Rick Mears won the pole position in 1988 driving the Penske Racing PC-17 Ilmor-Chevrolet Indy V-8. “The Pennzoil Z-7 Special”. It was his 4th (of a record 6) Indy pole.


Winners of the Pole Position for the Indianapolis 500. Drivers in bold went on to win the race from the pole position. (R) denotes race rookie. Since the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, a number of different formats have been utilized to set the starting grid. From 1920 to 1932, and in all years since 1939, four-lap qualifying runs have been used. Owing to the complex nature of the qualifying procedures over the years, the pole winner is usually, but not necessarily, the fastest qualifier in the field. Since 2010, the pole position has been determined utilizing a special session known as the Fast Nine Shootout.

The date listed denotes the day in which the driver completed that qualifying attempt (typically “Pole Day”). Since the very early years, multiple days of time trials (originally known as “elimination trials”) have been utilized.

Indianapolis 500 Pole Position Winners

For 1911, the starting lineup was set based on the order in which entries were received. The pole position was awarded to the first car that was entered. In order to qualify, cars had to average at least 75 mph over a quarter-mile segment measured out on the track. While some accounts describe the measured quarter-mile having been along the mainstretch, other accounts suggest it was more a random part of the circuit. From a flying start, cars (one at a time) had to complete the quarter-mile in 12 seconds or less. No speeds were recorded, as officials only announced a pass/fail for each car. Each entry was permitted up to three attempts.

For 1912, the starting lineup was again set based on the order in which entries were received. However time trials consisted of one timed lap at an average speed of 75 mph or faster. Once again, the cars took to the track and made their attempts one at a time. The pole position went to Gil Anderson, who had completed a lap of 80.93 mph, which was 12th-fastest in the field.

In 1913 and 1914, the starting lineup was determined by a blind draw held at some point before the race. Some competitors, particularly overseas participants, had complained that it was unfair to set the field by the order in which entries were received. This prevented the slow delivery of mail from being a factor. One-lap elimination trials were still required, at a prescribed minimum speed.

Year Driver Average Speed (mph) Details
1911 Lewis Strang (R) Passed 5/26 Awarded pole (first entry)
1912 Gil Anderson 80.9 mph Awarded pole (first entry)
1913 Caleb Bragg 87.5 mph Blind draw used choose pole position
1914 Jean Chassange (R) 86.9 mph Blind draw used choose pole position

One-Lap Qualifying Runs

Starting in 1915, the field was lined up based on qualifying speed. For 1915-1916 and again in 1919, one-lap time trial runs were utilized.

Beginning in 1919, the field was lined up based not only by their speed rank, but by the day they qualified. The First Day qualifiers would line up by speed rank, with the fastest qualifier on the First Day winning the pole position. This led to the first day of time trials eventually being referred to as “Pole Day”. Second Day qualifiers would line up by speed rank behind the First Day qualifiers. Third Day qualifiers would line up by speed rank behind the Second Day qualifiers, and so on.

This change in procedure was made in order to encourage participants to qualify early on, rather that wait until the last minute. Though the track was made available for practice on (or before) May 1, some participants were seen not arriving at the facility until mid-month, or just before time trials. Some would wait until which ever day they saw fit, anticipating better conditions perhaps, to make their time trials runs. Some might wait until the last day for strategy, to act as a foil to the other qualifiers. Officials and Speedway management wanted the race for the pole to be an event in its own rite, and Pole Day soon became a significant part of the month of May.

Due to this style of grouping the grid, it was possible (and it did occasionally happen) for the pole position winner to not be the overall fastest qualifier in the field. If a driver on the second day, for instance, posted a qualifying speed faster than the pole, he would still be ineligible for the pole. As a Second Day qualifier, he would line up behind all of the First Day qualifiers.

In 1919, the qualifiers from the Second and Third days were merged into one group on the grid (behind the First Day qualifiers). But in later years, the Second Day, Third Day, Fourth Day, etc. qualifiers lined up behind one another.

Date Driver Average Speed (mph)
Sun 5/23/1915 Howard Wilcox 98.90
Fri 5/26/1916 John Aitken 96.69
Tue 5/27/1919 Rene Thomas 104.78

Four-Lap Qualifying Runs

Starting in 1920, four-lap qualifying runs were utilized for the first time.

For 1922, Jimmy Murphy’s best single lap was reported to be his second lap (100.84 mph). His other three laps had times reported, but it was not specified which lap was which.

Date Driver Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Lap 4
Wed 5/26/1920 Ralph DePalma 98.1 99.4 99.5 99.95 99.65
Wed 5/25/1921 Ralph DePalma 100.90 100.52 100.56 101.00 100.75
Thu 5/25/1922 Jimmy Murphy 100.04 100.84 100.55 100.54 100.50
Sat 5/26/1923 Tommy Milton 107.45 107.40 108.50 109.45 108.17
Mon 5/26/1924 Jimmy Murphy 107.810 107.940 108.368 107.901 108.037
Tue 5/26/1925 Leon Duray 113.221 113.435 113.435 113.407 113.196
Thu 5/27/1926 Earl Cooper 113.679 112.965 111.317 109.090 111.735
Thu 5/26/1927 Frank Lockhart 120.192 119.474 119.824 120.838 120.100
Sat 5/26/1928 Leon Duray 122.917 123.203 121.819 121.638 122.391
Sat 5/25/1929 Cliff Woodbury 120.805 121.408 120.805 119.395 120.599
Sat 5/24/1930 Billy Arnold 113.208 113.364 113.279 113.222 113.268
Sat 5/23/1931 Russ Snowberger 112.542 112.542 113.023 113.080 112.796
Sat 5/21/1932 Lou Moore 116.595 117.249 117.066 118.577 117.363

Ten-Lap Qualifying Runs

From 1933 to 1938, ten-lap qualifying runs were utilized.

