Arie Luyendy set the 1-lap and 4-lap track records during time trials in 1996 driving a Reynard/Ford-Cosworth XB. The car is  shown here on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum in 2016.
(Johnson Collection)

 

Indianapolis 500 Time Trials
One-Lap & Four-Lap Track Records
(Since 1972)

 

In 1972, USAC changed the rules to allow bolt-on wings for the first time. Previously, any aerodynamic devices were required to be an ‘integral part of the bodywork‘. Teams had started to stretch the limit of those rules, with various wings, winglets, spoilers, and other various aerodynamic devices molded into the engine covers and bodywork. In 1971, the McLaren M16 chassis may have been the most compelling of those examples. It featured a thin, plate-like engine cover than ran along the top of the engine, with a wing affixed to the rear. USAC allowed the configuration, even as competitors began to worry it would dominate the month. The M16 quickly became the favorite for the pole as well as race day.

On Pole Day of 1971, Peter Revson drove a McLaren M16, powered by a turbocharged 4-cyclinder Offenhauser engine, to the pole position and new track record. Revson’s second lap of 179.354 mph stood as the one-lap track record, and his four-lap average of 178.696 mph set the four-lap record. His second lap was just 0.18 seconds shy of breaking the 180 mph barrier. It was a more than 7 mph jump from the previous year’s record. On race day, Revson failed to lead any laps, but finished a strong second to Al Unser.

For the 1972 season, rules makers finally relented, and bolt-on wings were to be allowed. During a tire test on March 30, Bobby Unser blistered the track with an unofficial lap record of 190.8 mph.

Track records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are only considered official when accomplished during Time Trials or during the race itself. Any and all lap records set during practice or testing are always considered unofficial. This article concentrates on one-lap and four-lap track records at the Indianapolis 500 since 1972. This represents the time period in which the cars have qualified above or near 200 mph. For qualifying records prior to 1972, see the following statistical supplements: 1-Lap Records and 4-Lap Records


1972

Bobby Unser’s 1972 Roman Slobodynskyj-designed Eagle, on display in the garage area at the 2016 SVRA Brickyard Vintage Invitational
(Johnson Collection)

With bolt-on wings allowed for the first time, speeds climbed by significant margins in 1972. Practice was scheduled to open on Saturday April 29. Rain, however, washed out the first day. On Sunday April 30, chief steward Harlan Fengler imposed a 170 mph speed limit, and only seven cars took to the track. Jim Malloy allegedly had a hand-timed lap of 179.4 mph. Later in the week Malloy turned a lap of 188.148 mph Tragically, Malloy would die from injuries suffered in a practice crash on May 14.

On May 7, Gary Bettenhausen became the first driver to break the 190 mph barrier during the month of May. Two days later, he turned a lap at 191 mph, faster than Bobby Unser’s lap during March tire testing. On Wednesday May 10, Bobby Unser ran a lap of 194.721 mph, a new unofficial track record.

Pole day was scheduled for Saturday May 13. Rain, however, kept the cars off the track until late in the afternoon. Only two cars got out on the track before the 6 o’clock gun, and neither completed their qualifying attempt. On Sunday May 14, rain delayed qualifying until 2:46 p.m. Bill Vukovich II was the first car out for the day, and his first lap of 185.797 mph was a new 1-lap track record. Going into turn one on his second lap, he spun and crashed. His 1-lap record stood, but he never managed to set a 4-lap record. The next car out was Mike Mosley, who failed to eclipse Vukovich’s 1-lap record. He stalled on the backstretch after three laps, and he too failed to set a 4-lap record. Rain began to fall again, and halted qualifying for over an hour.

When the track reopened, a succession of drivers completed their qualifying attempts. Track records set and broken multiple times. Joe Leonard, Mario Andretti, Gary Bettenhausen, and finally Bobby Unser, all put their names in the record books. Unser driving an Eagle/Drake Offy, entered by Dan Gurney’s All American Racers team, set an all-time one-lap record of 196.678 mph, representing a 17 mph jump in pole position speed over the previous year. His four-lap record of 195.940 mph officially broke the 190 mph barrier. At the 6 o’clock gun, five cars were still left in line eligible for the pole. Pole qualifying stretched into a third day (Saturday May 20), however, nobody managed to knock Unser off of the pole. Peter Revson and Mark Donohue joined him on the front row, making it an “all 190 mph” front row.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sun 5/14/1972 Bill Vukovich II 185.797 crash
Sun 5/14/1972 Joe Leonard 184.767 185.950 185.835 184.351 185.223
Sun 5/14/1972 Mario Andretti 188.758 188.127 186.838 186.761 187.617
Sun 5/14/1972 Gary Bettenhausen 189.474 189.076 188.758 188.206 188.877
Sun 5/14/1972 Bobby Unser 194.932 196.036 196.678 196.121 195.940
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1973

