By: Tanner Watkins | May 19, 2019
After rain showers delayed the final day of Indianapolis 500 qualifications for more than four hours, the wait was well worth it.
By the end of the Last Row Shootout that featured drivers James Hinchcliffe, Max Chilton, Fernando Alonso, Sage Karam, Patricio O’Ward and Kyle Kaiser, it was David beating Goliath as Kaiser’s run sent McLaren and Alonso packing. Well, maybe – more on that later.
Then for the Fast Nine Shootout, Ed Carpenter Racing was looking strong until the very end when the boss man Ed Carpenter was bumped from the pole position by Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud. It is the 18th pole award for Team Penske in their illustrious Indianapolis 500 history.
The day started with partly cloudy skies which quickly turned gray by the time the final six qualifiers had their chance at a 30-minute practice before 11:00 AM local time. Each of the six drivers, with the exception of Kaiser, took to the track for a bit of practice before the rain came. And when it got to the Speedway, boy did it set up shop.
From Noon to about 2:30 PM we sat and watched the weather as IMS was constantly covered in a drizzle – sometimes picking up in intensity. The entire track was drenched, and it wasn’t until nearly 3:00 PM when we saw the sun again. Without wasting much time, IMS had rolled out the track drying crew and preparations were underway to squeeze in today’s qualifying sessions.
At approximately 3:45 PM the IndyCar officials notified the teams, media and fans that 4:30 PM was the target time to begin qualifications, and that all teams should begin rolling their cars through technical inspection. Without much opposition, James Hinchcliffe was in his No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry right at 4:30 PM and rolled off the start line to begin his all-or-nothing qualifying run.
Hinchcliffe started the proceedings with a four-lap average speed of 227.543 miles per hour, which was then followed by Max Chilton’s dismal speed of 226.192 mph. Then came Alonso.
The Spanish native ripped onto the track from the pits and posted a strong warm-up lap at 220.257mph – followed by 227.777 mph on Lap 1. The speed began to gradually decrease, though, as Alonso went 227.278 mph and 227.137 mph on the second and third laps before going 227.221 mph to close out the run. It was good for a 227.353 average – good enough to beat Chilton but not enough to edge James Hinchcliffe. That meant that only one out of the next three drivers left to run could beat Alonso if he was to stay in the field of 33.
Running next was Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Sage Karam, and the young Pennsylvania native conquered his own demons after struggling through the last three days. Karam ran 227.740 mph for his four-lap average, leaping him ahead of Hinchcliffe and Alonso – while putting the No. 66 McLaren on the bubble.
After Patricio O’Ward was unable to put his Carlin Chevrolet in the field (227.092 mph) it was down to Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing.
After battling adversity from the very start of the week – losing their two primary sponsors, then crashing in Friday practice – Juncos had a date with one of the world’s most recognizable motorsport brands in a head-to-head attempt to knock Alonso out of the race.
Remarkably, Kaiser’s first lap was just a hair slower than Alonso’s first, but then the Juncos No. 32 went faster on lap two, then faster again on lap three. Despite Alonso beating Kaiser’s fourth lap time, the 2017 Indy Lights champion had gone faster than the two-time Formula One world champion to place Kaiser in the field and send McLaren packing.
As for the Fast Nine shootout, the fight for the pole position came down the Ed Carpenter and a Team Penske nemesis in Simon Pagenaud. Pagenaud has been a popular pick by many to show well during this 103rd edition of the Indianapolis 500 after a dazzling run in the rain last weekend in the INDYCAR Grand Prix. The Frenchman did not disappoint in his Sunday qualifications run, bumping the three-time pole winner Carpenter from the top spot by running 229.992 mph – a shade better than Carpenter’s 229.889 average.
Provisional pole sitter Spencer Pigot had a chance at the last laugh, though his speed of 229.826 mph was only good for third on the grid.
All in all, Ed Carpenter Racing has positions two through four in the starting lineup for Sunday’s race – Ed Jones was fourth-quickest at 229.646 miles per hour.
Practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 continues on Monday. The next time the drivers will hit the track after that will be Miller Lite Carb Day on Friday, May 24.
Stay tuned for continued coverage of Indianapolis 500 qualifications.
Header image by Chris Owens/INDYCAR.
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.