In 1933, Bill Cummings set a 1-lap track record of 120.919 mph on his fourth lap of his first attempt. However, after riding mechanic Earl Unversaw discovered a bad tire blister on lap 8, he pulled off and waved off the run. Later in the day, on his second attempt, he won the pole with a ten-lap average of 118.521 mph (best single lap was 119.395 mph). Officials also ammended the rules for 1933 such that qualiers on the first and second days were eligible for the pole position.

In 1935 Kelly Petillo qualified first, with Rex Mays second. During post-inspection, officials disqualified Petillo for using too much fuel. Cars were permitted to use three gallons of gasoline with a tolerance of 1 pint. Petillo used 5/8 of a pint too much gasoline, the run was disallowed, and Mays was elevated to pole position.

Date Driver Ten-lap qualifying runs Average
Sat 5/20/1933 Bill Cummings Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Lap 4
Lap 5
Lap 6
Lap 7
Lap 8
Lap 9
Lap 10
Sat 5/19/1934 Kelly Petillo Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3 122.166
Lap 4 120
Lap 5 118
Lap 6 115
Lap 7 117
Lap 8 118
Lap 9 119
Lap 10 120
Sat 5/18/1935 Rex Mays Lap 1 121.310
Lap 2 121.425
Lap 3 121.819
Lap 4 120.773
Lap 5 121.212
Lap 6 121.359
Lap 7 120.208
Lap 8 119.936
Lap 9 119.506
Lap 10 119.856
Sat 5/16/1936 Rex Mays Lap 1 119.745
Lap 2 119.348
Lap 3 118.843
Lap 4 119.968
Lap 5 121.065
Lap 6 119.984
Lap 7 120.289
Lap 8 119.697
Lap 9 119.253
Lap 10 118.985
Sat 5/15/1937 Bill Cummings Lap 1 123.677
Lap 2 123.779
Lap 3 120.016
Lap 4 122.951
Lap 5 123.626
Lap 6 123.830
Lap 7 123.848
Lap 8 123.305
Lap 9 123.389
Lap 10 125.139
Sat 5/21/1938 Floyd Roberts Lap 1 126.174
Lap 2 126.743
Lap 3 124.138
Lap 4 125.839
Lap 5 125.857
Lap 6 125.122
Lap 7 124.688
Lap 8 125.523
Lap 9 125.892
Lap 10 126.886

Four-Lap Qualifying Runs

In 1939, qualifying reverted back to four-lap runs.

In 1946, the first race back after World War II, and the first race under the ownership of Tony Hulman, a total of eight days were used for time trials. The original schedule called for five days qualifying – two weekends, plus the Tuesday (May 28) two days before the race (Thursday May 30). However, rain and a post-war shortage of parts kept cars off the track during the month. Ultimately, a total of eight days were made available for time trials, in order to fill the field to the traditional 33 cars. In addition, prior to the war, time trials typically closed each day at “sundown”. Starting in 1946, a specific time (in this case 5:30 p.m.) was designated as the close for the day, unless otherwise noted. In later years, 6 p.m. became the norm.

Date Driver Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Lap 4
Sat 5/20/1939 Jimmy Snyder 130.077 130.757 129.720 130.001 130.138
Sat 5/18/1940 Rex Mays 128.590 128.553 126.814 127.461 127.850
Sat 5/17/1941 Mauri Rose 128.715 130.152 128.315 127.569 128.691
Sat 5/18/1946 Cliff Bergere 126.748 126.511 125.436 126.208 126.471
Sat 5/17/1947 Ted Horn 125.716 126.387 126.886 127.280 126.564
Sat 5/15/1948 Rex Mays 131.733 130.586 129.926 130.077 130.577
Sat 5/14/1949 Duke Nalon 133.730 132.256 132.018 132.763 132.939
Sat 5/13/1950 Walt Faulkner (R) 132.743 136.013 134.811 133.849 134.343
Sat 5/12/1951 Duke Nalon 137.049 136.778 136.281 135.890 136.498

Four days of Time Trials

Beginning in 1952, Time Trials was set at four days (two weekends). For a few years after World War II, a total of six days (three weekends) were used. Prior to WWII, the schedule for qualifying varied.

