A Day of Rain, of Tears of Joy and Sorrow, and Curse Words - Indy Qualifying Ends
A LONG RAIN-DELAY WAIT FOR TWO GREAT DRAMATIC STORIES IN INDY QUALIFYING
The Indy Front Row is All Numbering in the Low 20s
INDIANAPOLIS -RIS- (May 19, 2019) The day started with the promise of a washout, and it ended with the most dramatic moments of the entire month. Drama, loss, redemption, contrition…
The winners: Team Penske, Simon Pagenaud, Kyle Kaiser, Juncos Racing
The losers: Team McLaren and Fernando Alonso, and to a much lesser extent, Ed Carpenter Racing.
The fans that braved today’s light rains saw the NTT IndyCar Series officials decide late in the afternoon that the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval could be dried quickly enough to accommodate both the Last Row Shootout, between the six slowest qualifiers, and the Fast Nine Shootout (so many “shootouts”, you’d think this was Dodge City), between the nine fastest qualifiers.
First up was the battle to determine the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd positions in the field.
James Hinchcliffe sought redemption following his ignominious bumping from last year’s Indianapolis 500 field. He didn’t waste a minute, setting a four-lap average of 227.543 mph under cloudy skies and milder temperatures than yesterday.
The third driver out in the group was Formula One champion Fernando Alonso. Though the popular, soft-spoken Spaniard had started fifth two years ago in a car prepared by Andretti Autosport, this year, his F1 management, Team McLaren, decided to field their own effort in reported hopes of fielding an IndyCar team full-time.
McLaren discovered this week that the luck they seem to have lost in F1 has followed them over the Atlantic. While Alonso’s 227.353 was good enough to earn the middle of Row 11, the speed wasn’t safe.
Sage Karam let everyone in the paddock know he was throwing 100% of himself into his qualifying attempt, and he delivered. His 227.740 was nearly two tenths better than Hinchcliffe’s average.
Unfortunately for McLaren, Karam’s success moved Alonso to the bubble.
An anemic run by Patto O’Ward in the Carlin Chevy, saw Kyle Kaiser and his Juncos Racing operation - who elected not to participate in the morning warmup session - as a king slayer.
The last potential car and driver to get into the field had to play it all out. The small but devoted crowd of Indy 500 qualifying fans were rewarded by the Californian’s run. His dramatic last lap sealed Alonso’s and McLaren’s fate. Kaiser’s 227.372 was 0.019 mph fast enough to send McLaren back to England.
“It felt like we qualified on the pole,” Kaiser said after his run. “I didn’t really know how we did. I asked the team, ‘Are we in it?? Did we make it??’”
Kaiser gave credit to his hard-working Juncos Racing team.
“They put in 40 hours of work t get the car back (after his Friday accident),” he said.
Team owner Ricardo Juncos was elated. The #32 car has been devoid of sponsorship decals all week as they searched for sponsorship. Kaiser’s success has made it easier for Juncos.
“You won’t see a white car next weekend,” he said with a grin.
Seldom has a bumped driver and team drawn such scrutiny. Team McLaren has a lot of homework to do before deciding their future course. Some said some less Indy-knowledgable members of the team too running Indy too lightly, became smug. “It’s only four corners,” one McLaren insider was overheard to have said about the IMS.
So what happened?
“We came here to race and challenge ourselves,” Alonso said as a driving rain struck outside - almost in sympathy with the papaya-orange team, “but we weren’t quick enough.”
Would the popular Spaniard be back?
“It’s just too soon to make the decision,” Alonso confessed. “I want to have 2020 (plans) open because I don’t know what opportunities will come to me.
“I will be more than happy to come here again and win the Triple Crown,” Alonso admitted, referring to winning the Indianapolis 500, the 24-Hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco Grand Prix. Alonso has won the last two.
Only the late Graham Hill has accomplished the motorsport trifecta.
“I tried. I tried my best,” he explained.
Team McLaren’s manager, 2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran was clearly emotionally drained.
“This has been a very emotional and difficult experience,” he said.
“I want to apologize and thank the fans - not only in the U.S., but globally. I’m sorry we won’t be in the Indy 500.
“I also want to apologize to the team,” he continued. “They worked all hours. This is a very difficult sport. We didn’t underestimate the challenge - I’ve been here before. We were certainly aware of how hard this was going to be.”
