The bedlam at the close of first-day qualifying for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was exemplified by Mikhail Aleshin, who left pit lane for his third attempt of the day precisely one second before the end of the session.
Aleshin made the last of his nail-biting four laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway count, bumping the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda back into the top nine for the third time. Aleshin’s run today climaxed a frenetic final 90 minutes of qualifying that saw the fast nine change eight times.
The significance is that those nine drivers – James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Townsend Bell, Josef Newgarden, Carlos Munoz, Simon Pagenaud and Alsehin – advance to Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout to compete for the pole position for the epic race on May 29.
Hinchcliffe, a year removed from a life-threatening crash in Indy 500 practice, was fastest of the day with a four-lap average speed of 230.946 mph in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
“All the credit to the guys on the Arrow Electronics car; that thing is a rocket ship,” Hinchcliffe said. “We even dialed the engine back on that last lap. Not being cocky, but we knew we were pretty safe in the fast nine. That’s the goal today.
“Being fastest doesn’t really mean anything or pay anything, but it’s certainly a nice cherry on top. I can’t thank the boys enough. What a difference a year makes. It validates all the effort the guys have put in. These cars started getting put together back in February. They put so much effort into the cars for the month of May.”
Hunter-Reay, knocked from the top nine moments earlier by Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, drove his way solidly back in with a run of 230.805 in the No. 28 DHL Honda that stood for second fast on the day.
“The car had speed in it when we needed it,” Hunter-Reay, the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series and 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion said. “The most nerve-wracking moments in this whole process was sitting in the car (waiting to qualify) because you can’t do anything about it.
“That was a pretty hairy few laps there; I was holding my breath the whole way. I want to thank Honda. They are putting it all on the line. They are pushing as hard as the drivers are on the track.”
Overnight rains saturated the 2.5-mile oval and delayed the start of qualifying to 2:20 p.m. ET, with INDYCAR opting to extend the session to 7 p.m. Aleshin was the ninth qualifier of the day and remained in the top nine until Munoz bested him around 4:30.
The Russian returned to the track an hour later and logged a faster time to get back into the top nine, only to get shoved out again in a flurry of late attempts. He bolted out for his third attempt of the day just before the gun sounded to signal the end of qualifications, but by rule was permitted to finish the attempt and completed a run of 230.209 mph, seventh fastest of the day.
The Fast Nine Shootout, to decide the Verizon P1 Award for pole position and the remainder of the starting positions in the front three rows, finishes second-day qualifying from 5-5:45 p.m. Sunday. It is preceded by Group 1 qualifying from 2:45-4:45 p.m. to determine race starting positions 10-33 from drivers who qualified in those spots today. All qualifying times from today are erased and each driver must complete a qualifying attempt Sunday.
Two cars were unable to make qualifying attempts due to on-track incidents in Turn 2 today. Rookie Max Chilton crashed in pre-qualifying practice and Pippa Mann made light contact with the wall on the first lap of her qualifying attempt.
“The rear end unfortunately just took off on me there into Turn 2,” said Mann, driving the No. 63 Susan G. Komen Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. “We don’t know why. Going to go back, look at the data, put some new suspension pieces on it, new front wing and rear wing on it — hopefully there’s nothing worse than that – go again.”
Chilton also wasn’t sure precisely what happened in his incident.
“I’m fine, a bit battered and bruised,” Chilton said. “Your first accident on an oval is never a great one. The timing is pretty bad, but that’s the issue with practice before qualifying. You just want to make sure the car is right. I felt like it was a little bit strong in the front, but I don’t have the experience to know what’s too much. Now I know, for future reference.
“It went down to line pretty quickly. I was cautious of the rear and before you have time to react, it had gone and you’re just a passenger from then on.”
Chilton and Mann were uninjured. By rule, because both were unable to complete their guaranteed qualifying attempt due to an on-track incident, they will be placed at the rear of Group 1 for qualifying Sunday. The same goes for Gabby Chaves, who withdrew an earlier qualifying time and then waved off a second attempt after one lap.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ONMY REDNECK!