1988 pole winner Rick Mears poses for the traditional Sunday morning photos at the start/finish line.
(Johnson Collection)

The pole position would be set on the first day (“Pole Day”) of time trials. Second day qualifiers would line behind the pole day qualifiers, followed by the Third Day qualifiers, and finally the fourth day (“Bump Day”) qualifiers. There was no set number of qualifiers for any of the four days, except that the field in total was traditionally 33 cars. Bumping would occur once the field was filled to 33 cars. Usually the field would not fill to 33 cars until Bump Day, but in some busy years the field filled on the third day. If rain washed out Pole Day, pole qualifying would be moved to the next available qualifying day. If the Second Day or Third Day were rained out, they would not be made up. If Bump Day was rained out – and the field not yet filled to 33 cars – a special qualifying session on the next available day (Monday, etc.) would be held to fill the field (this happened in 1968). If Bump Day was rained out and the field was already filled to 33 cars (this happened in 1984), it would not be made up.

Prior to 1965, the qualifying order was set on a first-come, first-served basis. On the night before pole day, after practice was finished for the afternoon, teams started lining up in the garage area. The queue typically stretched down the pit lane and through Gasoline Alley. The mostly unorganized scramble to roll the cars into line often led to heated exchanges, collisions, and unfair situations. Though some teams lined up their actual race car, sometimes teams simply used a golf cart or tractor to hold their place in line. After years of complaints, for 1965 USAC instituted a blind draw to set the qualifying order. The night before pole day, every car entered (including back-up cars) drew for a spot in the qualifying line. Teams had to adhere to the order, and if they failed to present their car on pit lane (or simply elected not to go out at that time) they forfeited their spot in line. Once the original qualifying draw order had been exhausted, if there was still time left in the day before the 6 o’clock gun, the track was open for qualifying on a first-come, first-served basis. Subsequent days of time trials reverted to the same original draw (sans already-qualified/withdrawn cars), or sometimes a fresh draw to accommodate new entries (e.g., previously entered back-up cars that had been sold and/or split into their own entry during the week).

If rain completely washed out the first day of time trials, the entire pole qualifying round would be moved to the next available qualifying day. In those cases, there would one trip through the qualifying line. Each entry would be allowed only one attempt in the pole round. Prior to 1971, if rain interrupted Pole Day – and the entire qualifying draw had not yet had an attempt – the rules did not specifically allow for an extension of the pole round. Once the 6 o’clock gun went off, if there were still cars left in line, they were simply out of luck and had to qualify in the next round (next day). In 1971, USAC firmed up the rules regarding pole day qualifying. All drivers/cars in the original qualifying draw order would be allowed the opportunity to make at least one attempt in the pole round regardless if rain halted the session and pushed it into another day(s). For example, if rain closed the track at some point on Saturday, the qualifying line would pick up where it left off come Sunday, and those cars still in line would still be eligible for the pole. Once the original qualifying draw was finally exhausted, the pole round would be over. Any qualifiers after moment that would be considered “Second Day” qualifiers. An easy way that it was sometimes described is as follows – ‘the pole round ended at 6 o’clock on Pole Day (Saturday) or when the original qualifying draw order had been exhausted, whichever came last’.

The “Budweiser Pole Award” was presented to the pole position winner in the early/mid-1980s. Trophy on display at the Penske Museum in 2010 (Johnson Collection)

In 1974, due to the ongoing energy crisis, only two days of time trials were scheduled (Saturday and Saturday). Each day was to be split into two periods (an “early” period and a “late” period), for a total of four periods, to mimic the traditional four days. Rain hampered both days, and the “four periods” plan ended up incomplete. In 1975, the schedule went back to four days.

In 1981, rain delayed the start of Pole Day (Saturday May 9) until 3:34 p.m. Only nine cars completed runs before rain closed the track again. On Sunday (May 10), rain washed out the entire day. With many cars still eligible for the pole, the pole round stretched into the Third Day (Saturday May 16).

In both 1978 and 1983, rain washed out the entire first weekend of time trials. In those two years, pole qualifying was moved to the Third Day.

In 1989, rain washed out Saturday (May 13). Pole qualifying was moved to Sunday (May 14). The cars were allowed one trip through the original qualifying draw. Once the last car in line had their opportunity to qualify (approximately 3:10 p.m.), the “First Day” was over, and “Second Day” qualifying commenced.

In 1990, rain washed out Saturday (May 12), and most of the day Sunday (May 13). At 4:34 p.m. on Sunday, an abbreviated session got underway and saw 16 attempts before the track closed. There were still many cars waiting in line eligible for the pole round. Pole qualifying stretched into the Third Day (Saturday May 19).

Rain stretched the pole round into a second day in 1992, 1994 and 1995. In all three cases, the driver sitting on the pole at 6 p.m. on Saturday held on to win the pole, even after the remaining drivers on Sunday had their chances.

On Pole Day of 1996, Scott Brayton (233.718 mph) qualified for the pole position, with Arie Luyendyk (233.390 mph) second, and rookie Tony Stewart (233.100 mph) third. It was Brayton’s second consecutive pole and it came after he withdrew an already-qualified car. Brayton shocked the field by deciding to re-qualify in a Team Menard backup. He beat Arie Luyendyk by 0.216 seconds to take the pole. A couple hours later, Luyendyk’s run was disallowed. During post-inspection, officials discovered that the car was 7 pounds underweight. Luyendyk’s car was removed from the field (he re-qualified the next day), and Tony Stewart was elevated to second. Six days later, Brayton was fatally injured in a practice crash. On race day, Danny Ongais drove Brayton’s car , and it was moved to the rear of the field. Tony Stewart elevated to the pole spot, and started first on race day.

