by Kalle Tyynelä
James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports topped the Saturday qualifying for the 100th Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The Saturday qualifying determined the nine drivers advancing into the Fast Nine qualifying on Sunday that will determine the pole winner and the first three rows. The drivers outside the Fast Nine will determine on Sunday the starting positions from 10th to 33rd.
Saturday’s program was delayed due to rain in the morning, leading to shortened practice and qualifying sessions. The practice session saw the second crash of the week as Max Chilton crashed his Chevrolet-powered Chip Ganassi Racing machine at Turn 2. Chilton’s car showed no signs of getting airborne like the crashed cars with the Chevy aero kit last year, implying the dome skids and the beam flaps work as intended preventing spun cars getting airborne.
The damage from the crash meant Chilton couldn’t participate Saturday’s qualifying session as the crew was building a new car for Sunday. In the qualifying, all cars were given one guaranteed four-lap attempt. After the guaranteed attempts, drivers may have new qualifying attempts until the end of the session. With 33 cars qualifying, there was no bumping from the race field. The purpose of the Saturday qualifying was to determine which cars advance into Sunday’s Fast Nine qualifying that will determine the pole winner and the first three rows.
The Honda-powered Andretti Autosport team had showed great pace in the practice sessions and that continued also in the Saturday qualifying. Townsend Bell topped the qualifying standings after the guaranteed attempts with a four-lap average of 230.452 mph. With Carlos Munoz in third place and Alexander Rossi in fifth place, the Andretti team had three cars in the top five.
Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing was the top Chevy driver after the guaranteed attempts with an average speed of 230.229 mph. The Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud hadn’t been among the fastest in the practice sessions but qualified in fourth place with his guaranteed attempt. Pagenaud’s Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power were seventh and eighth respectively while the defending Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya was 12th, outside the Fast Nine.
One of the leading teams, Chip Ganassi Racing, had no cars in the Fast Nine after the guaranteed attempts. As the best Ganassi driver, Scott Dixon was in 13th place.
The qualifying saw the third crash of the week. Pippa Mann had a 360-degree spin at Turn 2. The car’s right rear hit the outside wall before sliding into the inside wall. Because of Mann’s crash, Dale Coyne Racing didn’t send her teammate Conor Daly to his guaranteed attempt but Daly qualified later during the session.
Mikhail Aleshin was the first to have another attempt. The second attempt lifted Aleshin from 10th to eighth place, bumping Marco Andretti out from the Fast Nine. After Aleshin, Ryan Hunter-Reay had another attempt, climbing from 14th to sixth place, bumping Will Power out from the Fast Nine. Getting out of the Fast Nine forced Marco Andretti to have another qualifying attempt. Andretti was able to improve his average speed, yet it wasn’t enough to lift him from the 11th place.
Ed Carpenter was only 20th after his first attempt and the two-time Indy 500 pole winner had another qualifying attempt. With his new attempt, Carpenter was 12th. Helio Castroneves was in eighth place after his first attempt and had a new qualifying attempt to secure his Fast Nine spot. With the new qualifying attempt, Castroneves set the fastest four-lap average at 230.500 mph.
Castroneves remained in the lead after Graham Rahal had his second attempt after him, qualifying in 22nd place. Yet after Rahal, James Hinchcliffe had his second attempt and the Schimidt Peterson Motorsports driver set the new fastest average of 230.946. Hinchcliffe’s improvement also bumped Mikhail Aleshin from the Fast Nine.
Juan Pablo Montoya had a second attempt, aiming to make the Fast Nine. The defending Indy 500 winner barely missed the provisional Fast Nine as he went into 10th place with his second attempt. After Montoya, Scott Dixon had his second attempt. Also Dixon failed to make the Fast Nine as his improvement was only enough for the 14th place.
As Will Power had been bumped out from the Fast Nine, he made a second attempt. Power finished his four-lap attempt in second place, bumping Oriol Servia out from the Fast Nine. Servia was the next to make his second qualifying attempt. Servia wasn’t able to improve from his first attempt but went into 24th place as he had withdrawn his first attempt.
Marco Andretti made a third attempt that was just enough for him to go into a provisional ninth place. He was immediately bumped out from the Fast Nine as Ryan Hunter-Reay went into second place with his third attempt.
After Hunter-Reay, Mikhail Aleshin made his third attempt to make the Fast Nine. Aleshin as the last driver on track went into seventh place, bumping Alexander Rossi out from the Fast Nine.
That meant the drivers qualifying for the Fast Nine qualifying are: Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay, Power, Castroneves, Bell, Newgarden, Aleshin, Munoz, and Pagenaud. Two fastest cars were powered by Honda engines. In total, the Fast Nine has five Honda-powered cars and four Chevy-powered cars. Andretti Autosport (Honda) and Team Penske (Chevrolet) have both three cars in the Fast Nine, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (Honda) has two cars, and Ed Carpenter Racing (Chevy) one car in the Fast Nine.
The Sunday program has practice from 12 pm to 2 pm local time (6 pm to 8 pm CET). The qualifying for the positions 10-33 starts at 2:45 pm (8:45 pm CET) and the Fast Nine qualifying starts at 5 pm (11 pm CET).