After the dramatic rise in speeds the year before, the teams arrived at Indy in 1973 with the real possibility of breaking the 200 mph barrier. The month started out with excitement and high anticipation, but the mood quickly turned after succession of tragic circumstances. Terrible weather also plagued the month. By month’s end, no driver managed to turn a lap over 200 mph, whether officially or unofficially. Three participants (two drivers and one pit crew member) were fatally injured, and the 1973 Indianapolis 500 was considered the worst year for the event.

During Goodyear tire testing on March 22, Gordon Johncock reportedly ran a lap of 199.4 mph, an unofficial track record. During the first week of practice on May 6, Swede Savage ran a practice lap of 197.802 mph, which would end up the fastest practice lap of the month. Several drivers turned laps over 190 mph, inching closer to the elusive 200 mph mark. Inclement weather – rain and wind – affected the second week of practice. By the eve of time trials no drivers had broken 200, but a huge crowd nevertheless arrived, axiously anticipating that it just might happen in time trials.

Pole Day (Saturday May 12) was quickly marred during the morning practice session. At 9:37 a.m., veteran Art Pollard crashed in turn one. The car flipped over and caught flames. Pollard was pronounced dead about an hour later from pulmonary damage due to flame inhalation. Despite the crash, qualifying began on-time at 11 a.m.

At 12:29 p.m., Swede Savage was the eleventh car to make an attempt. After posting fast laps during practice, Savage did not disappoint. His first lap of 197.152 mph was a new 1-lap record, and his 4-lap average of 196.582 mph was also a record. Savage held the top spot for just over one hour. At 1:37 p.m., Johnny Rutherford in the turbocharged, 4-cyclinder McLaren/Drake-Offenhauser, took to the track and secured the pole position. He electrified the crowd when his third lap came in at 199.071 mph, just 0.21 seconds shy of breaking the 200 mph barrier.

Rutherford’s record run was overshadowed by Pollard’s death. Fears were beginning to grow around the garage about safety and the rising speeds. The mood was glum. Rain plagued the running of the race. On Monday May 28, Salt Walther was critically injured in a crash at the start. Rain washed the rest of the day, as well as Tuesday May 29. On Wednesday May 30, the race finally got going. On the 59th lap, Swede Savage was involved in a terrible, fiery crash which sent him to the hospital in critical condition. Moments later, Armando Teran, a pit crew member from Graham McRae’s team (Savage’s teammate) was struck and killed by an emergency truck racing to the scene of the crash. On July 2, thirty-three days after the race, Savage died in the hospital.

After three driver fatalities in just two years, sweeping rule changes were implemented to address safety. Some new rules went into effect for the Pocono 500 four weeks later, and additional changes were made for 1974. Numerous safety improvements were also made at the track, and there would not be another driver fatality at Indy until 1982. Among the many changes were smaller wings, and the use of pop-off valves to regulate turbocharger boost pressure. The new regulations reduced speeds by about 8-10 mph. The track records set in 1973 would not be challenged over the next three years.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/12/1973 David Earl “Swede” Savage 197.152 196.464 196.335 196.378 196.582
Sat 5/12/1973 Johnny Rutherford 198.676 197.846 199.071 198.063 198.413
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1977

Tom Sneva’s 1977 pole winning car on display at the Penske Racing Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2010
(Johnson Collection)

After the 1976 race, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was repaved with asphalt. It was the first time the entire 2.5-mile track was repaved all at once, since the bricks were laid in 1909. The new surface was smooth and fast. The first round of tire tests occurred in cool temperatures in October of 1976, which saw Roger McCluskey turn a lap of 198.7 mph. Reportedly running boost levels consistent with 1976 USAC rules (80 inHG), and 1976-spec wings, McCluskey was more than 9 mph faster than Johnny Rutherford’s pole speed four months earlier. The test lap was just a tick slower than Rutherford’s 1973 official track record, which was accomplished with larger wings and without pop-off valves.