Date Driver Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Lap 4
Sat 5/17/1952 Fred Agabashian 139.104 138.206 137.931 136.820 138.010
Sun 5/17/1953 Bill Vukovich 139.147 138.568 138.739 137.132 138.392
Sat 5/15/1954 Jack McGrath 141.088 140.911 140.845 141.287 141.033
Sat 5/14/1955 Jerry Hoyt 140.449 139.773 139.578 140.383 140.045
Sat 5/19/1956 Pat Flaherty 146.056 145.302 145.443 145.584 145.596
Sat 5/18/1957 Pat O’Connor 143.977 143.839 143.931 144.046 143.948
Sat 5/17/1958 Dick Rathmann 146.009 145.820 146.009 146.056 145.974
Sat 5/16/1959 Johnny Thompson 145.537 145.608 146.532 145.962 145.908
Sat 5/14/1960 Eddie Sachs 146.104 146.318 147.251 146.699 146.592
Sat 5/13/1961 Eddie Sachs 147.348 147.348 147.203 148.026 147.481
Sat 5/12/1962 Parnelli Jones 150.729 150.150 150.276 150.326 150.370
Sat 5/18/1963 Parnelli Jones 151.541 151.847 150.956 150.276 151.153
Sat 5/16/1964 Jim Clark 158.339 159.337 159.179 158.423 158.828
Sat 5/15/1965 A.J. Foyt 161.958 161.319 161.031 160.628 161.233
Sat 5/14/1966 Mario Andretti 166.328 166.113 165.899 165.259 165.899
Sat 5/13/1967 Mario Andretti 169.205 169.014 169.779 167.942 168.982
Sat 5/18/1968 Joe Leonard 171.887 171.953 171.103 171.298 171.559
Sat 5/24/1969 A.J. Foyt 171.625 171.363 170.036 170.268 170.568
Sat 5/16/1970 Al Unser Sr. 170.538 170.197 170.358 169.972 170.221
Sat 5/15/1971 Peter Revson 178.006 179.354 178.855 178.571 178.696
Sun 5/14/1972 Bobby Unser 194.932 196.036 196.678 196.121 195.940
Sat 5/12/1973 Johnny Rutherford 198.676 197.846 199.071 198.063 198.413
Sat 5/11/1974 A.J. Foyt 192.555 195.226 191.489 190.275 191.632
Sat 5/10/1975 A.J. Foyt 195.313 193.632 193.924 193.050 193.976
Sat 5/15/1976 Johnny Rutherford 190.396 189.195 188.719 187.539 188.957
Sat 5/14/1977 Tom Sneva 200.401 200.535 197.628 197.032 198.884
Sat 5/20/1978 Tom Sneva 203.620 202.566 201.794 200.669 202.156
Sun 5/13/1979 Rick Mears 194.847 194.217 193.133 192.761 193.736
Sat 5/10/1980 Johnny Rutherford 192.308 192.226 192.596 191.898 192.256
Sat 5/16/1981 Bobby Unser 200.714 201.342 200.758 199.380 200.546
Sat 5/15/1982 Rick Mears 206.801 207.039 207.612 206.564 207.004
Sat 5/21/1983 Teo Fabi (R) 207.273 208.049 207.622 206.640 207.395
Sat 5/12/1984 Tom Sneva 209.113 209.898 210.423 210.689 210.029
Sat 5/11/1985 Pancho Carter 212.510 212.721 213.159 211.944 212.583
Sat 5/10/1986 Rick Mears 217.581 217.124 216.852 215.765 216.828
Sat 5/9/1987 Mario Andretti 215.874 216.320 215.002 214.372 215.390
Sat 5/14/1988 Rick Mears 220.453 219.877 218.781 217.702 219.198
Sun 5/14/1989 Rick Mears 223.187 223.897 224.254 224.204 223.885
Sun 5/13/1990 Emerson Fittipaldi 225.006 225.259 225.366 225.575 225.301
Sat 5/11/1991 Rick Mears 223.447 224.221 224.344 224.444 224.113
Sat 5/9/1992 Roberto Guerrero 232.186 232.516 232.618 232.606 232.482
Sat 5/15/1993 Arie Luyendyk 223.892 224.316 223.830 223.830 223.967
Sat 5/14/1994 Al Unser Jr. 225.722 228.351 228.525 229.481 228.011
Sat 5/13/1995 Scott Brayton 230.959 231.893 231.983 231.583 231.604
Sat 5/11/1996 Scott Brayton 233.675 233.536 233.809 233.851 233.718
Tony Stewart (R) 233.040 233.179 233.076 233.106 233.100
Sat 5/10/1997 Arie Luyendyk 218.659 218.108 218.182 218.103 218.263

Two days (or three days) of Time Trials

After over forty years of having two full weeks (or more) of practice and four days of time trials (two weekends), for 1998 the schedule was changed to one week of practice and one weekend of time trials (two days). This experimental “two-week” schedule was an effort to curtail costs and make for a more compacted schedule. In general, the qualifying procedure itself was not changed, except that the middle two days were omitted. “Pole Day” would be scheduled for Saturday, and “Bump Day” would be Sunday.

