The first day of qualifying for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was its typical emotional roller coaster. It was filled with nail-biting four-lap attempts, rain delays that ruined strategies, last-minute bids to bump into the field of 33 and ultimate heartbreak for those left on the outside looking in.
The cars and drivers that will start the race on May 27 were established in qualifying on Saturday. Two drivers – Verizon IndyCar Series regular James Hinchcliffe and Indy-only pilot Pippa Mann – did not earn a spot in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” this year as a result of the dramatic qualifications process.
“That’s part of 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 qualifications 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 under overcast conditions before the first of two rain delays that totaled 2 hours, 41 minutes. Castroneves’ teammates – Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden – joined the three-time Indy 500 winner in advancing to Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout that determines the starting order for the first three rows, including the Verizon P1 Award pole winner.
“Obviously, my run (being) earlier, the weather was much more consistent,” Castroneves said. “When you have that kind of scenario, it helps a lot. We all work together (at Team Penske) to obviously find the limits. We did. We have to do it again tomorrow, in the fast nine, and let’s see what happens.”
Joining the Team Penske quartet in the Fast Nine Shootout will be the Ed Carpenter Racing trio of Carpenter, Spencer Pigot and Danica Patrick. Making the final start of her crossover career in INDYCAR and NASCAR, Patrick set another standard by becoming the first woman to qualify for the Fast Nine Shootout that debuted in 2010. Patrick was the first woman to lead the Indy 500, as a rookie in 2005, and remains the best finisher in race history when she placed third in 2009.
“I have high expectations for doing well here,” Patrick said. “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. I am very happy with this car.”
Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan and 2017 Indy 500 pole sitter Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing rounded out the fast nine qualifiers. They represent the only Honda drivers who will have a shot at the pole position, as Chevrolet dominated the top of the speed chart.
At the other end of the spectrum, James Davison recovered from a crash in Friday’spractice to qualify the No. 33 Jonathan Byrd’s 502 East Chevrolet in the 33rd and final position. The 31-year-old Australian nervously waited out the end of qualifying at 5:50 p.m. ET to retain his spot in the field.
“It was an incredible 24 hours, something that I think all of us on the team didn’t expect that we were going to face,” Davison said of his Foyt with Byrd/Hollinger/Belardi crew. “It’s a life experience, making it into the Indy 500, actually earning it. The three times I’ve done this race, there were 33 cars. … This time, we had to earn it in there.”
The fortunes weren’t so kind for Hinchcliffe and Mann. Hinchcliffe had to wait to make a qualifying attempt until after the initial weather delay. The first driver on the oval when qualifications resumed, Hinchcliffe posted a disappointing run of 224.784 mph in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda that was bumped from the field by friend and former roommate Conor Daly with less than 20 minutes left
Hinchcliffe went out to make another attempt, but sensed a vibration in the car from what was later discovered to be a tire pressure sensor failure and didn’t take the green flag. After quick repairs by his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew, the car was rushed back into the qualifying line, but time ran out with Mann on track and Hinchcliffe – the 2016 Indy 500 pole sitter – sitting in line next to go.
“Nobody failed us, the system didn’t fail us. We failed us,” a dejected Hinchcliffe said. “At the end of the day, everybody got a run, which is the rule. Our run wasn’t good enough, so blame the weather, blame other cars in line, you can blame whatever you want, but it just didn’t happen today. You’ve got to take your lumps here sometimes.”
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.
“When we got back in line for the last run, we took every single trim we could possibly could to the race car, we did everything,” said Mann, a six-time Indy 500 starter. “Obviously it wasn’t enough.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world.”
The tension starts anew on the second day of qualifications. The drivers who qualified 10th through 33rd on Saturday will each make one four-lap run in qualifying starting at 2:45 p.m. Sunday – in reverse order of their qualifying speeds Saturday – to determine grid positions 10 through 33 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).
Second-day 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.