The new pavement was allowed to cure over the winter, and in the spring of 1977, another round of tire tests were conducted on the new surface. On March 20, 1977, during Goodyear tire testing, Gordon Johncock turned an unofficial lap of 44.9 seconds (200.4 mph). It was the first ever lap over 200 mph at Indianapolis. The participants, media, and fans entered the month of May 1977 fully expecting the 200 mph barrier to fall in time trials.

Phil Hedback pours 200 silver dollars into Tom Sneva’s helmet, to celebrate him breaking the 200 mph barrier.

At 5:44 p.m. on Wednesday May 11, Mario Andretti became the first driver to crack the 200 mph barrier during practice. Andretti’s lap of 200.311 mph was followed up by A.J. Foyt minutes later. Foyt ran a 200.177 mph with two minutes left in the day. One day later, Johnny Rutherford upped the top speed of the month to 200.624  mph. By the end of the first week of practice, Rutherford, Andretti, and Foyt had all practiced over 200. Tom Sneva was 4th-fastest, having run a 198.194 mph lap.

Pole day was sunny and warm, and a huge crowd arrived, excited to see track records fall. A. J. Foyt was the first car out to qualify, but his speed was a disappointing 193.465 mph. It ended up Foyt’s engine had a faulty pop-off valve installed. Later in the day he was permitted to re-qualify, but he still failed to break 200.

At 11:51 p.m., Tom Sneva forever put his name in the record books and instantly became an Indy 500 legend. His first lap of 200.401 mph (44.91 seconds) was a new one-lap track record, and the first official lap at Indy over 200 mph. His second lap was faster at 200.535 mph (44.88 seconds). His third and fourth laps dropped off, but he finished the run with a four-lap average of 198.884 mph, itself a new four-lap track record. When Sneva returned to the pits, Phil Hedback (of Bryant Heating and Cooling) poured 200 silver dollars into his helmet. The symbolic gesture had been done previously in 1962, when Parnelli Jones broke the 150 mph barrier. Jones received a prize of 150 silver dollars poured into his helmet on that historic day.

Sneva’s speed held up all afternoon. No other driver was able to turn a single lap over 200 mph. Sneva won his first of three poles, and would go on to finish second in the 1977 race. It was notable that Sneva won the pole and broke 200 driving a Cosworth-powered entry. It was the first Indy pole for the turbocharged V-8 Cosworth DFX. It should be noted that Sneva was heralded as the first driver over 200, but in 1977 that only applied to the 1-lap track record. It would be another year before the 4-lap track record pushed over the 200 mph mark.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/14/1977 Tom Sneva 200.401 200.535 197.628 197.032 198.884
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1978

After Tom Sneva broke the 200 mph barrier during time trials in 1977 (doing so on two of his four qualifying laps), competitors, media and fans were anxious to see a driver run all four laps over 200 for 1978. Tom Sneva, who would become known as the “Gas Man”, would be the one to do it.

Rain hampered the first week of practice, and it was not until Wednesday May 10 that drivers began to find speed. Mario Andretti clocked a lap of 201.838 mph, then Danny Ongais topped him for the day at 201.974 mph. In was an unofficial track record, and Ongais managed seven consecutive laps over 200, establishing him as an early favorite for the pole. On Friday May 12, Andretti shattered the mark, posting a practice lap of 203.482 mph.

The first weekend of time trials came and went without turning a wheel. Rain washed out both Saturday and Sunday, postponing the battle for the pole until the following weekend. This was especially unfortunate for Mario Andretti, who had to return to Europe for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belguim. After his quick speeds during practice, Andretti would be ineligible for the pole. Penske Racing hired Mike Hiss to qualify Andretti’s car as a substitute. Andretti won the Belgian Grand Prix, then he returned to Indianapolis for race day.

With another of five days of practice before pole qualifying, top teams continued to prepare. On Thursday May 18, Tom Sneva topped the speed chart, turning a lap of 203.100 mph, just slightly under Andretti’s best lap of the month. Sneva was back in the conversation for the pole.

On Saturday May 20, pole qualifying was held. At 12:03 p.m., as he did the year before, Tom Sneva set new one-lap and four-lap tracks records to win the pole position. His first lap of 203.620 mph shattered the 1-lap record. This time, all four laps were over 200. His four-lap average of 202.156 mph was a record that would stand for four years.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/20/1978 Tom Sneva 203.620 202.566 201.794 200.669 202.156
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1982

The 1982 Penske PC-10 driven by Kevin Cogan was restored and was on display at the Speedway in 2013. It is depicting the livery of Rick Mears, who also drove the chassis during the 1982 CART season
(Johnson Collection)

Qualifying speeds had been slightly down between 1979 and 1981, mostly due to rules reducing the permitted level of turbocharger “boost” pressure. For 1979, the boost level for the overhead-cam V-8 engines (e.g., Cosworth DFX) was reduced from 80 inHG to 50 inHG, then in 1980, it was further reduced to 48 inHG. But in 1982, speeds began to creep up once again.

