INDIANAPOLIS – The first day of qualifying for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was a bumpy ride emotionally. No one knew that better, ultimately, than Pippa Mann and, shockingly, James Hinchcliffe.
It had anxious four-lap attempts, rain delays that foiled strategies, and literal last-minute bids to bump into the field for 35 drivers attempting to wrest 33 precious spots into the Indianapolis 500.
The 33 cars and drivers that will start the race on May 27 were established in qualifying on Saturday. Two drivers – including Verizon IndyCar Series favorite Hinchcliffe – will not be a part of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” this year as a result of the dramatic process.
“It’s part the lure of what makes this race so special,” team owner/driver Ed Carpenter said of the bumping that occurred for the first time at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2011.
INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESENTED BY PENNGRADE MOTOR OIL: First-day qualifying results
Helio Castroneves was the fastest qualifier of the day with a four-lap run on the 2.5-mile oval at 228.919 mph in the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet. All three of his teammates – Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden – will join the three-time Indy 500 winner in Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout to determine the race starting order for the first three rows, including the Verizon P1 Award pole winner.
Joining the Team Penske quartet in the Fast Nine Shootout will be the Ed Carpenter Racing trio of Carpenter, Spencer Pigot and Danica Patrick. Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan and Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing rounded out the fastest nine qualifiers and represent the only Honda drivers who will have a shot at the pole position as Chevrolet dominated the day.
“Now having the bump day, what a stressful day for everyone,” Castroneves said. “Yeah, it's tough for Hinch. Sounds like that car should be in the grid, but that's the name of the game. You’ve got to understand the rules, especially the Fast Nine, as well. So many people taking chances to be in the Fast Nine.”
James Davison rebounded from a crash in Friday’s practice to qualify the No. 33 Jonathan Byrd’s 502 East Chevrolet in the 33rd and final position. The 31-year-old Australian then nervously waited out the end of qualifying at 5:50 p.m. ET to stay in the field.
The fortunes weren’t so kind for Hinchcliffe and Mann. Hinchcliffe had to wait to make a qualifying attempt until after a 1-hour, 50-minute delay for rain and wet track conditions. The first driver on the oval after qualifying resumed, Hinchcliffe posted a disappointing run of 224.784 mph.
Hinchcliffe was bumped out of the field by Conor Daly with less than 20 minutes left in the session. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew rolled the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda into the priority qualifying line, but Hinchcliffe sensed a vibration in the car on the warmup lap and didn’t start the attempt.
After quick repairs, the car was rushed back into the qualifying line, but the gun signaling the end of qualifying was fired with Mann on track and Hinchcliffe – the 2016 Indy 500 pole sitter – sitting helplessly in pit lane.
Purchasing entry into the Indy 500 for a driver who didn’t qualify is rare but has happened in the past. Hinchcliffe said he was unaware of SPM’s plans.
“I mean, I'm here to race at the end of the day,” he said. “I work for Sam (Schmidt) and Ric (Peterson). Whatever Sam and Ric tell me to do, I'll do. I believe there's some options being investigated. At this point, I don't know any more than you do.”
Mann, who’d been bumped earlier by a Daly attempt, wasn’t able to muster enough speed on her final try to dislodge Davison from the field. The last driver to be bumped from the field was Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2011, though he was later named as a replacement driver in a qualified entry.
The 6-hour, 50-minute qualifying session was halted twice for a total of 2 hours, 41 minutes by rain.
Patrick said she was “definitely relieved” by her performance on Saturday, which, she said, exceeded expectations.
“That's why I was fortunate enough to be able to drive for Ed. They always have great cars, especially here at Indy. They're always very strong,” she said. “But to think that I was going to come back and be in the Fast Nine right off the bat. … I mean, I'm going to tell you, I was doing 208 (mph) at the test the first day and thought, ‘I might not be able to do this; 228 (mph) is much better.”
The drivers who qualified 10th through 33rd on Saturday will each make one four-lap run in Group 1 qualifying starting at 2:45 p.m. ET Sunday – in reverse order of their Saturday qualifying speeds – to determine the grid positions for those cars.
They’ll be followed by the Fast Nine Shootout at 5 p.m. – also run in reverse order from Saturday’s speeds – to set the first three rows. Castroneves is a four-time Indy 500 pole winner. Only retired Team Penske driver and four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears has started at the head of the field more times in race history (six).
Sunday’s schedule calls for a 45-minute practice for Group 1 drivers that starts at noon, followed by 45 minutes for the Fast Nine at 1:15 p.m. Those sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Qualifying will stream live on WatchESPN from 2:30-4 p.m. Sunday, with ABC picking up the national TV broadcast from 4-6 p.m.
The 102nd running of the world’s largest single-day sporting event airs live at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 27 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.