The only minor rule change used in 1998 was that once the field was filled to 33 cars, additional cars bumping their way into the field would line up [tentatively] in 33rd position, regardless of their speed. Previously, a car that bumped its way into the field would be lined up based on speed for that day. Thus the field lined up with Pole Day qualifiers, followed by Bump Day qualifiers, followed by drivers that bumped their way into the field on Bump Day.

After three years (1998-2000), it was decided to go back to two weekends of time trials. For 2001-2004, three days of time trials were scheduled. The first weekend (Saturday-Sunday) would be Pole Day and the Second Day. The second weekend would be Sunday (“Bump Day”).

In 2003, a severe thunderstorm hit the track on Pole Day morning (Saturday 5/10). The morning practice session had just been concluded, ended abruptly due a heavy crash by Billy Boat. The car had struck the pit road attenuator, causing damage to the barrier and crew needed to replace the crash cushion. Before qualifying could start, the rain came, washing out the day. Pole qualifying was rescheduled for Sunday (5/11). In a departure from previous instances, IRL officials made a slight change for Sunday. Instead of allowing only one trip through the qualifying line (à la 1989), officials treated Sunday as if it were a “proper” Saturday pole day. The qualifying order went through its entirety, then after that until 6 p.m., the track was open first-come, first-served, still counting towards the pole round. The officials did not try to squeeze in a “Second Day” round like had been done in previous years. One key difference that made this possible was that zero cars had gone out Saturday, allowing for a full schedule on Sunday.

Date Driver Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Lap 4
Sat 5/16/1998 Billy Boat 224.573 223.725 223.625 222.102 223.503
Sat 5/22/1999 Arie Luyendyk 224.854 225.643 225.158 225.062 225.179
Sat 5/20/2000 Greg Ray 223.658 223.397 223.503 223.325 223.471
Sat 5/12/2001 Scott Sharp 225.783 226.020 226.423 225.923 226.037
Sat 5/11/2002 Bruno Junqueira 231.635 231.506 231.278 230.952 231.342
Sun 5/11/2003 Hélio Castroneves 231.673 232.215 231.486 231.529 231.725
Sat 5/15/2004 Buddy Rice 222.113 222.224 221.886 221.875 222.024


The 2006 Pole-winning and race winning car of Sam Hornish Jr. On display at the IMS Museum in 2016 (Johnson Collection)

Beginning in 2005, the qualifying procedure was revamped in an attempt to generate more excitement during qualifying and increase bumping. Dating back to at least 1987, Speedway management and officials had been considering retooling the qualifying procedure, especially to make the Second Day and Third Day more interesting. Four days of time trials were scheduled, with eleven cars qualifying on each of the first three days. Each entry was permitted three qualifying attempts per day (previously only three attempts were permitted all month), and cars were now allowed to withdraw their times and re-qualify (previously, withdrawn cars were prohibited from re-qualifying). The latter rule in-part, helped alleviate the problem some teams were facing with a shortage of chassis at the time. This format became known as “11/11/11”.

  • On the first day of qualifying (“Pole Day”), positions 1st-11th, including the pole position, would be filled. Bumping would occur as soon as the field was filled to eleven cars.
  • On the second day of qualifying (“Second Day”), positions 12th-22nd would be filled. Second Day qualifiers would line up behind the Pole Day qualifiers, in the same fashion as had been done for decades. Bumping among only those eleven spots (12-22) would occur.
  • On the third day of qualifying (“Third Day”), positions 23rd-33rd would be filled. Third Day qualifiers would line up behind the Second Day qualifiers. Bumping among only those eleven spots (23-33) would occur.
  • On the fourth day of qualifying (“Bump Day”), bumping would begin immediately, assuming the field had already been filled to 33 cars during the first three days. The slowest car in the field, regardless of the day it qualified, would be “on the bubble”. If a car was bumped, the cars lined up behind it would all move up one spot to fill the vacancy. Bump Day qualifiers would line up behind the Third Day qualifiers.

The “11/11/11” procedure was to implemented for 2005, but due to rain, it was not fully experienced until 2007. On pole day of 2005, rain in the morning and early afternoon prompted officials to cancel time trials for that day. On the Second Day, positions 1st-22nd were filled. In 2006, the entire first weekend of time trials was rained out. On the Third Day, all positions 1st-33rd were open (with bumping allowed). But only 32 cars completed attempts. On the fourth day, the field was filled without any bumping.

Weather finally cooperated, and the full four-day “11/11/11” format was first experienced in 2007. After five years, and after mixed results, the format was scrapped after 2009.

Date Driver Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Lap 4
Sun 5/15/2005 Tony Kanaan 227.821 227.771 227.459 227.212 227.566
Sat 5/20/2006 Sam Hornish Jr. 229.179 229.215 228.833 228.714 228.985
Sat 5/12/2007 Hélio Castroneves 225.920 225.652 225.825 225.870 225.817
Sat 5/10/2008 Scott Dixon 226.598 226.505 226.303 226.058 226.366
Sat 5/9/2009 Hélio Castroneves 225.405 224.983 224.764 224.308 224.864

Fast Nine Shootout

In 2010, a new format was introduced, loosely resembling the “knockout qualifying” methods used in road course racing. Positions 1st-9th, including the pole position, would now be determined utilizing the Fast Nine Shootout. A total of two days of time trials was scheduled (Saturday-Sunday), down from four days, a change that has become permanent. After the first “round” of qualifying on Saturday, the top nine cars advance to the “Shootout”. Those cars re-qualify and set positions 1st-9th, including the pole.

