Hinchcliffe fastest, Aleshin squeezes into top nine in Indy 500 first-day qualifying

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INDIANAPOLIS – 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 today count, bumping his No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda back into the top nine a third time. Aleshin’s run climaxed a frenetic and exciting final 75 minutes of qualifying that saw the fast nine list change eight times.

CLICK HERE: 100th Indianapolis 500 first-day qualifications results

The significance is that the fast nine who emerged – James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Townsend Bell, Josef Newgarden, Carlos Munoz, Simon Pagenaud and Aleshin – 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 was 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 ousted him around 4:30 p.m.

Mikhail AleshinThe 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 one tick 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 to join teammate Hinchcliffe in the Fast Nine Shootout.

“My steering wheel didn't work properly, so I didn't even know how fast I was going,” Aleshin said. “I didn't have all of the information and stuff. It might be something where you just need to concentrate on your job and that's it.

"I'm happy for all the team,” added Aleshin, who started 15th and finished 21st as an Indy 500 rookie in 2014. “I'm happy two cars are in the top nine. I think it shows our potential and it shows that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is up there.”

The Fast Nine Shootout, to decide the Verizon P1 Award for pole position and the remainder of the race starting positions in the front three rows, wraps up 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.

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.

Qualifying coverage Sunday airs on ESPN3 (2:30-4 p.m.) and ABC (4-6 p.m.), as well as the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

The Indianapolis 500 is the sixth of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Coverage of the 100th running May 29 begins at 11 a.m. ET on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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