By: Tanner Watkins
May 18, 2019 | 6:00 PM
At the end of day one for qualifications at the Indianapolis 500, the only thing that really comes to mind is an old line from the movie Gladiator: Are you not entertained?
After six hours and 50 minutes of constant action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Spencer Pigot topped the charts to take provisional pole for Ed Carpenter Racing. Pigot’s four-lap average registered a speed of 230.083 mph, and if tomorrow’s sessions get an abundance of rain, INDYCAR may forego the Fast Nine shootout. That would give Pigot the pole.
There were a slew of massive stories on the day, but the biggest has to be Fernando Alonso and McLaren. After completing a run to place him 29th overall – safely inside the top 30 bubble of locked-in entries – Alonso was quickly bumped to the bubble by rookie Felix Rosenqvist, then bumped out of the top 30 by a clutch run for J.R. Hildebrand.
It all came down to Graham Rahal in the end, rolling out of the qualifying line by withdrawing his time for 26th-fastest – which was in the show. It meant that if Rahal failed to run faster than Alonso’s time, Alonso would be back inside the top 30 and safe from Sunday’s last row shootout.
Rahal then turned in a dominant run by ripping off a 228.104 mph average, good for 17th overall and moving Alonso back outside the bubble of locked-in entires.
After all of this, Alonso’s fate in this year’s Indianapolis 500 will hinge on four lonely laps on Sunday in an all-or-nothing scenario.
Remarkably, Alonso and McLaren are fighting for their lives while first-time teams Clauson-Marshall Racing and DragonSpeed are safely in the field with drivers Pippa Mann and Ben Hanley. To safely reach the field for Mann is particularly rewarding after missing the field last year, and she was the last driver into the locked-in zone at P30. Mann’s average speed on her final run was 227.244 mph.
As if the day didn’t end with enough drama, we started the festivities with James Hinchcliffe crashing in Turn 2 on the second lap of his qualifying run today. The Canadian driver lost the rear end of his No. 5 Arrow Honda and ended up smacking the left side of the car into the SAFER barrier.
In a remarkable bout of preparation and guts, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had Hinchcliffe out on track just three hours after he had crashed with an impact that left the Canadian driver limping away from the media center. After making multiple runs in the backup car, Hinchcliffe was unable to find his way into the top 30 – forcing an identical do-or-die scenario that Alonso will face.
Weather permitting – and there are storms in the forecast – we will see six drivers fight for three spots to make the field of 33 for next Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. Those drivers are the aforementioned Alonso and Hinchcliffe, plus Kyle Kaiser, Sage Karam, Max Chilton and Patricio O’Ward.
Tomorrow’s final row shootout will kick off at 12:15 PM Eastern with the Fast Nine shootout scheduled to begin at 1:15 PM. An hour of practice – for just the last row and Fast Nine drivers – will open at 10:15 AM, and gates open to the public at 9:00 AM.
Stay tuned to Open-Wheels.com for more coverage of today’s qualifying drama as we look ahead to tomorrow.
Header image by Tanner Watkins/Open-Wheels.com.
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.