Since the current turbocharged V-6 engine formula has been used beginning in 2012, increased turbocharger “boost” settings have been permitted for time trials (except in 2015).

From 2010 to 2013, the qualifying format was informally referred to as “24/9”. On Saturday (“Pole Day”), the first round of qualifying was scheduled for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A total of 24 of the 33 starting positions were available to be filled. Bumping began as soon as the field was filled to 24 cars. At 4 p.m., the first round session was closed, and the top 24 cars were set for the day. Cars ranking 25th and lower did not qualify. The top nine cars advanced to the Fast Nine Shootout.

From 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., the Fast Nine Shootout was held. The top nine cars returned to the track for a second round of qualifying. First round qualifying times were erased, and each of the nine cars re-qualified from scratch. Each of the nine cars was guaranteed at least one attempt during the Shootout session, and permitted up to three attempts (time permitting). At 6 p.m. the session ended and the top nine starting positions, including the pole, were set.

In 2010, the Shootout order was set based on the first round qualifying results. The nine drivers in order of speed (1st to 9th) chose their position in the qualifying line. In subsequent years, the Shootout order was set simply as the reverse order of the afternoon qualifying results (9th to 1st). In 2011 and 2013, rain delayed the start of the Fast Nine Shootout session. In those two years, the nine participants were allowed only one attempt during the Shootout session.

On Sunday, the second day of qualifying (“Bump Day”), positions 25-33 were filled. Once the field was filled to 33 cars, bumping began. The slowest car in the field, regardless of the day it qualified was “on the bubble” (except for the Fast Nine participants, which were locked in).

Date Driver Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Lap 4
Sat 5/22/2010 Hélio Castroneves 227.961 228.213 228.187 227.521 227.970
Sat 5/21/2011 Alex Tagliani 227.733 227.488 227.430 227.238 227.472
Sat 5/19/2012 Ryan Briscoe 226.621 226.578 226.404 226.334 226.484
Sat 5/18/2013 Ed Carpenter 229.347 228.976 228.774 227.955 228.762

Two-Day Format

The PPG Pole Award trophy, on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum in May 2023.
(Johnson Photograph)

From 2014 to 2018, a revamped qualifying format was introduced. Informally it became known as the “Two-Day Format”. Time trials were held over two days (Saturday-Sunday), with the pole position winner, as well as the official 33-car starting starting lineup, not determined until the second day. During this timeframe, the use of the traditional terms “Pole Day” and “Bump Day” were somewhat curtailed. Eventually the term “Bump Day” would be used for Saturday, and “Pole Day” would be used for Sunday, a reverse of the norm. The Two-Day Format was devised to make both Saturday and Sunday important and interesting to fans in attendance. In addition, television desired to move the Fast Nine Shootout to Sunday.

On the first day of time trials (Saturday), qualifying was scheduled from 11:00 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. All cars entered were allowed up to three attempts. Bumping began as soon as the field was filled to 33 cars. At the end of the day, the fastest 33 cars were locked into the starting field. Starting grid positions, however, were not assigned. Cars that ranked 34th or lower failed to qualify and would not have any opportunity to try again on Sunday. The top nine cars from Saturday advanced to the Fast Nine Shootout.

Another aspect was introduced in 2014, sometimes known as the “Fast Lane”. On Saturday, once the original qualifying draw order had exhausted, as before, any car could get in line to re-qualify. Two lines are set up, a “Normal” line and a “Fast Lane” or “Priority” line. Cars that enter the “Normal” line were not required to withdraw their earlier speed. If they failed to improve their speed, they could wave off the run, or simply throw out the new speed, and revert to their original speed. If a car entered the “Fast Lane” line, they had to officially withdraw their existing speed and re-qualify from scratch. “Fast Lane” cars received immediate priority in the queue over all cars in the “Normal” line. This added strategy and additional risk/reward to the re-qualifying decision.

On the second day of time trials (Sunday), the cars that posted times from 10th to 33rd each made one qualifying attempt. The times from Saturday were erased, and the Sunday speeds determined the starting grid for positions 10th through 33rd. Later in the day on Sunday, the Fast Nine Shootout was held to determine the pole position as well as starting positions 2nd-9th.

In 2015, the two-day format was cancelled. Rain washed out time trials after only a few runs on Saturday. A series of flip-over crashes during practice, including one by Ed Carpenter on Sunday morning, prompted officials to delay qualifying, scrap the Fast Nine Shootout, and conduct one round of qualifying under race set-ups. Each car was permitted one attempt, and the field was lined up by speed for positions 1st-30th. For the final 45 minutes, officials arranged for an impromptu “Last Row Shootout” to determine positions 31st-33rd.