Penske teammates Rick Mears and Kevin Cogan established themselves as the cars to beat during practice. On the day before pole day, Mears ran an unofficial lap of 208.7 mph, while Cogan was close behind at 207.8 mph. On Pole Day (Saturday May 15), Cogan burned a piston in his primary car during the morning practice session, and the team switched him to a backup car. Running the backup car #1T ended up being advantageous as that car had drawn the second spot in the qualifying order. Cogan’s primary car had drawn 55th, while Mears was set to go out fourth.

Rick Mears’ 1982 pole winning car, on display at the IMS Museum in 2021 (Johnson Collection)

Kevin Cogan was the first car to make an attempt and did not disappoint. He set new 1-lap and 4-lap qualifying records. But his time on top did not last long. Rick Mears was the very next car to go out, and he took over the top spot. He smashed the track record with a third lap of 207.612 mph, and a four-lap average of 207.004 mph. Just fifteen minutes into the day, the race for the pole position was seemingly already out of reach. Cogan was dissatisfied with his run, believing the back-up car’s engine was not as good as the primary, but he nonetheless would hold on to the middle of the front row.

About one hour later, the day marred by the horrific fatal crash of Gordon Smiley. The track was closed for over two hours to clean up the crash and make repairs to the asphalt. Qualifying resumed at 3:17 p.m., but no cars challenged the speeds records set earlier that morning.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/15/1982 Kevin Cogan 203.298 203.351 204.638 204.545 204.082
Sat 5/15/1982 Rick Mears 206.801 207.039 207.612 206.564 207.004
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1983

Pole qualifying in 1983 took place on the third day of time trials (Johnson Collection)

Rain washed out the first weekend of time trials and pole qualifying was moved to Saturday May 21 (Third day). During practice, speeds were down just a tick, as teams adjusted to new aerodynamic regulation. Teo Fabi won the pole position, becoming the first rookie to win the pole since Walk Faulkner in 1950. Fabi set a new one-lap record and a new four-lap record.

Fabi took the lead at the start and led the first 23 laps. Though he dropped out of the race early with a bad fuel gasket, his qualifying effort earned him the Rookie of the Year award.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/21/1983 Teo Fabi (R) 207.273 208.049 207.622 206.640 207.395
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1984

Tom Sneva in 1984
(Johnson Collection)

Pole day was a historic day as Tom Sneva broke the 210 mph barrier in time trials. Sneva, who had previously broken the 200 mph barrier at Indianapolis in 1977, and entered the race as the defending winner, won his third career pole position at Indy in 1984.

But during practice, it was actually Mario Andretti who was the favorite for the pole. On the day before pole day (Friday May 11), Andretti blistered the track with an unofficial track record of 212.414 mph. The lap was more than 5 mph faster the track record from 1983. Gordon Johncock was also quick, turning in a lap over 211 mph. Tom Sneva had turned in a 208 mph lap, and was considered a “sleeper” for the pole.

On pole day (Saturday May 12), Rick Mears was the first driver to complete a qualifying attempt. As expected, track records fell fast. Mears put in two laps over 208 mph, then set a four-lap record over 207 mph. About twenty minutes later, Mario Andretti took to the track. His first lap of 209.687 mph was a new one-lap track record. It was the fifth time in his career he held the one-lap track record at Indy. His first three laps were fast enough to take the top spot away from Mears, but suddenly the car quit. Coming out of turn four on his final lap, the engine shut off and the car coasted across the start/finish line. His slow final lap dragged his four-lap average down, and he wound up 6th on the grid. It was a bitter disappointment for Mario Andretti, after the speeds he had posted in practice. Furthermore, he would line up behind his son, rookie Michael Andretti who qualified 4th.

