One year after failing to make the field of 33, James Hinchcliffe finds himself in a similar position ahead of the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 after the first day of qualifying, but with a key difference: He has one more chance to make it into the race.
Hinchcliffe’s troubles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway started on what would have been the 27th qualifying attempt of the day, sandwiched between Scott Dixon and Patricio O’Ward’s outings. The Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver’s time to shine went wrong when he lost control of his No. 5 Honda in Turn 2.
After completing a half spin, the left side of the car heavily impacted the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. The force of the initial collision pitched the Dallara-built machine onto its left sidepod as it slid down the track before eventually landing right-side up on the 2.5-mile track’s backstretch.
Memories of Hinchcliffe’s life-threatening 2015 practice crash came flooding back as the affable Canadian driver was tended to by the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team. When Hinchcliffe did not immediately emerge from the car, concerns for Hinchcliffe’s safety were high. After removing several damaged pieces of bodywork, the safety workers assisted Hinchcliffe out of his wrecked race car.
The driver was later checked at the IU Health Emergency Medical Center in the track’s infield and cleared to drive, although he exhibited a notable limp after being released. Less than three hours later, Hinchcliffe was back on track in a backup car. Unlike the primary car which was set up for high-speed running on superspeedways, the replacement car designated No. 5T was never meant to qualify at IMS.
Due to the lack of fit and finish, Hinchcliffe’s second run of the day, chiefly to ensure the backup car was ready for speed, averaged 210.745 mph. The next attempt was better with a 226.530 mph average but still not good enough to make it into one of the guaranteed starting positions in the top 30.
With time at a premium, Hinchcliffe made one more run and improved to 226.956 mph, yet 227.234 mph was the minimum speed needed to get into the top 30. Out of time and out of options, he’ll compete with five other drivers for the privilege of starting the Indy 500 from the last row of three.
“It’s a road course car, so it doesn’t have all the extra love on it that the oval cars — the superspeedway cars — have, so we weren’t really sure what to expect,” said Hinchcliffe. “We came out, made some changes and found some speed, certainly. Obviously, it wasn’t quite enough today.
“Luckily, we’ve got a chance tomorrow. I’ve got a lot of faith in the crew, everybody at Arrow, everybody at Honda — they’ve done great today to rebound from a pretty bad situation. We just have to put our heads together, find a little speed on it tomorrow and come out and put this thing in the show.”
Like Hinchcliffe, Patricio O’Ward, Kyle Kaiser and Fernando Alonso will attempt to make it through last-row qualifying in backup cars after their primary cars were damaged in crashes. The quartet will be joined by Max Chilton and Sage Karam to make it six drivers vying for three starting positions.
The task won’t be easy with each driver getting only one four-lap attempt to achieve the fastest average speed they can. The three fastest drivers will make it into race while the three slowest drivers will be bumped.
For Hinchcliffe and the other five looking to break into the field, Sunday will start with 30 minutes of practice at 10:15 a.m. EDT. The hour from 12:15–1:15 p.m. is designated for the six pilots participating in the Last Row Shootout.