After a couple of years, the Two-Day Format began to receive criticism from competitors and fans. It was considered too complicated, and also a little unfair to the smaller, lower-budget teams. Unlike previous years, if a car failed to make the field on Saturday, they were not allowed to make another qualifying attempt(s) on Sunday. In addition, it required all cars from 10th-33rd to re-qualify on Sunday, even if they had little or no chance to significantly improve their grid position. In most cases, the 10th-33rd results from Sunday were similar to the 10th-33rd results from Saturday. It was also costly for teams, as it required additional set(s) of tires, and put teams and drivers at risk for a crash or mechanical failure on Sunday – even if they had put in a “safe” speed on Saturday.

In 2018, the format again received criticism, this time after popular driver James Hinchcliffe shockingly failed to qualify. On Saturday, two periods of rain halted qualifying, but all 35 cars entered were able to make at least one attempt. Hinchcliffe’s run came after the first rain delay, with less-than-ideal conditions and chassis set-ups. He was bumped from the top 33 with about a half hour left in the session. When he went out to make his second attempt, a loose tire pressure sensor caused a bad vibration on his warm-up lap, and he was forced to return to the pits to change tires. The closing gun went off before Hinchcliffe was able to get out for another attempt, and he failed to qualify.

Date Driver Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Lap 4
Sun 5/18/2014 Ed Carpenter 231.442 231.211 230.769 230.846 231.067
Sun 5/17/2015 Scott Dixon 227.041 226.800 226.612 226.590 226.760
Sun 5/22/2016 James Hinchcliffe 230.885 230.940 230.765 230.450 230.760
Sun 5/21/2017 Scott Dixon 232.595 232.135 232.018 231.907 232.164
Sun 5/20/2018 Ed Carpenter 230.088 229.808 229.519 229.061 229.618

New Two-Day Format
After mixed results in the previous five years, a retooled version of the “Two-Day Format” was introduced beginning in 2019. On the first day (Saturday), all cars are guaranteed at least one qualifying attempt. Multiple attempts (unlimited) are allowed, time/weather permitting until the track closes at 5:50 p.m.

  • Positions 1st-9th qualify for the Fast Nine Shootout
  • Positions 10th-30th are set and locked into the field. These cars do not re-qualify on Sunday
  • Cars ranked 31st or lower advance to the Last Chance Qualifying session

Once again, the “Fast Lane” setup was utilized. Once every car in the qualifying draw order has had their guaranteed opportunity to make an attempt, any car can get in line to re-qualify. Two lines are set up, a “Normal” line and a “Fast Lane” priority line. Cars that enter the “Normal” line are not required to withdraw their earlier speed. If they fail to improve their speed, they can wave off the run, or throw out the new speed, and revert to their original speed. If a car enters the “Fast Lane” line, they must formally withdraw their existing speed and re-qualify from scratch. “Fast Lane” cars receive immediate priority in the queue over all cars in the “Normal” line

On the second day (Sunday), the Last Chance Qualifying session is held to fill positions 31st-32nd-33rd. Cars that ranked 31st or lower on Saturday participate. Times from Saturday for those cars are erased, and each of those cars re-qualify from scratch. In 2019, each Last Row Shootout participant was given one attempt. In 2020, the session was going to be expanded to 75 minutes with multiple attempts permitted. But since only 33 cars entered for the 2020 race, the Last Chance Qualifying session was cancelled. In 2021, a total of 35 cars entered, and the 75-minute Last Chance Qualifying session was restored and used for the first time.

After the Last Chance Qualifying session is concluded on Sunday afternoon, the Fast Nine Shootout is held to set the top nine starting positions, including the pole position. When qualifying is over, the rest of the afternoon on Sunday is open for post-qualifying, race practice.

Date Driver Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Lap 4
Sun 5/19/2019 Simon Pagenaud 230.119 230.011 230.110 229.729 229.992
Sun 8/16/2020 Marco Andretti 231.826 231.146 230.771 230.532 231.068
Sun 5/23/2021 Scott Dixon 232.757 231.879 231.333 230.778 231.685

Two-Day Top 12 Format
In 2022, an expanded version of the Two-Day Format was introduced. Loosely based on the three-round system utilized on most IndyCar road/street course races, the system continues to employ a two day schedule (Saturday & Sunday). The top twelve cars from the first day (Saturday) will advance to a new second round that will be held on the second day (Sunday). The top six cars from the second round will advance to a third and final round, which determines the top six starting spots, including the pole position. If more than 33 entries take part in the event, the Last Chance Qualifying session will be used once again to set starting positions 31st–32nd–33rd.

On Saturday, the procedure will begin as follows:

  • Qualifying will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. All cars entered will be guaranteed at least one attempt. Additional attempts are allowed, time/weather permitting. In 2022, qualifying started at 12 p.m., in 2023, it was moved up to 11 a.m.
  • Cars ranking 1st–12th will advance to Top 12 Qualifying.
  • Cars ranking 13th–30th will be locked-in to those starting positions and will not re-qualify.
  • Cars ranking 31st and lower will be entered into the Last Chance Qualifying.
  • If there are only 33 entries, the Last Chance Qualifying will not be held, and instead all positions 13th-33rd will be locked-in.