Tom Sneva, who had the benefit of a later draw, was able to make some adjustments to his car’s stagger. He electrified the crowd with his third lap of 210.423 mph, the first official lap over 210. His four-lap average also broke 210, and he secured the pole position. Sneva’s pole-winning run cemented his reputation as one of the greatest qualifiers ever at Indy. It was his third pole – plus he was also the fastest qualifier in 1981.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/12/1984 Rick Mears 208.502 208.367 207.727 206.801 207.847
Sat 5/12/1984 Mario Andretti 209.687 208.734 208.642 202.950 207.467
Sat 5/12/1984 Tom Sneva 209.113 209.898 210.423 210.689 210.029
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1985

The front row in 1985
(Johnson Collection)

During the first week of practice, Mario Andretti and Bobby Rahal topped the speed charts, both over 214 mph. On Friday May 10, Andretti set an unofficial record of 214.285 mph. Later in the day, during “Happy Hour”, Mario was hand-timed with a lap of 215.600 mph, another unofficial record. At least a dozen cars had practiced over the existing track record.

On Saturday May 11, a huge crowd arrived for Pole Day, expecting record speeds. But surprisingly it was the Buick V-6 powered entries of Scott Brayton and Pancho Carter who took the top two spots. Brayton drew the first spot in the qualifying order. He set track records on his first three laps. His third lap of 214.199 mph smashed the one-lap record. On his fourth and final lap, however, a transmission problem caused him to slow down and he had to coast across the finish line. His fourth lap was only in the 210 mph range, pulling his four-lap average down to 212.354 mph. Brayton still set a four-lap track record, but it would only stand for 22 minutes.

Pancho Carter was the fourth car out to qualify, and he secured the pole position. None of Carter’s laps broke the one-lap record, but his four lap average – more consistent – beat Brayton for the top spot overall by 0.182 seconds. Less than a half hour into the day, the top two spots on the grid were set. Rahal and Andretti qualified third and fourth, the fastest of the V-8 Cosworth engines. The top seven qualifiers turned at least one lap better than the old 1984 one-lap track record, but since Brayton and Carter’s runs were accomplished very early in the day, none of the other five drivers could claim a track record.

Despite qualifying second overall, Brayton’s one-lap record of 214.199 mph stood alongside Carter’s four-lap record of 212.583 mph. It was one of the rare occasions in which two different drivers held the 1-lap and 4-lap track records.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/11/1985 Scott Brayton 211.815 213.189 214.199 210.256 212.354
Sat 5/11/1985 Pancho Carter 212.510 212.721 213.159 211.944 212.583
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1986

The front row of Rick Mears (#4) and Danny Sullivan (#1) and Michael Andretti (#18). (Johnson Collection)

During the first week of practice, four drivers turned laps better than the existing track record. Rick Mears led practice, turning a lap of 214.694 mph on Thursday May 8. Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, and Danny Sullivan were all close behind. But on the morning of pole day (Saturday May 10), Mears shattered his two day-old unofficial track record. During the morning practice session, Mears turned a lap of 217.548 mph, the fastest lap in Indy history.

Defending Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan drew an early spot in the qualifying line, and was the first driver to set records on the day. He became the first driver to officially turn a qualifying lap over 215 mph, and his four-lap average took the provisional pole position. Sullivan, however, was apprehensive afterwards about his chances of holding onto the pole position. He knew his Penske teammate Rick Mears was a strong threat for the pole, and he ended up being correct. Less than an hour later, Mears blistered the track to secure his third career pole position. His first lap of 217.581 mph was a new track record, and his record four-lap average of 216.828 mph would stand for two years.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/10/1986 Danny Sullivan 215.729 215.755 215.636 214.413 215.382
Sat 5/10/1986 Rick Mears 217.581 217.124 216.852 215.765 216.828
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1987

Mario Andretti in 1987. Originally from the Louis J. Schumacher photograph collection

The month of May 1987 was a difficult month for many drivers. An unusually high 25 crashes occurred during practice and time trials. Mario Andretti was one of only a handful of drivers that enjoyed success leading up to time trials and race day. On Thursday May 7, Andretti set an unofficial track record of 218.234 mph. But speed was mostly hard to come by for everyone else. Andretti won the pole on a slick and windy pole day, and his qualifying speed was not a track record.

Bobby Rahal and track record holder Rick Mears rounded out the front row. Andretti and Mears were fielding the Ilmor-Chevrolet Indy V-8 (265A) engine, while Rahal was utilizing the tried and true Cosworth DFX V-8. Andretti and Rahal were driving 1987 Lola chassis, while Mears was driving a year-old March 86C. The Penske team had parked their 1987 Penske PC-16 machines after they proved uncompetitive. It was the Ilmor-Chevy’s first pole and first front row start, and it was also the Cosworth DFX’s final front row appearance.