Turning to Alonso, he added, “I’m sorry, man.”
“This is the most-painful experience I’ve ever had. I want to come back tomorrow and fight. This was incredibly painful.”
Putting scuttlebutt to rest, when asked if he and team principal, Zak Brown would consider buying a ride from an already-qualified car to put McLaren and Alonso in the Big Dance, de Ferran was direct.
“We will not do that. We want to earn our place.”
It was arguably the most dramatic qualifying failure since then reigning CART champion Bobby Rahal’s failure to qualify for the 500 in 1993 and Team Penske’s failure to overcome the shortcomings of the PC-24 chassis, failing too to qualify the Lola T95s they received from other teams, in 1995.
LAST ROW SHOOTOUT CHRONOLOGY
- #5 Hinchcliffe - 227.543 four-lap average (qualifies in P30)
- #59 Max Chilton - 226.192 (P31)
- #66 Fernando Alonso - 227.353 (new P31 - Chilton on the bubble)
- #24 Sage Karam - 227.740 (new P30 - Alonso on the bubble, Chilton bumped)
- #31 Patricio O'Ward - 227.092 (DNQ)
- #32 Kyle Kaiser - 227.372 (new P33 - bumps Alonso)
Immediately following the last row drama, Sebastien Bourdais kicked off the Fast Nine Shootout.
The third Fast Niner was a regular front row starter and IndyCar Series car-owner/part-time driver, Ed Carpenter. Carpenter’s two 230 mph laps set the crowd on edge, as the overcast skies and cooler temperatures telegraphed that similar laps may be in store, making the pole position genuinely up for grabs.
One of Carpenter’s other drivers, Ed Jones, had been fast all week, and didn’t disappoint - qualifying alongside his team owner.
Rookie phenomenon Colton Herta, son of former Indy car driver Bryan Herta, powered his way to P3 and a temporary spot on the front row.
Three Penske drivers were on deck - Newgarden, Pagenaud, and Power - “Murderers’ Row”.
Newgarden couldn’t find enough speed, but Pagenaud - blessed by the first sunny skies of the afternoon - brought the crowd back to its feet with a consistent four-lap series.
While Carpenter’s first two laps were faster than Pagenaud’s, Pagenaud’s last two were faster than Carpenters - enough so to allow the Frenchman to push the American to P2 by 0.103 of a mile per hour.
2018 Indy victor Power fought an ill-handling car through his qualifying attempt, enough to temporarily earn P5.
The last bullet in Carpenters ECR gun was wicked-quick Spencer Pigot.
But as fast as the Floridian was, Pigot’s lap speeds eroded, landing him in P3 - the outside of Row 1.
The pole sitter was a Penske car, but the next three were Ed Carpenter cars.
Numerologists and lottery players should note that the front row consists of cars numbered 22, 20, and 21. Place your bets.
FAST NINE SHOOTOUT QUALIFYING CHRONOLOGY
(Car # / Driver / Avg Speed / (Saturday Speed))
- #18 Bourdais - 228.621 (228.800) (to P1)
- #27 Rossi - 228.247 (229.268) (P2)
- #20 Ed Carpenter - 229.889 (229.349) (to P1)
- #63 Ed Jones - 229.646 (229.440) (to P2)
- #88 Colton Herta - 229.086 (229.478) (to P3)
- #2 Josef Newgarden - 228.396 (229.749) (to P5)
- #22 Simon Pagenaud - 229.992 (229.854) (to P1 - polesitter)
- #12 Will Power - 228.645 (230.081) (to P5)
- #21 Spencer Pigot - 229.826 (230.083) (to P3)
While Pagenaud has twice started on the Indy 500 front row (2nd and 3rd), this was Pagenaud’s 11th career pole, Team Penske’s 266th career pole, and Penske’s 18th Indy 500 pole.
Pagenaud comes off a pole win and race victory here at Indy last weekend in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
There will be an open practice for the 33 qualifiers tomorrow.
LAST ROW SHOOTOUT RESULTS
|DNQ||31||Patricio O'Ward||Chevy||227.092||Not Quick Enough|
FAST NINE SHOOTOUT RESULTS
Tom has been a contributor to RIS since 1992, and has covered IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR, Grand-Am, ALMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In addition to his RIS work, Tom has been a contributor for General Motors, Nissan, Toyota and the ACO.