On Sunday, time trials will conclude as follows:

  • Last Chance Qualifying session will be held (if necessary). Entries that ranked 31st and lower on Saturday will have at least one attempt to qualify. Qualifying speeds from Saturday will be erased. Additional attempts will be allowed, time/weather permitting, until 3 p.m. Starting positions 31st–32nd–33rd will be filled. All other cars from 34th and lower will fail to qualify.
  • At 2 p.m., the Top 12 Qualifying session (second round) will be held. The cars that ranked 1st through 12th on Saturday will have one guaranteed attempt. Qualifying speeds from Saturday will be erased. Cars will go out in reverse order (12th to 1st). The cars ranking 7th through 12th will be locked-in to those starting positions. The top six cars will advance to the Firestone Fast Six (third round).
  • At about 5 p.m., the Firestone Fast Six (third round) will be held. The cars that ranked 1st through 6th during the Top 12 Qualifying will have one guaranteed attempt. Qualifying speeds from the Top 12 session will be erased. Cars will go out in reverse order (6th to 1st). The top six starting positions will be set, including the pole position.

Like before, the aforementioned “Fast Lane” setup is utilized on Saturday. Since only 33 cars were entered in the 2022 race, the Last Chance Qualifying session was not held. In addition, officials moved up the start of qualifying on Saturday from 12 p.m. to 11 a.m. due to rain in the forecast.

In 2022, the proposed schedule for Sunday saw Last Chance Qualifying first, followed by Top 12 Qualifying, and finally Fast Six qualifying. However, since there were only 33 cars, Last Chance Qualifying was not used. For 2023, a small time change was made. Top 12 qualifying was scheduled for 2-3 p.m. Last Chance Qualifying follows at 4-5 p.m., then Fast Six concludes the afternoon at 5 p.m. The change was made to allow the Fast Six participants some time to make adjustments to their cars after the Top 12 session. It also allows the Fast Six participants time to allow their engines to cool off and mitigate the effects of “heat soak”.

Date Driver Lap 1
Lap 2
Lap 3
Lap 4
Sun 5/22/2022 Scott Dixon 234.437 234.162 233.859 233.726 234.046
Sun 5/21/2023 Alex Palou 235.131 234.399 233.930 233.415 234.151


Most Pole Positions

  • 6 — Rick Mears (1979, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991)
  • 5 — Scott Dixon (2008, 2015, 2017, 2021, 2022)
  • 4 — Rex Mays (1935, 1936, 1940, 1948)
  • 4 — A. J. Foyt (1965, 1969, 1974, 1975)
  • 4 — Hélio Castroneves (2003, 2007, 2009, 2010)
  • 3 — Mario Andretti (1966, 1967, 1987)
  • 3 — Johnny Rutherford (1973, 1976, 1980)
  • 3 — Tom Sneva (1977, 1978, 1984)
  • 3 — Arie Luyendyk (1993, 1997, 1999)
  • 3 — Ed Carpenter (2013, 2014, 2018)

Most Consecutive Pole Positions

  • 2 — Ralph DePalma (1920‒1921)
  • 2 — Rex Mays (1935‒1936)
  • 2 — Eddie Sachs (1960‒1961)
  • 2 — Parnelli Jones (1962‒1963)
  • 2 — Mario Andretti (1966‒1967)
  • 2 — A.J. Foyt (1974‒1975)
  • 2 — Tom Sneva (1977‒1978)
  • 2 — Rick Mears (1988‒1989)
  • 2 — Scott Brayton (1995‒1996)
  • 2 — Hélio Castroneves (2009‒2010)
  • 2 — Ed Carpenter (2013‒2014)
  • 2 — Scott Dixon (2021‒2022)

Most Pole Positions (Team/Owner)

  • 18 — Penske Racing / Roger Penske (1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2019)
  • 8 — Chip Ganassi Racing / Chip Ganassi (1993, 2002, 2008, 2015, 2017, 2021, 2022, 2023)
  • 4 — Dean Van Lines Racing / Al Dean (1960, 1961, 1966, 1967)
  • 4 — A.J. Foyt Enterprises / A.J. Foyt (1969, 1974, 1975, 1998)

Rookie Pole Positions winners

  • 1911 — Lewis Strang (starting grid determined by order of entries)
  • 1914 — Jean Chassange (starting grid determined by blind draw)
  • 1950 — Walt Faulkner
  • 1983 — Teo Fabi
  • 1996 — Tony Stewart (elevated to pole after death of pole winner Scott Brayton)

Owner/Team qualifying 1st-2nd-3rd

  • 1988 — Penske Racing / Roger Penske (Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser Sr.)

Closest margin between 1st-2nd

  • 2012 — 0.0023 seconds (Ryan Briscoe over James Hinchcliffe)

Closest margin between 1st-2nd-3rd

  • 2023 — 0.0676 second (Alex Palou, Rinus VeeKay, Felix Rosenqvist)

Most Front Row starts

  • 11 — Rick Mears (1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991)
  • 9 — Bobby Unser
  • 8 — A.J. Foyt
  • 8 — Mario Andretti
  • 7 — Scott Dixon

Three Former Winners on the Front Row

  • 1975 — A. J. Foyt, Gordon Johncock, Bobby Unser
  • 1987 — Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Rick Mears
  • 1988 — Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser Sr.
  • 1991 — Rick Mears, A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti

Additional References and Works Cited