1988

Sullivan races through turn four during his qualifying attempt (Johnson Collection)

The first week of practice shaped up as a speed duel between Rick Mears and Mario Andretti. On Tuesday May 10, Mears turned the first-ever practice lap over 220 mph. A day later, Andretti upped the speed to 221.565 mph. On Friday May 13, the day before Pole Day, Mears and Andretti amazingly posted identical laps of 221.465 mph.

Pole Day (Saturday May 14) dawned sunny and warm. A huge crowd packed the grandstands, expected a record-setting day. During practice Saturday morning, Mears blistered the track with a lap of 222.827, a new all-time unofficial track record. Mario Andretti was also over 220 mph. At 8:08 a.m., Raul Boesel suffered a crash in turn four. Safety crews cleaned up the scene, and pour oil dry on the pavement to absorb fluids. Mario Andretti drew the coveted first spot in the qualifying order, but his run was disappointing. He claims to have lost traction in the oil dry and managed only a 214 mph average.

At 1:21 p.m., Danny Sullivan took over the top spot, setting a 1-lap record in the process. Sullivan’s speed did not hold up, however. At 2 p.m., in the heat of the afternoon, Rick Mears won his fourth pole position. His first lap broke the 220 mph barrier, and his four-lap average was also a new record. It was the second time in three years teammates Sullivan and Mears battled one another for the pole – and results were the same.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/14/1988 Danny Sullivan 217.334 217.749 215.126 214.679 216.214
Sat 5/14/1988 Rick Mears 220.453 219.877 218.781 217.702 219.198
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1989

The Speedway was repaved during the offseason and new speed records were expected for 1989. Rick Mears turned the first practice lap over 225 mph on Monday May 8. On Friday May 12, the eve of time trials, Mears upped his speed to 226.231 mph. Pole day was expected to be a record-shattering afternoon.

Pole Day (Saturday May 13) was rained out, and pole qualifying was moved to Sunday May 14. Al Unser Sr. drew first in line and took the provisional pole. Each lap was a track record, and he became the first driver to break the 220 mph barrier for four laps. Later in the day, Rick Mears took the pole, his second straight pole and fifth overall. His new 1-lap and 4-lap track records were not quite as fast as some had expected, he did not break 225, but they went in the record books nonetheless.

Al Unser Sr., who ended up qualifying for the middle of the front row, notched his best qualifying effort since winning the pole position in 1970. Though he won the pole in 1970, he did not set any track records that year. Thus 1989 was the first and only time in his lengthy Indy career (albeit briefly) that Al Unser Sr. held the 1-lap and 4-lap track records.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sun 5/14/1989 Al Unser Sr. 222.712 223.636 223.736 223.803 223.471
Sun 5/14/1989 Rick Mears 223.187 223.897 224.254 224.204 223.885
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1990

Emerson Fittpaldi in 1990
(Johnson Collection)

During “Happy Hour” on On Fast Friday, Al Unser Jr. set an all-time unofficial track record of 228.502 mph, the fastest practice lap ever run at Indy. Though it was probably aided by a tow, it nevertheless established him as the fastest driver of the month, and knocked Emerson Fittipaldi – who had been leading practice nearly all week – down to second. Later that day, Fittipaldi drew the coveted #1 spot in the qualifying draw. Unser wound up a disappointing 51st in line.

Rain washed out qualifying on Saturday May 12. Rain fell again on Sunday May 13, and threatened to wash out the entire weekend. However, on Sunday afternoon, the rain finally ceased, and at 4:34 p.m., the track opened for qualifying. Fittipaldi was the first driver out on the track, and set new 1-lap and 4-lap track records. Driving a Roger Penske-owned, PC-19 (“Penske 90”) Ilmor-Chevrolet 265A V-8, each lap’s speed increased. He broke the 225 mph barrier, becoming the first driver to turn an official qualifying lap under 40 seconds. A total of 16 cars got out on the track in the hectic, abbreviated session. At the 6 o’clock gun, the field was filled to 15 cars, but the originally qualifying order had not yet exhausted. Several drivers, including Al Unser Jr., had yet to make their attempts. Pole qualifying was stretched into yet another day.

