INDIANAPOLIS – Drama, redemption, heartbreak, exuberance. Armed Forces Pole Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway had it all as starting positions were set for the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
James Hinchcliffe, who nearly lost his life at the same track a year ago in a crash during Indianapolis 500 practice, put together a scintillating four-lap run of 230.760 mph as the final driver of the day in the Fast Nine Shootout. It allowed the Canadian fan favorite to claim the Verizon P1 Award and $100,000 prize for earning the pole position and the right to lead the 33-car field to the green flag to start the epic race May 29.
CLICK HERE: 100th Indianapolis 500 starting lineup
Driving the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Hinchcliffe collected the first pole of his Verizon IndyCar Series career in what will be his 79th race, edging Josef Newgarden for the honor by a mere 0.0407 of a second over the 10-mile run.
“I came into this month hoping we’d have a new story to talk about after what happened last year and I think we did it,” an emotional Hinchcliffe said on pit lane. “I can’t believe it. I’m honestly at a loss for words, which everyone knows is rare for me.
“The Arrow Electronics car was an absolute smoke show out there. It was right on the edge. (Lead engineer) Allen McDonald and all my engineers did such a great job, everybody at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson put me in the car and gave me the car to do it. Three Schmidt Peterson cars (qualifying) in the top 10 is incredible.”
It is the first Indianapolis 500 pole position for manufacturer Honda in five years, also with Schmidt Peterson and then-driver Alex Tagliani, and first since Chevrolet re-entered the series as an engine manufacturer in 2012. It also ended Team Penske’s string of seven consecutive pole positions in all Verizon IndyCar Series races and is Honda’s first in series competition since the second race of the Houston doubleheader in June 2014, 31 races ago and again with Schmidt Peterson.
“It’s incredible. It’s five years to the day that we did this with Tagliani,” team co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “For the 100th running, we’ve put an effort into this since last September. It’s been an all-around team effort. Obviously, I can’t turn a wrench, but my god, the things that happened today!”
Newgarden, in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, was second with a run of 230.700 mph, with 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay third at 230.648 in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport.
“It was a tough pill to swallow,” Newgarden said. “I try to remind myself it’s not just about today’s battle, it’s about the war, and we’ve got to try and get that done next week in the 500. But it was still a lot of fun, just to be up there and have this opportunity to compete.”
The second row was filled by a pair of Andretti Autosport drivers, Townsend Bell (fourth) and Carlos Munoz (fifth), along with Team Penske’s Will Power (sixth). Qualifying in Row 3 were Hinchcliffe’s teammate Mikhail Aleshin (seventh) and a pair of Penske drivers, season points leader Simon Pagenaud (eighth) and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves (ninth).
In the qualifying session prior to the Fast Nine Shootout that set the 10th through 33rd starting positions, Oriol Servia rebounded from a disappointing effort Saturday to collect the fastest four-lap run of the group and earn the 10th spot with an average speed of 229.060 mph in the No. 77 Lucas Oil Special Honda for Schmidt Peterson with Marotti Racing.
Servia improved his lot 14 positions from first-day qualifications, but said it wasn’t easy.
“We struggled (Saturday). We have a very fast car, but we just couldn’t balance it for four laps,” said Servia, whose best finish in seven previous Indy 500 starts was fourth in 2012. “This morning, we put more downforce in it and we still couldn’t balance it. We couldn’t put four laps together. They were scratching their heads (and made changes) and it worked. I had a fantastic car for four laps.”
Scott Dixon, the 2015 Indy 500 pole sitter and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, qualified 13th (227.991 mph) after his crew was forced to make an engine change in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in just 64 minutes between practice and the qualifying session.
“We had an engine issue this morning and Team Target and the other CGR teams changed it all out and got us ready for qualifying in just over an hour,” Dixon said. “That is absolutely unheard of. This is truly why this is a team sport. I obviously didn’t pick up a wrench today and they probably liked it that way, knowing my mechanical skills.
“INDYCAR would not have let us in qualifying if we didn’t get the car ready in time and we would have started dead last. Given the situation and what we went through today as a team I’m pleased.”
Defending Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya was permitted to make a second qualifying attempt today after running over a large plastic garbage bag on his first try. The driver of the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevy will start 17th after a run of 227.684 mph.
“I saw (the bag) on the grass and I thought, ‘Ooh, that’s odd’ and when I came to Turn 3 it was in the middle of the groove,” Montoya said. “I had nowhere to go. I just hit it and lost all of the front air from under the car. It just went straight. I got on the brakes, trying not to hit the wall.
“Luckily, we got another run, but they didn’t let us check the car. I think the wing or something bent with the force of the bag.”
Tagliani will start the race 33rd after crashing his No. 35 Alfe Heat Treating Special Honda for AJ Foyt Racing as he exited Turn 4 to take the green flag for his qualifications attempt. Per Rule 18.104.22.168 of the rulebook, he will start at the rear of the field.
“It really caught me off guard because it really happened late into the corner, like almost at the exit of Turn 4,” Tagliani said. “I was really almost at the straightaway and that’s why I got caught because, normally when I get loose early on, I have a chance to catch it. It’s really unfortunate.”
The field of 33 for the 100th running features six former winners (Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, Dixon, Montoya, Tony Kanaan and Buddy Lazier) and five rookies (Matt Brabham, Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot, Alexander Rossi and Stefan Wilson)
Two more practice sessions are available to the Indy 500 competitors, from 12:30-4 p.m. ET Monday and the traditional Miller Lite Carb Day practice from 11 a.m.-noon Friday. The legendary 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is set for May 29, with coverage beginning at 11 a.m. on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.