The morning showers had hinted at a frustrating day ahead at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the drivers and teams of the Verizon IndyCar Series championship bidding to qualify for this year's Indy 500.

In the end, those early brief outbreaks of rain were nothing compared to the reality of the heavy downpour that arrived shortly after midday, just minutes after qualifying for the 99th running of the greatest spectacle of motorsport had officially got underway.

Only two of the 34 drivers had managed to complete their quota of qualifying laps to post a time. As determined by a random draw on Friday afternoon, Dale Coyne Racing's Carlos Huertas was first out and set a four-lap aggregate speed of 228.235mph. He was followed out by reigning Indy 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay who set an improved benchmark time of 229.845s in the Andretti Autoport #28.

But as Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon took to the speedway and set a first flying lap of 231.357mph, the yellow flags came out for moisture and he was forced to return to pit lane before he could finish. Moments later the moisture turned to proper rain, and after that the heavens well and truly opened up.

Teams initially moved to cover the cars (and in some cases, the drivers in them) with rain sheets but it was soon clear that the track had been 'lost' meaning that it would be some considerable time before qualifying could resume. The IndyCar Series does not have routine access to NASCAR's revolutionary Air Titan track drying units, and in any case drying out a track as large as this two and a half mile oval would take several hours to complete.

Everyone retreated to shelter and glumly watched the monitors for updates, but the weather radar screens just got worse with forecasts of even heavier rain coming toward IMS with little chance of relief. With no floodlights at the speedway, there was no option of trying to wait out the rain into the evening.

Race control decided to bite the bullet relatively early and free everyone up by declaring at just past 2pm local time that the track was closing for the day and a condensed qualifying would be held on Sunday instead. The times set by Huertas and Hunter-Reay were deleted and they will need to re-qualify again on Sunday morning.

Drivers will have a chance to get some further warm-up practice first thing at 8am in order to get a new feel for the circuit now that it has been washed clean of the rubber that has been laid down over the last week of day-long practice sessions. As was the case on Saturday the cars will be split into two groups to limit overcrowding and potential traffic problems on the track, and each group will get 20 minutes of practice time.

There will then be a three-hour qualifying session starting at 10am for everyone to set their four-lap aggregate speeds. Each driver will get only one qualifying opportunity during this period, and those finishing in positions 10 through 30 will then be locked into that place on the grid with no further chance of improving.

After that, the top nine cars will go into the Fast 9 pole position shootout from 1.45pm-2.30pm, which will set the order for the front three rows of the starting grid for the race itself on May 24.

The Fast 9 will be followed by a final 45-minute session starting at 3pm for the remaining slowest four cars who will be fighting not only for their starting position on the last row of the grid, but for a place in the race itself as there are 34 cars entered this year and only 33 available slots.

The weather outlook for Sunday remains unsettled with the possibility of further rain and possibly even thunderstorms, but nonetheless significantly more favourable in terms of actually getting qualifying in the books than it was on Saturday.



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