On Saturday May 19 (the third day of time trials) pole qualifying picked up from where it had left off on Sunday. None of the remaining drivers were able to bump Fittipaldi off of the pole position. After a week of anticipation, Al Unser Jr.’s run was a disappointing 220.920 mph (7th fastest). At about 11:50 a.m., the original qualifying draw had exhausted and the “first day” of time trials came to an end. Fittipaldi secured the pole, and the 1-lap and 4-lap track records. No other drivers in the field managed a lap over 225 mph.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sun 5/13/1990 Emerson Fittipaldi 225.006 225.259 225.366 225.575 225.301
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1992

Arie Luyendyk was the first car to qualify, setting new 1-lap and 4-lap track records. Gary Bettenhausen later eclipsed Luyendyk’s 1-lap record by a mere 0.002 seconds to briefly hold the 1-lap record. However, Roberto Guerrero ultimately took the pole position, breaking the 230 mph barrier at Indy. He would hold both the 1-lap and 4-lap records for four years.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/9/1992 Arie Luyendyk 228.967 229.305 228.996 229.241 229.127
Sat 5/9/1992 Gary Bettenhausen 228.438 228.752 229.317 229.223 228.932
Sat 5/9/1992 Roberto Guerrero 232.186 232.516 232.618 232.606 232.482
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record

1996

After standing for four years, Roberto Guerrero’s track records from 1992 were finally broken in 1996. After high speeds and several severe crashes during the month of May 1992, rules were implemented in 1993 to slow the cars down. In addition, the apron lane was removed and replaced with the new warm-up lane, which effectively narrowed the corners. Lap speeds were down by about 10 mph in 1993, but began to creep back up near 230 mph in 1994 and over 230 mph in 1995. The track was repaved prior to the 1996 race, which made for a fast month of May. In the first year of the Indy Racing League, and the last year of the so-called “turbocharged era”, record speeds were observed during practice and qualifying in 1996. The track records set in 1996, both official and unofficial, still stand as of 2020.

The rules package for 1996 was largely a rules freeze from 1995, with a few small differences. The 2.65 liter turbocharged quadcam V-8 engines (e.g., Ford-Cosworth XB, Ilmor Mercedes-Benz 265-D) were the mainstay of Indy car racing at the time, and were permitted 45 inHG of boost. The turbocharged “stock block” V-6 engines (Menard and Buick) were permitted 55 inHG of boost, and the 209 cubic inch purpose-built pushrod engines (Mecedes-Benz 500I) were banned.

On Friday May 10, Arie Luyendyk turned the fastest single practice lap in Indy history. Driving a Reynard/Ford Cosworth XB, his lap of 239.260 mph (37.601 seconds) was just 0.106 seconds shy of breaking the 240 mph barrier. Meanwhile, Tony Stewart in the Menard V-6 turned a practice lap of 237.336 mph during the week, the fastest lap ever run by a rookie.

Arie Luyendyk’s track record car on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum in 2016 (Johnson Collection)

Pole day was scheduled for Saturday May 11. The morning dawned cool and rainy, and the start of qualifying was delayed until 2 o’clock. After setting the unofficial track record on Friday, Arie Luyendyk blew an engine in practice, so the team started preparing a backup car. At 2:20 p.m., Davy Jones became the first driver to set 1-lap and 4-lap records, securing himself a spot on the front row. About fifteen minutes later, rookie Tony Stewart bumped Jones off the pole, himself setting 1-lap and 4-lap records.

Stewart’s Menard teammate Scott Brayton (231.535 mph) later qualified for the second row. With just thirty minutes left in the day, Arie Luyendyk took to the track in his back-up car, and despite some cooling issues and gearing (which kept his first lap down), he managed to knock Stewart off the pole by 0.192 seconds. Luyendyk set a 1-lap record (234.742 mph) on his third lap, and completed with a 4-lap record of 233.390 mph. At that point it appeared the front row was set, and Luyendyk would win his second Indy pole.

Within minutes, Scott Brayton was on pit lane with helmet in hand. The Menard team unexpectedly elected to withdraw Brayton’s already-qualified car. Brayton and the Menard team were prepared to make another run for the pole position in a backup car. Shockingly, Brayton won the pole and set a new 4-lap track record in the process. It was his second consecutive pole (he won the pole in 1995) and second time in his career he set a track record (he had done so in 1985). Brayton did not manage to notch a single-lap record, but his four-lap record of 233.718 mph beat Luyendyk. For the moment, two different drivers held the 1-lap (Luyendyk) and 4-lap (Brayton) records. A rare, but not unprecedented situation.

