Two years ago, James Hinchcliffe was on the pole for the Indianapolis 500. This year, he missed it.
A slow initial attempt left the ever-popular Canadian vulnerable as Bump Day wound down yesterday, and with time at a premium after an early rain delay, every minute counted. Conor Daly bumped the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver out, but a vibration forced Hinchcliffe to abort his next attempt. With Graham Rahal and Alexander Rossi each using the non-express qualifying lane to try and improve their qualifying times, and Pippa Mann getting to the express lane before Hinchcliffe, time simply ran out.
Today should still be dramatic, as the fastest nine drivers take part in the pole shootout, but it’ll be hard to top what we saw on Saturday afternoon. Regardless, here’s what’s on our mind today as the field of 33 determines how it’ll come to the green flag next Sunday:
Was this year’s qualifying format the right way to go?
This isn’t a vendetta against Bump Day, as the late-session drama was what made this year’s qualifying session so exciting. But cutting the field down on the first day of qualifying robbed the struggling teams of a chance to improve their cars overnight, which just might have made things even more dramatic on Sunday. And don’t be surprised if the two-lane rule, enabling drivers to try and improve their times without withdrawing their old runs, goes away in 2019 after how the end of the session played out.
Will Team Penske or Ed Carpenter Racing be able to lock out the front row?
All four Penske drivers and all three ECR entries are in the nine-car shootout for the pole later this afternoon, guaranteeing that at least one of those teams will be on the front row no matter what. (Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon are the other two drivers with a shot at the pole.) The Penske drivers were clustered at the top of the charts in no-tow practice on Friday, but Ed Carpenter himself is a two-time polesitter here. Could his team be saving something?
How will the larger teams that struggled in qualifying respond for the rest of the month?
All three Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers made the field of 33, but none were remotely close to the Fast Nine—Takuma Sato (28th) faced transponder issues before hitting the track, and both Rahal (29th) and Oriol Servia (30th) had to make second runs. Meanwhile, the lack of Andretti Autosport cars in the pole shootout is surprising, given the team’s recent history here; Rossi’s 10th place run was best of the six-car group. Both teams will need to work hard over the week to close the gap to Penske and ECR.