One year ago, a life-threatening crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kept James Hinchcliffe from competing in the Indianapolis 500.
On May 29, when the field goes to green for the 100th edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, it’ll be Hinchcliffe that leads the way.
Driving the gilded No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda-Dallara – appropriate, given the golden theme of the 100th indy 500 – Hinchcliffe used four near-perfect laps to claim the pole for the annual 500-mile race, beating out Josef Newgarden in the final run of the afternoon.
The result is Hinchcliffe’s first Verizon IndyCar Series pole, coming in his 79th attempt.
“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,” said Hinchcliffe. “I can’t believe it. I’m honestly at a loss for words, which everyone knows is rare for me.”
Hinchcliffe’s run comes five years after SPM’s previous Indy 500 pole effort with Alex Tagliani in 2011. It also highlights a career day for car owner Sam Schmidt.
While Chevrolet and Team Penske stole many of the headlines entering the Month of May, it was Schmidt’s crew that impressed the most in qualifying, placing all three of their cars in the top 10. Joining Hinchcliffe will be Mikhail Aleshin, who took seventh after narrowly sneaking into the Fast 9 on Saturday, and Oriol Servia in 10th, the top of the non-Fast 9 cars.
“The Arrow Electronics car was an absolute smoke show out there. It was right on the edge,” said Hinchcliffe.
“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 have me the car to do it. Three (SPM) cars in the top 10 is incredible.”
Schmidt also provided a memorable moment of his own on the Sunday, when the owner, paralyzed from the neck down, made laps of over 100mph around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis oval in a specially-designed car from Arrow Electronics.
Hinchcliffe’s faithful run interrupted what would have been an all-American front row.
Newgarden ended the session in second, with an average speed of 230.700mph that withstood multiple challenges from his competitors. This will be the American’s first 500 start from the front row.
“It was a tough pill to swallow,” said Newgarden after qualifying. “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.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay led the way for Andretti Autosport in third, with teammates Townsend Bell and Carlos Muñoz filling out the rest of the top five.
Will Power was the fastest Team Penske car in what turned out to be an underwhelming performance. Power ended the session sixth, with points leader Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves finishing out the back half of the Fast 9 in eighth and ninth, respectively.
32 of the 33 cars in the field completed a qualifying effort on Sunday. The lone driver to fail to complete four laps was Tagliani, who crashed into the pit attenuator during his attempt.
While he was the only Penske car to miss the Fast 9, Juan Pablo Montoya managed to bring the team’s biggest story on Sunday, running over a trash bag during his first qualifying attempt. The INDYCAR stewards allowed Montoya a second qualifying attempt, which he used to take 17th on the starting grid.
The IndyCar Series will return to IMS on Monday for Indy 500 practice, before returning on Friday for Carb Day practice and then ultimately Sunday for the Indy 500.