A subdued month of May in terms of drama and dramatics took a turn this past weekend during qualifications for the 101st Indianapolis 500. The story line started with Mother Nature, then switched to a violent crash, and finished with the local guy topping the field to finish out Saturday, the first day of qualifications. Sunday rounded out positions 10-33 and was capped off with one driver toping 232 mph on Pole Day.
Storms rolled in as all 33 cars started to make their way to pit lane to see how fast they could run over four laps, creating history in the process as each car only had one attempt in qualifying. Since this year’s 500 saw the minimum amount of cars required to fill the 33 slots, the drama shifted from 30th through 33rd position, known as Bump Day, to the 9th and 10th spot to see who would qualify for the shootout on Pole Day.
Those that secured a place for a chance to start from pole were: Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, JR Hildebrand, defending Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi, Will Power, two time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso, Tony Kanaan and Marco Adretti. Fan favorite and step-son of Tony George, Ed Carpenter, stole the show as he took the provisional P1 with an overall average speed of 230.468 mph. The only driver that made the top nine that did not hit 230 mph was Marco Andretti with a speed of 229.924, edging out rookie Ed Jones by .207 of a second for the final spot.
In the middle of all the high speeds Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais had one of the most violent crashes to take place in the history of the Brickyard. As Bourdais tried to put too much on his car he nearly went head on into turn two and flipped before coming to a stop right side up. Bourdais’s crash was eerily similar to Gordon Smiley’s fatal accident in 1982. Luckily for Bourdais, he only suffered a broken pelvis and hip that required surgery.
On Sunday it seemed everyone was able to improve their times with near perfect weather for Pole Day. But as practice tapered off before the 10-33 slots were reordered, Fernando Alonso and his McLaren Honda Andretti car had engine troubles despite turning a lap of 231 mph. Remarkably, the team was able to change the engine in less than two hours and had Alonso’s car in tech inspection with just minutes to spare before the fast nine shootout.
The teams that struggled to trim out the car and find speed on Saturday went out first on Sunday. Watch out for the starters in row 4 come race day as Ryan Hunter-Reay, rookie Ed Jones, and Oriol Serva actually turned in faster laps than drivers in rows 2 and 3. Ryan Hunter-Reay turned a 229.533 overall average into a 231.442 mph run on Sunday. Although he was bumped from the fast nine shootout, Ed Jones continues to be impressive with the little Dale Coyne Racing team and will start 11th. The biggest mover outside the top nine was Rahal Letterman’s Oriol Serva. The one and done Serva, who will only race in the Indy 500, went from 24th quickest on Saturday to 12th come Sunday with an impressive time of 230.309 mph.
Honda dominated the Pole Day shootout taking four of the top six positions with New Zealander Scott Dixon claiming his third 500 pole of his career and was the only driver to hit 232 mph. Finishing out row one was Carpenter (231.664) and Rossi (231.487). Andretti Autosport had the most in the top nine with four, followed by Chip Ganassi and Ed Carpenter Racing with two each. Mr. Penske’s cars have dominated the Verizon IndyCar Series winning the last three races, but could only manage one in the top nine during Indy 500 qualifying. In fact, you will have to go all the way back to the 6th row before you find the next Penske car.
Starting grid for the 101st Indianapolis 500 on Sunday May 28:
Scott Dixon (former winner)
Alexander Rossi (former winner)
Fernando Alonso (R)
Tony Kanaan (former winner)
Ryan Hunter-Reay (former winner)
Ed Jones (R)
Juan Pablo Montoya (former winner)
Helio Castroneves (former winner)
Jack Harvey (R)
Buddy Lazier (former winner)
Zach Veach (R)
James Davison (replaces Sebastien Bourdais)