About two hours after qualifying had closed, USAC announced that Luyendyk’s car had failed post-qualifying inspection. The car was found to be 7 pounds underweight and the qualifying attempt was disallowed. Luyendyk’s four laps (including his one-lap record) were erased, and at that instant, and for the time being, Brayton’s fourth lap (233.851 mph) became the new official track record.

On Sunday May 12, the second day of time trials, Arie Luyendyk took to the track again to make another attempt. With better conditions on Sunday, Luyendyk proceeded to set new official one-lap and four-lap records. As a second day qualifier, Luyendyk would line up behind the first day qualifiers, and on race day he would start 20th.

Tragically, six days after winning the pole, Scott Brayton was fatally injured in a practice crash on May 15.

During the race itself, another track record was set in 1996. The fastest race lap was set by Eddie Cheever. On lap 78, his speed of 236.103 mph (38.119 seconds) still stands as the fastest race lap in Indy 500 history.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/11/1996 Davy Jones 232.943 232.799 232.721 233.064 233.064
Sat 5/11/1996 Tony Stewart (R) 233.040 233.179 233.076 233.106 233.100
Sat 5/11/1996 Arie Luyendyk 231.756 233.058 234.742 234.028 233.390
Sat 5/11/1996 Scott Brayton 233.675 233.536 233.809 233.851 233.718
Sun 5/12/1996 Arie Luyendyk 236.239 236.948 237.260 237.498 236.986
Bold – Laps that broke the track record
Italics – Laps that did not break the track record
Red – Laps that were disallowed

Track Records – Selected Special Categories

1-Lap & 4-Lap Track Records – Rookie driver

Tony Stewart qualified for the front row on pole day in 1996, briefly holding the overall 1-lap and 4-lap track records. His speed was eventually topped by his Menard teammate Scott Brayton who won the pole. Brayton was fatally injured in a practice crash six days later. On race day, Brayton’s car was raced by Danny Ongais, and moved to the rear of the field. Stewart’s car was elevated to first on the grid, and he started the race from the pole position.

During the Rookie Orientation Program in 1996, Tony Stewart also set the fastest practice lap for a rookie driver. His best single lap of the month was 237.336 mph. However, in an interview years later he admitted the lap was probably accomplished using illegal turbocharger boost levels.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/11/1996 Tony Stewart (R) 233.040 233.179 233.076 233.106 233.100

1-Lap & 4-Lap Track Records – Female Driver

On the morning of pole qualifying in 2005, rookie Danica Patrick set the fastest practice lap by a female driver. At 10:44 a.m. on Sunday May 16, her lap of 229.880 mph was the fastest practice lap of the month that year, and the unofficial track record for a female driver. During time trials, however, Patrick was unable to eclipse the official female records set three years earlier (under different engine regulations) by Sarah Fisher.

In 2021, Simona de Silvestro became the first female drive to complete a lap (unofficial practice or official time trials) over 230 mph at Indy. During the first day of time trials, making her second qualifying attempt, her first lap was run at 230.201 mph (39.0962 seconds). Her four-lap average managed only a 228.395 mph, which fell short of the four-lap record for females. de Silvestro’s qualifying attempt ultimately failed to make the top 30 for the day, and the run was scored as a failed attempt. The following day (Sunday May 23), de Silvestro qualified 33rd, but her Sunday speeds ended up slower than her Saturday speeds.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sat 5/11/2002 Sarah Fisher 228.961 229.473 229.647 229.675 229.439
Sat 5/22/2021 Simona de Silvestro 230.201 228.568 228.294 226.548 228.395

1-Lap & 4-Lap Track Records – Normally-Aspirated Engines

The Indy Racing League/IndyCar Series utilized normally-aspirated V-8 engines from 1997 to 2011. Over that time period, the engine displacement rules changed from 4.0 liters (1997-1999) to 3.5 liters (2000-2003) to 3.0 liters (2004-2006). From 1997 to 2005, methanol fuel was used, but for 2006 only, a 90% methanol/10% ethanol blend was used.

In 2007, engine displacement went back up to 3.5 liters and the series switched to ethanol fuel. A 98% ethanol/2% gasoline blend was used through 2011.

Taking into account the engine restrictions, and various other technical regulations, the month of May 2003 saw the fastest qualifying speeds during the normally-aspirated era of the IRL/IndyCar Series.

Date Driver Lap 1
(mph)
Lap 2
(mph)
Lap 3
(mph)
Lap 4
(mph)
4-lap
Average
(mph)
Sun 5/11/2003 Helio Castroneves 231.673 232.215 231.486 231.529 231.725

Additional References and Works Cited