a very small window to work in with 33 other cars out on track.

On Saturday, the real tactics start when the first qualifying runs have been completed and drivers must now decide which lane to queue up in before heading out for a second run. Drivers lining up in the priority lane will generally be those toward the back of the field who have either got nothing to lose or had a particularly bad first attempt.

For example, if a driver finished 34th with their first four-lap run, they can only gain from lining up first in the priority lane and going again. However, if a driver qualified 15th, they may be better off waiting their turn. They’ll have the fallback of a midfield place whatever happens, but may not get the chance to improve if the session timer runs out before they make it to the head of the line.


Best Indy 500 qualifying sessions of the past

Even with wheel-to-wheel racing a week away, qualifying for the Indy 500 has always produced its own fair share of drama.

In 2019, Fernando Alonso and McLaren were dramatically knocked out of the running entirely by 2017 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser, who beat the Spaniard by an average speed of just 0.019mph. The disappointment was mainly due to McLaren’s lack of performance, which even in the hands of Alonso, had struggled to keep up with the rest of the field and left his hopes of challenging for the triple crown in tatters.

In 1991, Willy T Ribbs became the first black driver to qualify for the Indy 500 for the first time in its 80-year history. Speaking to Motor Sport on the 30th anniversary of his achievement, he said: “The hardest part of the Indy 500 is getting into it. The pressure was unbelievable.” Although the Californian would ultimately retire just five laps into his Indy 500 debut, over-revving his engine before a restart, he would return in 1993 and finished a respectable 21st.

But perhaps the most impressive feat to have ever been accomplished during qualifying for the Indy 500 is Arie Luyendyk‘s record-breaking lap time. Ahead of the 1996 event, Luyendyk set an average pace of 237mph, which remains a record to this day. Bizarrely it was only enough to qualify 20th on the grid. The Dutchman had been disqualified from the first day of qualifying, forcing him to re-qualify on day two but by this time positions had been locked in, meaning he couldn’t qualify any higher than 20th.


Which drivers are trying to qualify for the Indy 500?

Marcus Ericsson Chip Ganassi 2023 St Petersburg IndyCars

Ericsson kept a cool head where others couldn’t – winning at the 2022 Indy 500


The 34-car field will be made up of drivers from four distinct categories: previous winners, rookies, US drivers and international drivers.

2022 winner Marcus Ericsson will join eight other previous Indy 500 victors, including Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi, to try and capture the top step of the podium for a second consecutive year – a feat only ever accomplished by five drivers. If he does, he will earn a $420,000 bonus, on top of the winning purse.

Agustín Canapino, RC Enerson, Benjamin Pedersen and Sting Ray Robb make up the rookie field, whilst the rest of the slots are filled by an impressive split of 13 US drivers (including Enerson and Robb) and 21 international drivers (including Canapino and Pedersen).

Other entrants to keep an eye on include Tony Kanaan, who at 48 years old could become Indy’s oldest race winner, and Katherine Legge, who will attempt to be the first woman to qualify for the race since 2021.

Full 2023 Indy 500 entry list

Team Driver Engine
Chip Ganassi Racing Takuma Sato
Scott Dixon
Alex Palou
Marcus Ericsson
Team Penske Scott McLaughlin
Josef Newgarden
Will Power
Andretti Autosport Colton Herta
Marco Andretti
Kyle Kirkwood
Devlin DeFrancesco
Romain Grosjean
Arrow McLaren Alexander Rossi
Pato O’Ward
AJ Foyt Racing Santino Ferrucci
Benjamin Pedersen
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Ryan Hunter-Reay
Stefan Wilson
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Jack Harvey
Graham Rahal
Katherine Legge
Christian Lundgaard
Ed Carpenter Racing Conor Daly
Rinus VeeKay
Ed Carpenter
Dale Coyne Racing David Malukas
Sting Ray Robb
Meyer Shank Racing Helio Castroneves Honda
Juncos Hollinger Racing Agustin Canapino
Callum Ilott
Abel Motorsports RC Enerson Chevrolet


Previous winners: Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2009, 2021), Scott Dixon (2008), Marcus Ericsson (2022), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Tony Kanaan (2013), Simon Pagenaud (2019), Will Power (2018), Alexander Rossi (2016) and Takuma Sato (2017, 2020).

Rookies: Agustín Canapino, RC Enerson, Benjamin Pedersen and Sting Ray Robb.

US drivers: Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, RC Enerson, Santino Ferrucci, Colton Herta, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Sting Ray Robb and Alexander Rossi.

International drivers: Agustín Canapino, Helio Castroneves, Devlin DeFrancesco, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean, Jack Harvey, Callum Ilott, Tony Kanaan, Katherine Legge, Christian Lundgaard, Scott McLaughlin, Pato O’Ward, Simon Pagenaud, Alex Palou, Benjamin Pedersen, Will Power, Felix Rosenqvist, Takuma Sato, Rinus VeeKay and Stefan Wilson.


2023 Indy 500 qualifying TV schedule and live stream

Viewers in the UK can tune into on-track action throughout the weekend, with the Sky Sports F1 channel providing coverage. Now TV provides a live stream of the channel.

All times are in BST. 

Friday May 19 Saturday May 20 Sunday May 21
Live broadcast time
Sky Sports F1
‘Fast Friday’ practice – 6.30pm Qualifying – 4pm Top 12 practice – 5.30pm
Top 12 qualifying – 7pm
Last chance & Top 6 qualifying – 9pm