SPEEDWAY, Ind. – The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is nothing if not a capricious partner to race drivers.
Sebastien Bourdais, nearly killed trying to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 a year ago, has a shot at the pole for the 102nd 500 on Sunday.
James Hinchcliffe, nearly killed in practice for the 500 in 2015, was on the pole in 2016, and, like Bourdais, considered someone who could win the race, was bumped from the 500 field on Saturday.
Bourdais, the lead driver for Plainfield-based Dale Coyne Racing, ran a smooth four-lap test of 228.090 mph in his Honda-powered Dallara, and teammates Zachary Claman De Melo and Conor Daly also made the field.
But Pippa Mann, the fourth of Coyne’s quartet, and the one who raised all the money for her ride, did not. She and Hinchcliffe were the two drivers bumped from the 35 contenders for the coveted 33 spots.
“We did everything we did to trim the car out,” said Mann, holding back tears an hour after she pulled into the pits 2½ mph slower than James Davison, the 33rd qualifier, on her final attempt, which came as the gun fired ending the drama. “We took it farther than any (Coyne) team car. And it was slower.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world.”
For Bourdais, whose lap was less than a second slower than fast qualifier Helio Castroneves’ 228.919 mph, 10-mile jaunt, Sunday’s chase for the pole among Saturday’s fastest nine drivers is the opportunity he didn’t get last year.
His qualifying crash left him with a broken pelvis and other injuries, but not a broken spirit. He was back in the car by August, and repeated his victory in the season-opener at St. Petersburg this March.
“It’s what I do,” Bourdais said this week of running at speed. “I’m pretty good at it and making a living out of it. So why would I stop?”
Claman De Melo was 26th-fastest at 225.722 mph, while Daly had to bump himself back into the field, and did so with a best time of 224.874, good for 32nd.
Sunday, those from 10th through 33rd, including 2017 winner Takuma Sato, run another four-lap test for their starting position in next weekend’s 500, and after that’s settled, the fast nine, a group including all four Penske Racing drivers (three-time winner Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden), as well as Scott Dixon and Danica Patrick, will go for the pole in a one-shot shootout.
Davison battled back from a crash in Friday’s practice – “The biggest of my career,” he said – that left him aching and his crew thrashing overnight to repair the car.
“The only way to repay them was to make it into the field one way or the other,” Davison added.
Hinchcliffe was disappointed, having been derailed on his final attempt by a loose tire pressure sensor rattling inside one tire. He was in line to go next when the gun fired.
“I feel for everyone on the team,” Hinchcliffe said. “There’s a pretty bummed attitude on the team, but this track has done worse to me. Nobody screwed us. The system didn’t fail us. We failed us.”
Around the Speedway
The IndyCar series, in conjunction with Chevrolet and Honda, announced the engine size will jump to 2.4 liters from 2.2 in 2021, which should give each car 100 more horsepower.
Representatives from each manufacturer believe the new engine formula could attract at least one more engine builder to the series. ... The crowd of about 12,500 endured a pair of rain delays totaling 3 hours 11 minutes.